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Don't Believe the Hype: Canva + ChatGPT = Same Old Canva

The future of AI design is conversational. But Canva's new ChatGPT plugin isn't the future.

Hello Designers!

We've got a real smorgasbord of topics for you today. Let's get rolling!

At a glance:

  • Google Googles Google

  • The robot spelling bees heat up

  • Canva + ChatGPT

  • Dall-E 3 wants to talk

Google sees all

As a UX pattern, two-way conversation provides an appealing way to interact with certain kinds of AI. We can chat with our bots (out loud, even) and get snappy answers to complex questions.

Google just integrated Bard, its ChatGPT competitor, into Google apps like Gmail, Docs and Drive, letting you use it to search your own Google files.

For example, you might ask Bard to help you plan a trip, and it will check your Gmail and Calendar to find the best dates, ping Google Maps for directions and hit YouTube for some activity ideas.

Screenshot of a promotional video from Google showing the user asking for summaries of recent emails from Harper Elementary School, and a response from the AI summarizing two recent emails.

Watch Google’s promo video to get the gist.

With these extensions for Bard, Google is about to start normalizing the idea of a conversational AI that can search your personal data. For now, users do have to opt-in to allow this behavior.

Whether companies who rely on the G-Suite for business will opt-in to this level of privacy invasion is to be determined. (Then again, if a company already relies on the G-Suite of products, haven't they pretty much already opened themselves up to the giant data sponge that is Google?)

Black and white cartoon drawing of a small robot opening every filing cabinet in an office

Image generated in Midjourney

Google has promised that human reviewers won't see any sensitive information that Bard finds in Gmail or Drive — pinky swear. And they say such data won’t used for selling targeted ads anyway (wait, remind us how Google makes money again?).

Of course, before you go and plan an entire vacation using Bard, you'll want to double-check that it's not "hallucinating" some new facts (or hotel prices) out of thin air. ChatGPT already has a reputation for makin' stuff up, after all.

But don't worry, Google has a very innovative solution: Bard's answers will now include a "Google it" button, so that you can double-check its answers the old-fashioned way: by searching the web with Google.

Two steps forward, one step back!

Ideogram spells trouble for the competition

From the outset, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, Midjourney and other image generation platforms have been notoriously terrible at rendering text.

From spelling mistakes and illegible characters to just plain gobbledygook, AI images of text have been an ongoing joke.

3 images side by side with hard to read text: a girl holding an illegible cardboard sign, a military-style robot with jumbled text below, and a bear crossing sign with multiple misspellings of the word 'bear'

This particular failing has made AI image generators all but useless for creating logos — or even quippy t-shirt designs.

But all of a sudden, rushing in to fill the void, comes Ideogram.ai which specializes in rendering legible text. (Thank you to Design Unicorn reader Kristina Rostorotsky for pointing us in the direction of this gem!)

And we're not talking Times New Roman or Helvetica, but crazy, calligraphic, dripping, neon, graphic design-inspired madness too.

Generated, legible logos for 'Cthulhu Coffee' featuring a tentacled monster and 'Design Unicorn' featuring 3D calligraphic text

Images generated with Ideogram

Suddenly, the writing on the wall is clear: Midjourney and DALL-E 2 have some catching up to do.

Created by alumni from Google Brain, UC Berkeley and the University of Toronto, the privately-funded platform launched in August — backed by $16.5M USD in seed funding. (Wow, that is one expensive spell-check!)

Ideogram's image quality is generally quite good, if a bit inconsistent, landing somewhere between the mild distortions of DALL-E 2 and the hyper-slick perfection of Midjourney. But when it comes to compelling text design, Ideogram has them both beat.

The AI engine behind Ideogram appears to be proprietary, meaning it's not a variant of Stable Diffusion or another existing solution. But we've been unable to find any information regarding its training materials, so copyright (and/or ethics) may still be an issue here.

Screenshot of an Ideogram model window featuring a design with cats that reads 'Time spent with cats is never wasted' beside a Remix button and the original user prompt

That said, if you're looking to kick out some quick text design ideas in a hurry, it may have some real promise in your workflow.

Plus it's very easy to use, and even easier to learn: the platform lets you browse others' creations and then reuse their text prompt — or even remix their image.

If you've been waiting for an excuse to start dabbling with AI tools, you could find a worse starting point than Ideogram.

ChatGPT + Canva = Game changer?

When we first heard that Canva had launched a plugin for ChatGPT, our minds were blown.

The way the Internet tells it, you simply describe the banner ad, social media post, or video (!) that you want to ChatGPT, and then the Canva plugin magically delivers a bunch of super-hot designs to spec that you can edit immediately in Canva.

Too good to be true?

Over the past six months, we've learned that many designers are still hesitant to embrace AI, preferring to wait until they have no choice. Doing so puts your own professional relevance at risk, of course, and we'd encourage you to start playing, if you haven't yet.

For better or worse, people have embraced Canva in droves. 135 million monthly users have collectively banged out 15 billion designs in the last decade.

ChatGPT, meantime, boasts 100 million monthly users. And now, it appears that both of these audiences may be exposed to AI-based creativity, thanks to the new Canva plugin for ChatGPT.

Already, countless articles and videos have appeared online about this new plugin, each one breathlessly describing how easy it is to produce high-quality graphics by typing a few words.

Wow! We couldn't wait to see it in action!

Partial screenshot of the ChatGPT interface where the user has written stated, 'I'm writing a newsletter about AI and design, and I need a graphical banner.'

So, is this the "killer app" that will move AI-driven design into the mainstream? Is it the thin end of a big fat wedge that will forever alter the very shape of digital design as we know it?


We took it for a spin, and we have one piece of advice to offer: "Don't believe the hype."

We asked ChatGPT for a banner ad to promote this very newsletter and, as promised, a series of competent Canva designs began to appear in the chat window — complete with links to edit each one. Okay, future, we're listening...!

Screenshot of ChatGPT showing a series of graphical banners related to design under the label 'Used Canva'

We liked the yellow, illustrated "Donna Stroupe" banner the most, but it was a little retro and kid-like for us. So, in classic ChatGPT or Midjourney style, we decided to ask the system for a few variations of it — as you do! Easy peasy!

We cracked our knuckles, typed our request for variants, and waited for the magic to happen!

"Of course!", exclaimed ChatGPT, just as excited about the future as we were...

Screenshot of ChatGPT showing a second collection of graphical banners, including a repeat from the first group

We didn't get any variations. In fact, we got another handful of unrelated banner designs. What's going on here?

What's going on is that the Canva plugin only provides links to existing Canva templates. That's it. End of story.

It doesn't match any of the text you provided to ChatGPT. It doesn't customize any graphics. It doesn't even fiddle with colors. It literally fishes a few pre-baked templates right out of Canva.

You can have a similar experience by visiting the Canva website yourself, and running a search within their templates. And ironically, that's actually a better experience, since it's far faster to scroll through their entire library than it is to wait for ChatGPT to pull in a small handful of templates.

Screenshot of Canva showing the yellow banner we selected from ChatGPT. The same banner design can be seen in the templates drawer beside it.

Sadly, there's nothing ground-breaking going on here. If anything, the team at Canva have simply found a way to grease the funnel that leads to their own front door. It's not a bad business move, but from the perspective of empowering creativity with AI, it's hardly news.

Still, if you're curious to try it out, you'll need the paid version of ChatGPT for now. Search the plugin directory for "Canva". Install the plugin, and then tell ChatGPT what you're looking for, design-wise.

We're looking forward to the day when we can actually art direct a ChatGPT-like interface to develop and improve a design by saying things like, "Try a different font", or "Swap the black for violet".

But that day isn't here yet.

DALL-E 3 + ChatGPT

Just announced, OpenAI’s DALL-E 3 will now use the power of ChatGPT to understand your image requests, taking the burden of intricate prompt writing away from the user.

Instead, you'll be able to chat with it to tweak your designs.

Wait, what were just saying about that day not being here yet..?!

Screenshot from the DALL-E 3 promotional video showing a ChatGPT-like interface where the user has asked it to design some stickers of a hedgehog, and the stickers appear below.

Check out their slick promotional video to see it in action. OpenAI is clearly positioning this as a tool for everyone.

The company claims the new model is way better at rendering hands (finally), and that it can also spell words correctly and legibly. Sounds like Ideogram may be about to lose its edge.

In a nod to copyright issues, OpenAI claims that DALL-E 3 will decline any image requests that reference the style of a living artist. They'll also provide a form where artists can opt-out of having their images used in training. (Well, future training, anyway.)

DALL-E 3 promotional image showing a couch shaped like a curved banana

DALL-E 3 will be available to premium ChatGPT users this October, though the company hasn't confirmed when it might be available to free accounts.

The future of design is looking chatty

Take away the burden of prompt writing, and suddenly, everyone's an Art Director. The Art Director of an intelligent, collaborative and relatively talented Robo-Creative. (Sure their work is derivative, but boy do they love taking orders.)

We always knew "prompt engineering" was a phase. It was never a career, but a detour into a short-lived problem that would soon be solved with conversational AI: "Give her a red hat." "What if it were snowing?". "Let's try a fish eye lens instead."

In a world where you no longer need a cheat sheet of Midjourney's modifiers to perfect your prompts, producing visual work will become as easy as, well, chatting. Illustrators and graphic designers are about to face the same stiff competition that writers already face from ChatGPT.

Now, take this a small step further and imagine if you could chat with AI to generate not just pixel-based imagery, but editable vector files — like an ad banner for your newsletter. That's what we expected from the Canva plugin, and while it let us down, surely, somewhere, someone's working on this.

And if they're smart, Canva is working on it, because in a future where I can converse with a bot to perfect my design, picking through a limited number of templates has no value.

Whether it's text, pixel art or editable vectors, talking iteratively with a bot until you get just the result you want will become the new norm. (We also expect the same for video, music, 3D and just about every other form of creative output.)

It's another reminder that design as a profession is changing. Not long from now, pushing pixels with a mouse won't be an area where you can compete. Instead, it's going to be about the strategic quality of your ideas, and the design rationales behind your choices.

ChatGPT + Canva wasn't the turning point we thought it was, but ChatGPT + DALL-E is certainly a big signpost along that road.

Soon enough, everyone will be an Art Director.