Canva, a Sydney-based graphic design start-up, has become Australia’s latest tech “unicorn”, after closing a funding round valuing its operations at $US1 billion ($1.3 billion).
The company on Tuesday announced it had raised $US40 million from investors including the Chinese arm of vaunted Silicon Valley investment firm Sequoia Capital and existing shareholders Blackbird Ventures and Felicis Ventures.
Sydney-based Melanie Perkins has turned her graphic design start-up into a billion dollar business.
Co-founder Melanie Perkins said the company was profitable and didn’t need the money but was offered terms too good to refuse.
The startup, whose apps help advertisers and companies create banners, logos and presentations, plans to double its workforce of 250 staff over the next year, she added.
“It’d be crazy not to take it,” she said.
“We can grow our team as rapidly as we can and know that we’ve got the financial backing to make those decisions very easily.”
Canva’s latest round of funding makes it a ‘unicorn’, a private company valued at $US1 billion or more. That’s a rare startup success for Australia’s technology scene: only eight of its listed technology companies are worth more than $US1 billion compared with 18 companies in metals and mining alone, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“The second day I went to San Francisco, I pitched him the idea for Canva, literally on paper pitch decks,” Perkins said.
We can grow our team as rapidly as we can and know that we’ve got the financial backing to make those decisions very easily
Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins
“Fortunately rather than thinking I was crazy, he helped us comb over resumes of all the people that were trying to get into our tech team, and he rejected every last one of them,”
According to Canva’s website, the service has more than 10 million users, who upload photos or select stock images and use preset filters and fonts to customise designs. It also links with printing providers who can create actual physical banners and displays.
Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes. Photo: Josh Robenstone
According to financial records lodged with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, Canva more than tripled revenue to $23.5 million and narrowed after-tax losses to $3.3 million in the 12 months ended June 2017.
“What this round really enables us to do is to have the jet power just to do absolutely anything that we need to do to make Canva awesome,” she said.
Is Dyslexia a weakness or a strength? Designers Ab Rogers and Jim Rokosdiscuss how they feel dyslexia enables them to think differently and how, in a moment when the work industry is more threatened than ever by the growing power of the intelligent computer, the non-linear, non-binary mind may be coming into its own.
Interview by Philippa Wyatt
There is little argument to contradict the fact that historically dyslexia is treated as a problem in school. Designer Jim Rokos confirms this from his own experience.
JR: “Dyslexia is treated as something to fix, rather than something that is great in itself.”
Dyslexic children are given extra help and taught methods to compensate for the problems it can bring in mainstream education – most commonly – with reading and writing. But what if it is not as simple as a ‘disorder’ to be overcome?
AR: “At school you are taught what is good and what is bad. The world is skewed to the non-dyslexic mind. One could always say that ‘non-dyslexics are very bad at 3d visualisation’ for example, but no one ever sees it like that. Rather than celebrating the creativity that comes with a dyslexic brain, one is criticised for not being able to spell ‘dyslexic’. For me education has a responsibility to build confidence and unlock potential but currently it is not structured to bring out what is unique but rather focused on how it can make everyone the same and this narrow view not only lets down children with dyslexia but anyone who thinks differently.”
For Ab the problems associated with dyslexia are the result of a non-linear thought process that can be mis-understood as a weakness, rather than explored as strength, because the path followed cannot always be easily explained.
AR: “My thought process is more meandering, which is good because I come across things along the way which are potentially unexpected and all the more exciting. Sometimes you take longer to get somewhere and sometimes you jump straight there without knowing how, to an idea fully formed.”
Equally this non-linearity allows for cognitive leaps and connections to be made that have a focus and clarity that lend itself to design and creativity.
AR: “I find my dyslexia gives me a kind of intense focus. I can see through things, dissecting them and editing out what others may be distracted by. This can give me confidence in an idea because for me it is very clear when something is right. If I can visualise something I know it’s right. If I can’t see it, it’s a disaster.”
Because the architecture of a dyslexic brain is different to that of a non-dyslexic one, in some cases neurological pathways that are open to the majority are not available to dyslexics, leading them to make different connections and to navigate problems in unusual ways.
Jim believes the way dyslexics process information can contribute to the development of an idiosyncratic design style.
JR: “I think so. It’s a hunch.” He qualifies this by explaining that these off beat ideas are “no more difficult to conceive than more conventional ideas. More the product of a different perspective beyond design style – an urge to test boundaries, to keep finding new ways of working. It can feel risky,” he confirms “but now, through experience, I can keep reminding myself that if it’s off the wall its probably going to be a good thing to do.”
He believes the compensatory strategies developed by dyslexics navigating a non-dyslexic world can create strengths that are particularly suited to design.
JR: “Because our memory process is different, more eccentric, triggered by different things and distracted by others, we are forever being detectives and trying to figure things out from fragments of evidence the whole time – which just builds on our creative side.”
This deductive process can allow dyslexics to reach conclusions quickly, encouraging them to follow intuition and trust instinct when other more solid, predictable routes are closed.
AR: “I had this sudden realisation that if I tried to design a chair then I was competing against everyone else who was designing chairs, but if I could reinvent the typology so that you didn’t need a chair then I could come up with my own niche. And my mind was much better at coming up with new typologies than it was at re-crafting existing typologies, such as a chair that grows out of a ladder that become the ladder that likes the wall.”
Being unafraid to see the world differently and understanding the value of this unique approach can give dyslexics the freedom to ask different questions and seek unconventional solutions, giving rise to the kind of innovation so prized in design.
AR: “When you are teaching students, if you ask them to design a table they will surely design a table. If you ask them to design a surface to put things on – they are much more likely to come up with a different answer to that same question.”
In an industry where dyslexics and non-dyslexics alike must produce concepts that are as functional as they are beautiful, the need to follow your mind down whatever rabbit hole it leads you to must be married with the ability to generate designs – whether for products or spaces – that tell a story, delivering a unique experience.
AR: “I think it [dyslexia] can be about a sense of narrative. Like when you tell the story behind the design of your [Jim’s] decanter – where the more that is drunk the more the decanter leans over – it is that sense of poetic narrative that relates in my experience to people who have dyslexia.”
This abstract poetry and feel for narrative embellishment, this unexpected way of seeing things – whether too close up, or too far away – holds its own intrinsic value. And this value, the preciousness of its very limitations, is becoming more widely recognised in the face of artificial intelligence and its replacement of human beings in production. When we discuss this idea Ab says, with some pride –
AR: “You can’t design a dyslexic computer.”
And if it is true that ‘the most consistent thing about a dyslexic is their inconsistencies’ then this is easy to believe and, in a world where the unique and the unusual are still prized, nowhere more so than in design and the arts, perhaps, for a dyslexic designer, it is their inimitable idiosyncrasies that are their greatest strength of all.
Are your products winning design, innovation, or breakthrough awards?
Dozens of companies and awards programs recognize new product innovations. The following five stand out. All five competitions are global with equal access. Any size company can afford to enter. Only products ready for commercial sale may compete. Achievement of any level of recognition is rewarded in the marketplace.
R&D 100 Awards: Since 1962, R&D Magazine has honored the top 100 innovations each year. The awards program encompasses five areas: mechanical devices/materials; IT/electrical; analytical/test; process/prototyping; and software/services. Additionally, a number of special recognition awards are bestowed for market-disrupting services, market-disrupting products, corporate social responsibility, and green tech. The key criterion for winning is technological significance. Judges from industry, services, and academia award points to each innovation, with the top 100 scores making the list. Notable among the 2017 winners and Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (9).
The International Design Excellence Awards: Since 1980, theIndustrial Designers Society of America has been giving out Gold, Silver, and Bronze IDEA awards. IDEA awards span many industries and disciplines including: commercial products; entertainment; home goods; and social impact designs. Additionally, there are personal recognition awards and special awards for individuals and companies, respectively, and several more. The key criteria to win are design innovation, user experience, client benefit, society benefit, and appropriate aesthetics. Nearly three dozen members of the jury make the decisions. There were 25 Gold, 52 Silver, and 64 Bronze Winners in 2017. Gold winners are housed in a permanent collection at the Henry Ford Museum.
Edison Awards: Since 1987, Edison Universe has been giving out Gold, Silver, and Bronze Edison Awards in 16 categories ranging from applied technology to consumer goods to health and wellness, and transportation and logistics. There’s also an Annual Edison Achievement award, which was won this year by the CEO of Lockheed Martin. The key criteria to win, each of which has three to four sub-criteria, are: concept, value, delivery, and impact. Nearly 135 people compose a nominations committee that makes recommendations to a 25-person steering committee, and it decides the winners. There were 45 Gold, 45 Silver, and 47 Bronze Winners in 2017 across the 16 categories.
Breakthrough Innovation Awards: Since 2008, Nielsen has recognized breakthrough innovations in consumer products. Only a few awards are given out each year. There were 18 Winners in 2017. Since inception, Nielsen has awarded only 110 U.S. products and 198 globally out of over 30,000 entries. The hurdles are quite high. First, the product must be distinctive and deliver a new value proposition to the market. Second, it has to have generated more than $50 million in its first year of U.S. sales. Lastly, it has to have generated more than 90% of year-one sales in year two. Both the size and longevity of achievement differentiate it from other new-product innovation awards.
CES Innovation Awards: Since 2015, the Consumer Technology Association has recognized innovative consumer electronics products. There are 28 award categories including 3D printing, cybersecurity, gaming, VR and AR, and smart homes and cities, and two award levels, Honorees and Best of Innovations. The key criteria to win include: engineering qualities; aesthetic design; intended use/function and user value, uniqueness/novelty; and comparative analysis to same-space products. Each category is judged by a three-member team composed of an industrial designer, an engineer, and a member of the trade press. Because everyone likes an award, there are oodles of Honorees. But, to win Best of Innovation in a specific category, products must exceed a minimum number of points. Thirty-six winnerswere chosen this year across the 28 categories.
Edison announces its award winners in the spring, Nielsen in early summer, IDSA in late summer, R&D 100 in the fall, and CES in January.
Over 30 presentations from the 2017 Product Design Symposium held at the Technical University of Denmark in November are now on-line for viewing and downloading through the symposium’s web site at https://lnkd.in/gtyzkZb.