Canva’s collaborative word processor, which reduces writer’s block, is aimed at Google Docs and Microsoft Word.
Canva is on a collision course with Google and Microsoft that has the potential to demolish the tech titans’ productivity suite empires. To counter their dominance, the Australian design tool juggernaut has unveiled a new hidden weapon that has the potential to transform the way people work. In fact, it appears to be the start of a revolution that will change the way we create. It’s called Magic Write.
Canva Docs, the company’s newly introduced tool for creating media-rich documents, is highlighted by Magic Write. Docs has the same distinct visual nature as the rest of Canva’s tools, such as its Social Media designer, which launched the company in 2013, Decks, the slides app that has created one billion presentations since its launch at the start of the pandemic, and Whiteboad, a recent collaborative tool that, according to Canva’s cofounder and chief product officer Cameron Adams, has amassed 10 million users in just two months.
Canva Docs, like previous products, employs a block-oriented visual approach, with pre-made, Lego-like components that can be readily modified. This enables anyone to easily build a document that differs from what MS Word or Google Docs can produce. Canva Docs, as opposed to the dry style of traditional word processing applications, largely depends on graphical headers to provide a very apparent structure to a document.
Canva Docs, however, are defined by Magic Write. The Magic Write prompt is the first item in the menu when you click on the + button that invites you to “add something” to the blank page. If you’ve utilised GPT3 or the new ChatGPT text generating artificial intelligences, you’ll understand how this works: You type your command into a field, press enter, and the machine spits out a coherent text that follows your command.
Magic Write is built on GPT3 and is the result of a collaboration between Canva and OpenAI. “One of the reasons we wanted to work with them was because of their amazing technology and the models that drive machine learning,” Adams explains. However, Adams argues that real-world applications are lacking. Canva Docs has the potential to offer this powerful new technology to a massive audience (110 million monthly active users), many of whom will be exposed to it for the first time through their app.
“Adding GPT3 to Canva Docs is the result of knowing out what users need,” Adams explains. How will people engage with it within our app? What kind of use cases will they put it to?”
WRITER’S BLOCK BROKEN
That is where Canva Docs differs significantly from GPT3 or the newer ChatGPT, which has swept the world by storm in recent days. The prompt you create in Canva will not result in a lengthy school report about climate change, a recipe book, or a TV pilot script. Instead, Magic Write is intended to alleviate writer’s block in the same manner that the graphical templates in Canva’s design suite alleviate “designer’s block.” Adams claims that they are aware that even the most experienced writers are terrified of a blank page. “At this point, a lot of people may just throw up their hands and walk away,” he says.
This is when Magic Write’s AI comes into play. It’s intended to give people the confidence to start contributing their own thoughts and contextualising what they’re generating, according to Adams. “That is certainly the most crucial element for us. And that’s why we went with a model that we tweaked for that duration and those specific types of themes.”
Adams is alluding to Magic Write’s findings’ 1,500 character limit. It’s intended to provide you with brief instructions such as “the finest 5 most scrumptious pancakes ever” or “5 facts concerning climate change.” The AI is also programmed to do things like “create me an employment cover letter to apply for a NASA astronaut position.”
MOM, LOOK, NO INTERFACE!
If you’ve used ChatGPT before, you’re aware that it can generate very sophisticated objects out of thin air. In this perspective, the Magic Write method may appear restrictive or even rudimentary. While I understand Adams’ reasoning for using AI as a creative assistant rather than a creator, I’m not certain that limiting the output to brief replies is the ideal way. Why truncate replies instead of allowing users to ask whatever they want, in as much depth as they want?
The answer could be GPT3, which isn’t as good as a ChatGPT or as GPT4 is said to be. Perhaps it makes more sense at this point to keep things tight and use Magic Write as a creative aid.
It’s not difficult to envision a not-too-distant future (as in, next year) in which AI does a lot more for us, possibly to the point where writers and designers, who traditionally create things from scratch, become editors and curators who cherry-pick and guide a group of AIs to create something that fits their vision.
“What you see now as a design tool will not be the same in five years,” Adams acknowledges grudgingly when I press him on this point. “I can absolutely envisage a much more fluid AI-assisted creation process.” Perhaps it’s a process in which the AI suggests a creative path, you choose a direction, and the AI iterates until it reaches the sweet spot you’re looking for. Or, as he suggests, it might be something more hands-on, in which you get the result and tweak it yourself before giving it back to the AI. “I can clearly see [the development process] becoming much more fluid and sensitive to you,” he says.
Adams does not want Canva Docs to follow in the footsteps of Clippy, but he envisions a future in which “AI works more faithfully with you as a collaborator, rather than something you have to manually bring up every time you want to see to it.” Even if Canva despises the connection, it’s a good one. Clippy failed because it was stupid and irritating. However, AI is progressing toward becoming a sentient creature capable of collaborating with you in the same way that a creative expert might.
“I believe that’s probably the most fascinating area for us because then it truly becomes a collaboration between you suggesting things, developing things, and getting feedback from the AI that just bubbles up ideas to you, almost like you’re talking to someone else on the other side,” he says. Personally, I believe it will be considerably higher. I can imagine AIs becoming your own creative agency, film crew, or animation studio, with humans sitting in the director’s chair, directing it to bring our ideas to life.
The latter will feel like a full circle for Canva: The company began with the goal of enabling anyone to become a designer—”skeptics be damned”—by utilising templates and a very simple user interface. The ultimate goal, in my opinion, should be to abolish the user interface entirely. Finally, no matter how simplified it is, dealing with knobs, keyboards, cursors, and palettes is always an impediment between your idea and the finished result. Canva, I believe, may have accidentally begun the route toward that reality.