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Why Canva Sees Southeast Asia as Key to Growth

Localization goes beyond adopting the native language.

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 07 Dec 2017

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Founded in Australia in 2012, Canva views Southeast Asia as key to the growth of their web-based graphic design software.

Georgia Vidler, the Head of Internationalization at Canva, says the company is localizing efforts to ASEAN countries that show great potential for growth.

“Indonesia is currently one of our fastest growing markets — among our top five in Asia and part of the global top ten — so this year we’ve been driving significant localization efforts to make sure we’re relatable to our Indonesian design community,” says Vidler.

Canva’s value proposition should appeal to many entrepreneurs, freelancers, and professionals across Southeast Asia: The company wants to empower anyone to do design.

“Whether you’re a cafe owner, a serial entrepreneur, a social media influencer, an event manager, or just someone who loves beautiful designs, Canva gives you the ability to communicate your messages with drag-and-drop ease, without having to sacrifice the visual impact brought by thoughtful designs,” says Vidler.

Canva has grown rapidly across Southeast Asia. When the platform launched, the Philippines was also one of their top ten markets. In 2016, the company expanded Canva into 42 languages, including Bahasa (Indonesia’s national language), a trend that will continue when they add Khmer, Thai, and Vietnamese by the end of this year to reach a total of 100.

Localization for other software companies is oftentimes only a matter of supporting the native language. For Canva it’s much harder, as they offer users a library of templates. To launch or expand in a country, Canva must design these with the local population in mind.

“This means creating country-specific templates, incorporating relevant imagery and fonts into the assets library, and targeting different local celebrations. For instance, we published Raksha Bandhan layouts and illustrations this past August for our Indian users. These initiatives engage foreign audiences, drive word of mouth, and make our social media efforts more relevant,” says Vidler.

The same challenge goes with their photos. If the photos in Canva’s library tend to be of only one kind of ethnicity, they will have that “stock photo” feel. As a result, Canva tries to have a broader selection of images that represent people of all ethnicities in Southeast Asia and other countries. Some of these photos are free, while others are available for purchase.

Curating local photos and creating culturally-sensitive designs is tough. It helps that most of Canva’s designers are located in the heart of Southeast Asia; its Manila office opened in 2014.

“Aside from being fast adopters of new technology, Filipinos have a very strong design community and global aesthetic,” says Vidler.

As an example of how organizations are using Canva, Vidler points to the case of the Visayan Forum. The non-profit organization saves some 100 children a month from human trafficking and modern slavery. It used Canva to design print collaterals and social media posts to communicate this advocacy.

“Canva also provided support for the organization by re-designing their logo and website which facilitates donations from all over the world to Visayan Forum,” adds Vidler.

The thought of producing your own designs rather than hiring an employee or freelancer to do them may intimidate some, but Vidler chides people to just try.

“Our design tool is user-friendly and have been embraced by entrepreneurs and as well as Fortune 500 companies all over the world. We have thousands of free templates to ensure your design looks amazing. Upload your own images to further personalize your creation — it only takes a couple of minutes,” she says.