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Dovetail helps Canva empower the world to design, one customer insight at a time

Software Development
Sydney, Australia
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The research specialty at this online design and publishing tool uses Dovetail to achieve their mission of empowering the world to design.

From the moment they launched in 2013, Canva has been on a mission to empower the world to design anything and publish anywhere. The global visual communications platform enables individuals and teams to design, work, share, and collaborate on everything from presentations to social media graphics to video and print products.

Design research at Canva

Even successful products require generative or foundational research to unlock new innovation opportunities—and Canva is no exception. With a crazy big goal like ”empowering the world to design,” Canva is constantly exploring the roadblocks to empowerment.

Canva’s researchers are embedded in product teams. They prioritize projects based on the company’s strategy, where the most significant knowledge gaps are, and where they see the biggest opportunities to improve the user experience. Researchers plan, conduct, and analyze research, bringing their team along for the journey and helping them to get closer to the users and their world. They then share their findings, run workshops, provide recommendations, and help teams incorporate insights into their roadmaps.

While customer obsession and usability testing have been part of Canva’s DNA from the beginning, their dedicated Design Research team is relatively new. Design researcher Becky White joined in early 2020 and has helped grow the team to seven (and counting, check out their open roles here).

Canva is a fast-paced, hyper-growth company. Before a dedicated research team existed, designers and PMs would conduct ad-hoc research, like customer interviews, on their own. They’d focus on getting information and making decisions from the insights, but not much thought went towards where video recordings, transcripts, and findings reports lived afterward. This made it challenging to track down previous research or understand where findings had come from. New starters struggled with discovering past research and often found out about previous research reports through word-of-mouth. 

Canva’s research repository

A big reason for Canva’s pull to Dovetail was the promise of a central research repository. Dovetail was one of the first tools that Becky set up. Now, researchers and other product team members store their moderated research recordings and transcripts in Dovetail and use it to create transcriptions quickly, start to tag their data, find emerging themes, and analyze data. 

Having this repository helps new and existing Canvanauts quickly get up to speed on previous projects or topics of interest. They can re-watch full research sessions or simply conduct searches for terms of interest. For example, PMs can review quotes from users about topics like creativity, templates, or collaboration. New designers can watch usability sessions to see where users are struggling with existing flows. Even content designers use Dovetail to get an immediate picture of user sentiment around messaging and copy. 

All of this can easily be done by Canvanauts on their own, without the aid of a researcher. For a global, fast-paced team, that level of accessibility and flexibility is critical.

Power of video

According to Becky, the research team finds video clips extremely powerful when presenting their findings; far more effective than reading a quote.

To be able to see a user’s face, hear their voice, and sense their emotion when they’re talking—is incomparable.

Videos are so loved in the Canva product team that the researchers often won’t wait until the final report to share great video clips. If the product team wasn’t able to observe the session, they send a Dovetail link to the clip via Slack. This enables everyone to get on the same page and have a great discussion about the product implications and opportunities in real-time.

Democratizing research

Becky and her team are excited to nurture a research culture at Canva, but they can’t conduct all the research themselves since they’re still a small team. So, part of a researcher’s role at Canva is empowering other people to conduct quality research. They hold office hours, have created templates and guides, and conduct training on research best practices. Whenever designers and product managers conduct interviews, the research team recommends using Dovetail to transcribe and store sessions. They are then able to tag quotes, analyze data, and identify prominent themes before reporting.

Whenever designers and product managers conduct research, the researchers recommend using Dovetail to transcribe their sessions and analyze findings. Breaking quotes and observations down into this level of granularity, then re-combining them to identify themes is often something non-researchers haven’t done before.

Especially for non-researchers, Dovetail makes getting started with research analysis more approachable and even fun. Product teams can analyze in whichever way is best for them and their study. When they start to see those emerging themes and insights from the data: that’s the real power of Dovetail.

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