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Designing magical experiences in the AI era

AI technology is incredible for optimizing our lives and productivity. Product Designer Jess Faccin shares Canva’s approach to making sure our AI tools are a magical experience, too – and why it’s important.

There’s a saying: a magic trick without magic is just a trick. It's the "magic" that makes the experience.

Magic feels romantic – but in a digital world, relationships can feel transactional, and the romance, awe, and emotional connection in our everyday lives are becoming increasingly rare. We're increasingly shifting to optimization, functionality, and productivity; we put romance aside for the need to know how everything is done – even magic tricks.

As we create products that optimize our lives(opens in a new tab or window), we're now at a pivotal time in history where we have the opportunity for a renaissance in design: to allow us to also be romantics; to take a moment to enjoy the experience and be charmed. We see AI as the opportunity to have a new emotional experience, and bring that magic(opens in a new tab or window) to our community – but in the digital world.

Shaping the age of AI

When designing artificial intelligence tools, there's a risk of simply thinking about how the tool will be used, or developing it just to optimize our lives further – while forgetting to create the romance humans crave. Not romance in the typical sense – more an unexpected feeling of awe, a rush of excitement, or a personal connection. We want to fall in love with magical experiences.

There's a saying that "The best moment to influence a new medium is at the very beginning of that medium." We're in that moment of defining what AI could mean for us.

There's another saying that “The best moment to influence a new medium is at the very beginning of that medium.” With the recent rapid developments of generative AI, we're in that moment of defining what AI could mean for us.

AI can allow us to rediscover our creativity(opens in a new tab or window) in new ways. At Canva, we want to leverage this technology to create a space that empowers our community to ignite magical experiences through our product, whether at work or otherwise.

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But it’s not just the technology that creates a magical experience.

The three core ingredients for designing a magical experience

Ingredient #1: Charm

In a magic show, there’s a moment of astonishment and awe. This profound moment is carried around with us even after the magic show has ended. Products need to charm people.

When experiences are based solely on productivity or functionality, the chances of a memorable experience are low. Why? Because people haven't been charmed – they haven't had an emotional connection. Think about the last time you used your weather app, or your alarm. Chances are, it wasn't memorable.

So how can we create charm in our products? One way is through micro-interactions; a momentary delight. For example, in Canva, a rubber ducky appears for every 100th download – a little Easter egg.

This is a great example of how we can bring surface delight to an experience and incorporate playful moments. But we also want to create charm that goes beyond the surface level and creates a lasting emotional impression.

People become invested in stories, especially when they're part of them – it feels more personal. That's not to say we need to forget about productivity and optimization, but how can we weave a story into digital experiences that users can feel a part of, and how can AI become a character in that story?

Once we start designing for this story, with a beginning, middle, and end, we can help take users on this emotional journey. They could experience magic and ultimately start discovering or rediscovering their creativity.

Quote: In the world of Magic Media, imagination is the powerful force that transforms dreams into designs – with AI as the catalyst that brings it to life.

Ingredient #2: Simplicity

One of our core values at Canva is to “make complex things simple.” Simplicity makes things easy for users, and also leaves a positive emotional effect. But what does it mean to be simple?

Often, products get stuck at a stage where they have complex solutions to complex problems. Sure, they're solving the problem, but there's a steep learning curve for people engaging with the product – and the excitement about the product and the pleasure of using it fades.

The solution should be simple but still address all the complexities of the problem. Then, people get to actually enjoy the experience because they're not worried about the complexities they have to face.

Quote: Our job has always been to bring the boundless opportunities of technology into the everyday by giving it structure and making it approachable for our users.

So where does magic come in? This is when not only is the solution so simple, but the complexity of the solution seems so low, it's almost unfathomable – it must be magic. The way our photo editing tool Magic Edit(opens in a new tab or window) uses generative AI to effortlessly transform one element of your image into literally anything based on a simple prompt – complete with a little sparkle – feels almost too easy to be real.

Right now, AI is really giving us a new opportunity to think about how we can design experiences in this new space so people can experience the magic of the unfathomable.

Ingredient #3: The relationship

Every magician needs an audience. The level of audience interaction can vary, but either way, it's still a shared experience; magic comes alive when it’s shared between two people and a connection is built between magician and audience.

The relationship between the AI and a person will be pivotal to how we allow it to foster romance in our everyday lives, and the era of AI design will see a race to form the most intimate relationship. These relationships can be transformative and emotional; the way someone, or in this case, AI, can make you feel will be the mechanism that creates magic.

Quote: I see "magic" not as an extra add-on but a core aspect when blending technology with human experiences.

Different AI products give us different levels of relationship with it based on our engagement. Some work independently in the background – we might even forget it’s there. Some require high engagement, and the AI delivers results based on a prompt, for example, a text-to-image generator(opens in a new tab or window). Some, such as a chatbot, even require interdependence – how the AI responds depends on our engagement, and a powerful relationship can be formed.

We have the opportunity to ensure we don't make the same ethical mistakes of the social media era. With great power comes great responsibility: as we design for relationships, we need to fully understand the possibilities to start to bind the risks and get ahead of the curve.

Back to this quote: "The best moment to influence a new medium is at the very beginning of that medium." We’re at the crux of defining our relationships in this new reality, and we need to ensure we design them in an ethical, safe(opens in a new tab or window) way.

Community feedback loop for Canva AI products

Designing for a new era

As a design company, we have the opportunity to define what this new era could mean for us, where the emotional aspect of magical experiences is becoming more and more valued.

Yes, it’s important our AI products enable productivity and efficiency. But we want to go back to the roots of what makes us human, and design for a world where people are reminded of how magic feels.

It’s no longer just about finding solutions to problems. As AI designers, we're defining this new era, and this is what we’re keeping in mind: how can we not just design an experience, but create safe, magical experiences that everyone will remember?

Ready to dive into the magical experiences we’ve been creating? Explore Magic Studio(opens in a new tab or window) today.

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