Microsoft announces Canva competitor with new 'Designer' app powered by AI

Microsoft Designer uses the OpenAI DALLE-2 model to help create designs faster. Users can sign up for the free preview today.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

A couple of months ago, word (and images) of a new Microsoft Designer app leaked to the web. During its Fall Surface event on October 12, Microsoft officially introduced Microsoft Designer, its new graphic-design app, as well as its "Create" website and coming Image Creator tool. The company also took the wraps off three new Surface PCs and two new accessories during the event.

Microsoft Designer looks a lot like the Canva design app. (Canva even has been testing a text-to-image creation capability which is similar to one of Designer's key features.)  Microsoft is touting Designer, Create and Image Creator as key elements of a family of Microsoft Creator tools. In addition to being part of Microsoft 365, these tools will be integrated with Bing and Microsoft's Edge browser, officials said.

Designer, as earlier leaks indicated, is for creating social media posts, invitations, brochures and other types of designs by either starting from scratch or using Microsoft-provided templates. Under the covers, Designer uses Microsoft AI technologies and the OpenAI DALL-E 2 model which allows users to create custom images using text or images.

Designer is more than just a graphic design app. Inside the company, Microsoft execs have been describing Designer both as the V.1 app introduced today and as "an AI-powered design service." Designer is already in use as part of PowerPoint Designer as a way to help users more easily create good-looking presentations with AI assistance and is expected to be added to more Microsoft products over time.

The new Microsoft Create site, also announced today, is meant for not just Designer users, but also other people who are creating any kinds of assets: documents, videos, presentations and more. It includes templates, curated articles and videos with how-to and inspirational information.

The coming Image Creator tool, which builds on top of the image search capabilities in the Microsoft Bing search engine, is another piece of today's Surface event announcements. Via Image Creator, which will use the same DALL-E 2 image generator technology that's part of the Designer app, users will be able to type a description of some image they're seeking, along with additional context, such as location, activity and art style and Image Creator will build it.

Officials said they plan to make available "soon" a limited preview of Image Creator for select geographies. Once Image Creator is widely available, users will be able to access it by navigating to the Bing Images tab and clicking on "Image Crator." They also will be able to access it via bing.com/create or via the Image Creator icon in the sidebar of Microsoft Edge. Officials stressed that they will be working with OpenAI, the creator of DALL-E 2, to try to weed out inappropriate results from the Designer app and Image Creator.

Those interested in trying out the Designer app can sign up for early access to the free web preview. Once the app is generally available, Microsoft plans to make it available in either as a free app or a premium app with more features that is part of Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscribers. This is similar to the way Microsoft is making available its Clipchamp video editor. Clipchamp is available today as a free editing app for Windows 11 and on the web. Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscribers and Clipchamp "Essentials" subscribers get access to additional premium features.

Microsoft has been trying for years to find ways to hammer home the message that its Surface PCs and Windows operating system are built with creators in mind. This obsession in no small part is because Apple is one of the main targets of the Surface and Windows teams, and Apple has built its business by appealing to creators. Microsoft went so far as to label two of its Windows 10 releases "Creators Updates," and to attempt to launch 3D tools that would have been focused on creators targeting not just Windows PCs, but also Xbox and the HoloLens. Microsoft ended up abandoning that plan.

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