What You Can Learn From Canva’s Unconventional Privacy Notice

Customer experience differentiation can happen in the most unlikely of places.


Most companies treat their privacy policy communication as a bland, administrative exercise.  But what if they viewed it as a potential customer experience enhancer?  That’s precisely what Canva has done with the latest update to its privacy policy.

The company (an Australian start-up recently valued at $4.7 billion) sells a software-as-service platform for simplified graphic design, allowing people to create print and digital marketing materials.

That’s Canva’s product.  Their purpose, however, is to democratize graphic design – to create a tool that is imbued with such simplicity, it allows amateurs to do things that previously were only in the domain of experienced design professionals.

So “simplicity” is at the core of Canva’s brand, and it’s an attribute that the company tries to weave through its entire customer experience, from an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface, to its polished design templates, to – yes, even its privacy notice.

What’s notable about Canva’s Privacy Policy is how they’ve worked to take the conventional, complex, legalese privacy notice and turn it into something simpler and more useful to the customer.

The policy is presented in two columns, with the typical lawyer-drafted version on the left and a plain language summary on the right.  Here’s an excerpt illustrating that structure:

Canva's privacy policy advances their customer experience.

Not only has Canva sought to distill privacy policy terms into a more easily understood format, they’ve actually injected their casual and witty brand voice into the plain language translations:

Canva's privacy policy advances their customer experience.

Granted, it’s not often that customers (in any business, not just Canva’s) take the time to actually click through and read a privacy policy.  However, those that do on Canva will be pleasantly surprised – not necessarily because of the terms of the policy itself (though, as Apple has demonstrated, that can be a source of customer experience differentiation, as well) – but rather, because of how those terms are communicated.

The two lessons to be learned here transcend privacy notices and are relevant to any written communication that a business sends to its customers:

  • There is no such thing as an administrative communication.  Everything that’s put in front of a customer (live, digital or print) constitutes part of the customer experience.  That includes all the communications that many companies view as “administrative” messaging:  privacy policies, terms of service, contractual documents, disclosures, invoices, account statements, benefit summaries, etc.  These communications may not be very glamorous, and marketers may not be trampling over one another to work on them.  However, the fact is, all of these communications afford an opportunity to advance a brand’s voice, influence brand perceptions and build brand engagement.
  • Legally-protecting communication can coexist with loyalty-enhancing communication.  Why didn’t Canva just write its entire privacy policy in plain language?  Why relegate that helpful text to a supplementary column?  The answer may lie with its Legal department.  Corporate lawyers are tasked with protecting a company’s interests in what is undeniably our highly litigious society.  That’s a valid and important undertaking, but it often leads companies to defer to their lawyers instead of focusing on their customers (giving rise to legally-compliant but decidedly unfriendly communications).  The Canva example illustrates how the sometimes conflicting interests of lawyers and businesspeople can be reconciled, by using plain language supplements to mitigate the unpleasantness of legally-minded communications.

Will the phrasing of a privacy policy make or break a business like Canva?  Probably not.  But what it can do (along with all the other “administrative” communication touchpoints) is create a set of cues that start to either reinforce or refute a customer’s overall brand impression.

If Canva seeks to evoke a sense of simplicity through its customer experience, that attribute will be gradually undermined in consumers’ minds if they continually encounter complex communications from the company.  Conversely, if every Canva communication is refreshingly clear and simple, it strengthens the desired brand impression.

Over time, those customer experience cues accumulate and can tip the customer engagement scale either in, or out of, a brand’s favor.  Canva clearly recognizes this, which explains the unconventional approach they took in communicating their privacy policy.

It’s an approach that other businesses would be wise to emulate – with any customer communication, however inconsequential it may appear to be.

[A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com.]


Jon Picoult is the founder of customer experience advisory firm Watermark Consulting.  As a consultant and a speaker, he’s worked with the CEOs and executive teams of some of the world’s top brands.  Follow Jon on Twitter or Subscribe to his monthly eNewsletter.


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