The next Microsoft Designer is a visual art design tool that you to have to try for yourself. It’s simply one of the best consumer apps Microsoft has ever made, following in the footsteps of Clipchamp.
Why use Designer? Two reasons: AI art and models. In Designer, you can combine seemingly unlimited amounts of AI art with intelligently suggested templates that can generate finished projects in just seconds.
Microsoft announced Microsoft Designer in October, and it’s currently locked to a small group of testers in preview mode. PCWorld gained access via preview codes shared on Twitter, and that’s how Microsoft is slowly adding users. After uploading your first design, you’ll receive a code for three additional Designer licenses that you can share with anyone. Microsoft Designer will eventually be part of Microsoft 365, although the AI art features will apparently be shared with Image Creator, a tool for Microsoft Edge.
Interestingly, however, Designer is very not a business tool, at least for now. Shared preview codes don’t work with business or education accounts. Instead, only consumer versions of Microsoft accounts can use Microsoft Designer, which is very much in line with the general theme – it’s a consumer tool first and foremost.
In fact, Designer looks a lot like the add-on to Microsoft Clipchamp, the fantastic web-based video editor launched earlier this year. Microsoft bought Clipchamp, and it’s unclear where the resources for Designer came from. But Designer’s UI and layout is reminiscent of Clipchamp, with more polish. If you recently set up a new Windows 11 PC, everything will look familiar. But as our hands-on Clipchamp review noted, the web-based nature of the app introduces a few wrinkles. My Designer tabs that I had open gave an error message when I returned to it the next morning, forcing me to reload the page. (My project, however, was intact.)
How to use Microsoft Designer
Mark Hachman / IDG
Chances are you can create a professional-looking image in minutes, honestly. Designer wastes no time: after a short animation on designer.microsoft.com, Designer immediately gets to work. There are three entry points: what you want to say, what you want to show, and what you want to create.
Where Designer shines is in how cleverly it uses all the cues you give it to get your design off the ground. Type “Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary” in the Your design title (Add text) domain, and Designer will create a number of birthday cards in seconds, with images of rings and cakes. Enter “Little League Pizza Party” and you’ll see about a dozen different designs featuring pizza background images, with various fonts and layouts.
It’s AI, but not the flashy kind: just a smart, helpful app that contributes what it can, then steps aside.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Designer also lets you start with an image or photo that you have saved to your computer. Here, Designer can’t really tell what message you’re trying to convey, so you’ll have to modify the layouts to convey the intent, for example, an invitation or “wish you were here”. The designer seemed to do a pretty good job of correctly identifying the focal point of a photo in the center.
Once you’ve selected a template, you can always make quick on-the-fly edits to another template as well. You can also use some of the suggested items (which you see on the left of the workspace) to add to the scene. But, honestly, the templates are so clean and polished that cluttering them almost seems pointless.
Mark Hachman / IDG
The designer’s AI art is powerful, not flashy
The designer also downplays what should be the centerpiece of the app: the art of AI. The third field on the Designer start page is Generate an image using a descriptionand that’s definitely the sexiest part of Designer: the ability to create custom backgrounds for just about anything.
AI art started to take off last summer, and the concept is simple: enter a text description of what you want to see, no matter how fantastic, and the AI service will attempt to create it. A wedding scene on the back of a beach ball? A gorilla at the dentist like Andy Warhol? A pencil sketch of a koala samurai? All this is possible.
In fact, once you’ve typed in your text prompt, Microsoft will then list suggestions that tweak it even further, to give you ideas on how to tweak the end result. It’s honestly a bit confusing because it’s not entirely intuitive that you just need to click the purple arrow icon to start generating the results, which will give you three to choose from.
AI art nerds will be interested to know that there are apparently Nope limits the number of images you can create. Microsoft has previously stated that instead of using the old DALL-E algorithm, it uses the more sophisticated DALL-E 2 algorithm. My prompts took about a dozen seconds to produce results. While you can’t directly save the results to your hard drive (Designer uses them as genesis for new projects), you can right-click and open or save the images in a new tab. This reveals that Microsoft generates 1024×1024 frames.
There are some restrictions: you cannot use any of your own images as the source of AI art. There’s no apparent inpainting or outpainting, terms used to limit the AI to a certain part of a scene.
Don’t expect any risque birthday cards either: trying topless or even “pin-up” images yielded a rather generic error message (“We couldn’t generate an image this time” .) Celebrity images seemed to work, but not political figures like Donald Trump. “Barry Bonds Dressed as an Airline Pilot” and “George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in a Boxing Match” produced results, although the latter presidents were long dead. The portrayals of actors like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are off enough that you probably don’t care either.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Microsoft is undoubtedly using its Azure cloud network to generate the AI images, which will help take AI art from a rather prized luxury like Midjourney to a commodity within months. But Microsoft has rather moved beyond all that: Microsoft’s position seems to be that AI art is just another tool for quickly creating beautiful, finished pieces to share among friends, colleagues, clients, and clients.
Microsoft takes the same “it’s just a tool” approach to more detailed editing. If you move page elements around, expect to see visual guides to help you align them with other page elements. You also don’t need to add any custom generated AI art; Designer will allow you to search the app for something like “beach scene in Maui” and return dozens of photos that you can add to your creation, with various adjustments like opacity, size, etc.
Did you find a nice picture of your child holding your cat? The in-app AI will let you blur the background of that photo or remove it entirely. It’s not perfect and seems to lack specific tools from, say, a Photoshop. But again, it’s quick and generally effective.
What’s nice is that we’re seeing some of those tools that Microsoft has scattered across its other apps finally come together in Designer. Paint 3D’s Magic Select, for example, seems to be behind Designer’s background removal feature. Designer also provides a inspire me button in the Visuals tab, which tries (I think) to bring a more consistent image to the project as a whole; we’ve seen a similar AI tool in Windows’ Photos app.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Interestingly, Microsoft makes no distinction between a “free” tier and a “premium” tier, as it does with Clipchamp. That might be because Designer is part of Microsoft 365. But it’s very possible that Microsoft is consciously targeting rival Canva, which offers Canva Premium for $12.99 per month. Canva Premium includes background removal, premium animations, and a database of over 100 million premium photos (and yes, text-to-image AI art) plus a terabyte of storage in the clouds per month. This all sounds similar to what Microsoft Designer and Microsoft 365 potentially offer, although I don’t yet see the diversity of Designer templates that Canva claims to offer.
The only thing I don’t like about Designer is that there is an opt-out watermark (no opt-in), so when it comes time to save your creation, you have to make sure to check the correct box. Otherwise, Designer simplifies the realization of your project: you can upload your creation or simply share it on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn directly from Designer. You can even share the image on your phone; The designer will create a QR code that your phone can scan to download the image. (It didn’t work for me, but that’s probably because my Android phone defaults to Chrome, and there are probably permission issues with the beta software.)
I also noticed the lack of linking or integration with printing services – if Designer lets you create your own professional e-book cover, poster or greeting card in seconds, why not offer the option to print your finished project on nice thick card stock?
Otherwise, Designer is already excellent: fast, efficient, smart, simple and nifty. Along with Clipchamp, this is the best customer service I’ve seen from Microsoft in years. A creative renaissance is underway at Microsoft, and we’re seeing it happen, app by app.
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