Blank Canvas


The blank canvas is, as the name says, empty. It is a blank slate for you to fill. Either use it to make your own canvas or stick post-its on it and see what happens organically.


Time± 45 minutes
Difficulty3 / 5
People3 - 5
AuthorDesign A Better Business

How To Use the Blank Canvas

The blank canvas can be used in two ways. You can use it to make your own canvas, as described in the step-by-step guide below, or you can use it to let patterns emerge organically, perhaps confronting the team with their own uncertainty. Keep a blank canvas to the side of your workroom and use it to collect the things you are uncertain about, or the ideas you need to work on that don't have a clear purpose at this moment.

Tool Overview

  1. White space The canvas has a lot of white space for you to explore.

Step-by-step guide

1 Before you start

Before you begin creating your own canvas, take a little bit of time to think about the purpose of that canvas. Canvases help you structure information (typically using post-its) visually, and it makes sense to think about the questions you would like to see answered, and the patterns you would like to see.


  • Get the right team of 3-5 people together
  • Grab a large piece of paper
  • Have plenty of sticky notes and markers ready
  • Allow yourself 45-60 minutes of undisturbed time

2 Canvas Guidelines

It is too easy to just put a few unrelated blocks together on the page, give them names, and then say you're done and have created a new canvas. Doing that is pretty useless. Good canvaseses follow a few basic guidelines.

Example In the Business Model Canvas, the 9 building blocks are all connected. There is a flow of information from left to right - from 'creating value' to 'delivering value' - that reflects how you might think about a business model. The way it is organized gives the reader extra insight. Building blocks that are connected on the canvas are also linked conceptually.


  • The different sections ('building blocks') of the canvas are connected in a meaningful way
  • The organization of the building blocks of the canvas is related to the story that canvas should tell
  • The reader can understand the 'flow' of the information on the canvas just by looking at it
  • The different sections have enough space to accomodate a typical number of post-its that is used for that section.

3 Choose a perspective and a visual organization

Depending on what you want to clarify with your canvas, there are a number of 'perspectives' you can adopt. These are the basic flavors of canvases you already know. A canvas should primarily deal with one of the following perspectives. Choose one as your main perspective.


  • Clarify if something belongs to a certain group or not (clustering)
  • Clarify relationships among parts (links, networks)
  • Clarify the order of things (timelines, priority maps)
  • Clarify the location of things in space (maps)
  • Compare things (quadrant maps)
  • TIP The perspective you choose dictates the kind of canvas you are going to create. Look at some of the canvases on this site and try to dissect how the visual organization on the page guides the user to organize the information in the right way.
  • EXAMPLE An example of grouping: Creative Matrix. Grouping can also be done with a matrix, every cell needs to be completed.
  • EXAMPLE The Customer Journey Canvas gives you a good idea of a timeline based canvas.

4 Choose a metaphor

To make the canvas easier to read, use a metaphor. If it is just a collection of rectangles, the user won't immediately get the picture. The metaphor could be quite abstract, or really shaped as a picture. Generally, if you make the canvas more detailed, it becomes easier for a larger group of people to understand what to do without much instruction.

Example The Team Charter Canvas uses the metaphor of driving the bus with all of the outside influences in the world around it to guide a team around the important topics to be discussed at the start of their journey.

Example The Cover Story Canvas uses a more detailed layout to make it clear what kind of information the team should fill in.

Example The Context Canvas depicts the different aspects of the context the user can think about in an image of the world around your business. This also leaves some space for users to come up with additional topics that may not initially have been listed.

5 Plan, Test and Draw!

To draw the canvas, use two steps. It may be quite tempting to just take a marker and draw what you have in mind, but in practice it usually turns out that the organization on the page needs to be changed. So, post-its to the rescue! First, come up with the different building blocks you need, and write them on post-its. Try to organize these on the page. See if you have everything. Get a feel for your spacing. How are the blocks related? Are things that belong together in the same spot?

Tip! When looking at an ordered sequence of things, we (at least in western countries) are used to seeing a direction from left to right. Usually, left precedes right. Things that are on top are more important than things on the bottom. Use these principles to organize your canvas.

Next, test your design (yes, before drawing it!) - come up with one or a few examples and try to fill them in. Does it work? Or do you find that you need an extra building block? Which blocks are really full and need more space? Which ones are quite empty?

Tip! Get real-world examples to do this, so you are not fudging your information to fit. Even better: do it together with other people, that are invested in the result. That way, you can test if the canvas is useful immediately!

Finally, after a few rounds of testing, use the locations of the building-block post-its as a guide to draw your canvas. Remove the post-its, and add a description for each of the building blocks in smaller print.

6 Review and Next Steps

Now, the time has come to review and test your canvas. Use it a number of times. Keep track of what works, and what doesn't. Do users struggle with some of the points? Do you get the output you were hoping for? If not, go back in and adjust it.

Tip! Have an artist or visual designer visualize your canvas. It makes it easier to convince people your canvas is legit if it looks good and is printed. That helps to convince them to invest time understanding the new tool.

Tip! Find ambassadors for your new tool to take it into the organization.


  • Test your new canvas
  • Make a step-by-step description
  • Find someone to design it so you can print it
  • Keep track of your findings and keep improving the canvas