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Making Sense of Canvas Tools: Analysis and Comparison of Popular Canvases

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Technical Session 9

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Joe Tranquillo Bucknell University

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Dr. Joseph (Joe) Tranquillo is an Associate Professor at Bucknell University in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, He is also co-director of the Institute for Leadership in Technology and Management, co-director of the KEEN Winter Interdisciplinary Design Program, and past chair of the Biomedical Engineering Division of ASEE. Tranquillo has published three undergraduate textbooks and numerous engineering education publications, and has presented internationally on engineering and education. His work has been featured on the Discovery Channel, CNN Heath and TEDx. He wis a twice nominated US Case Professor and a National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Education faculty member.

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William A. Kline Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Bill Kline is Associate Dean of Innovation and Professor of Engineering Management at Rose-Hulman. He joined Rose-Hulman in 2001 and his teaching and professional interests include systems engineering, design, quality, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Bill is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Illinois College and a Bronze Tablet graduate of University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign where he received a Ph.D. degree in Mechanical Engineering.

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Cory Hixson Virginia Tech

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Cory is currently a NSF Graduate Research Fellow and PhD Candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. He earned his B.S. in Engineering Science from Penn State University in 2007, graduating with honors, and his M.S. in Industrial and System Engineering from Virginia Tech in 2014. Cory has experience as both a professional engineer and high school educator. His professional and research interests are understanding faculty technology commercialization experiences, the interaction between engineering/education pedagogy and entrepreneurship, and institutional policies that influence both engineering education and entrepreneurship.

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Following on the popularity of the Business Model Canvas, a variety of additional canvas diagrams have recently been introduced for use in design, entrepreneurship, and business settings. This paper reviews a number of these popular canvas tools and describes the structures and processes that make them useful in academic and business settings.

Our top-level analysis recognizes that a canvas is a visual tool for decomposing a system. Visual representations of conceptual or qualitative models of systems are not new. In many of these cases, the representation expresses fixed relationships among known elements (typically the boxes in the canvas) or a series of process steps. Many of the recently introduced canvas diagrams are unique in that they are used to develop conceptualizations of models used in design or business systems.

Our second level of analysis defines a set of attributes that allow for the characterization and comparison of canvas diagrams. These attributes include system, life cycle, and educational characteristics. It is important to note that attributes were not created to score or rank canvases against one another, but instead to support individuals and organizations as they evaluate the canvases for their specific needs.

Our third level of analysis is to apply the attributes to ten popular canvases. This analysis reveals that these canvases have been developed for different types of systems in different stages of their life cycle. We include a brief case study to demonstrate the origin of a canvas and how its elements can be decomposed using the attributes previously identified.

For engineering educators, this review and analysis of popular canvases supports our understanding and decision making regarding canvas within a learning environment. Specifically, our analysis enhances educators’ ability to determine when canvases may be useful educational tools, how to select the appropriate canvas for a particular setting, and how to develop a new canvas diagram when a suitable one does not exist.

Tranquillo, J., & Kline, W. A., & Hixson, C. (2016, June), Making Sense of Canvas Tools: Analysis and Comparison of Popular Canvases Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26211

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