Introducing the Protocol Canvas — Designing Better Decentralized Protocols.

The Protocol Canvas is a means of mapping primitives between actors within a decentralized protocol. Derived from the Business Model Canvas, the Protocol Canvas is designed for decentralized systems and is a fully open-sourced effort.

The purpose of creating the Protocol Canvas is to help individuals and organizations capture their protocol design in a standardized way and to contribute towards the newly-realized discipline of Token Engineering.

protocol canvas template The Protocol Canvas Template

Download the Protocol Canvas Template.


Protocol Canvas Overview

Designing decentralized systems brings into context some novel areas of research and development, such as crypto-economics, token design, decentralized protocol architecture, and token engineering. However, there are a lack tools for entrepreneurs, engineers, product managers & designers to express and optimize their protocol designs.

The Protocol Canvas is a tool for ‘Protocol Designers’ to help design a new decentralized system. The canvas can also be used to deconstruct existing decentralized systems to identify design gaps and to improve its future development. Whitepapers can efficiently leverage this canvas to clearly communicate their protocol design to a discerning audience of engineers, investors and token holders.

Using The Canvas

Mechanism Design is a sub-discipline of economics dedicated to studying how to design protocols that incentivize rational actors to behave in socially desirable ways.

In game theory, we take the game as a given and analyze its outcomes according to player utilities, whereas mechanism design allows one to start by defining desirable outcomes and work backwards to create a game that incentivizes players towards those outcomes.

The principles of mechanism design is a driving factor in approaching the design of decentralized protocols.

Objectives & Decentralized Protocol Primitives

The primary objective is to capture the participating network Actor mappings to the system’s Decentralized Protocol Primitives (DPPs).

Some examples for Actors are:

Some examples for DPPs are:

Incentives can refer to activities such as block rewards and earning tokens. Staking & slashing can be considered as governance measures.

As more canvases are built and the designs are mapped out, I’ve noticed some interesting observations:

Putting it all together — Examples

What we end up with is a matrix, or the Protocol Canvas. I have attempted to capture the primitives for some of the well known protocols below in order to give concrete examples.

NOTE — the information below could possibly be outdated or not entirely accurate due to the continually evolving nature of protocol design, and is purely my interpretation at the time of my writing this article. It is not my intention to mislead or improperly characterize the protocols in anyway. For accurate and updated information on the protocols, please read the respective whitepapers and public documentation for each of these projects. I personally am a big fan of these projects.


Dharma is a platform for building borderless lending products using programmable, tokenized debt. Read the Dharma Whitepaper.

dharma protocol canvas Dharma’s Protocol Canvas


A decentralized data exchange protocol to unlock data for AI. Read Ocean’s Whitepapers.

ocean protocol canvas Ocean’s Protocol Canvas


Swap is the underlying peer-to-peer protocol for Airswaps decentralized exchange. Read the Swap Whitepaper.

airswap protocol canvas AirSwap’s Protocol Canvas

If you find yourself using the Protocol Canvas, please do share with the OSS community your canvas by submitting a PR here. Discussions, ideas and feedback around improving the Protocol Canvas are always welcome. Reach out to me at rahul (at) paperchain (dot) io if you have any comments or questions.

Those of you in New York can join the Token Engineering NYC meetup that we hold monthly.