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How to use canvas layout

Canvas layout is a space where you can play around with your data in unstructured ways and identify themes in a fast, lightweight, and flexible way. Once you’ve broken down your interviews or other data into discreet, categorized highlights, you can use canvas layout to cluster similar content together, refine your tagging taxonomy (bottom-up or top-down), and create or refine insights.

Keen to learn more? Read on, check out our blog on affinity mapping, and watch our walkthrough on Loom!

See all the content in your canvas using ‘zoom to fit’

If you ever get lost in canvas, or want to see all of your content within your window, click on the zoom to fit button in the bottom right of your screen. This button will automatically navigate you and adjust your zoom level to ensure you can see all of your content at the click of a button.

Zoom in and out

There are several ways you can zoom in and out canvas layout.

  • Using the zoom menu:

    See the zoom menu in the bottom right corner? It’s your friend! Use the - button to zoom out, and the + button to zoom in. Using this control, you can also select a pre-set zoom level or type your desired zoom level.

  • Using your keyboard to zoom:

    Use the + and - keys on your keyboard to zoom in and out.

  • Using your mouse:

    Use the scroll wheel or touch scroll on your mouse to zoom in and out.

  • Using your trackpad:

    Start with a gap between your fingers on the trackpad, and pinch them together to zoom out. To zoom in, start with your fingers together on the trackpad, and move them apart.

Pan the canvas

  • Using the pan tool Hold down the spacebar on your keyboard or click on the pan tool (hand icon) in the left-hand menu, then click and drag any point in your canvas to pan.

  • Using a trackpad Alternatively, if you use a trackpad, place two fingers on your trackpad and scroll in any direction to pan.

Select and move things in your canvas

  • Choosing the select tool The select tool (the mouse pointer in the left-hand menu) is selected by default. If you happen to be using a different tool, you can switch back to the select tool by tapping (esc) or (H) on your keyboard.

  • Selecting single or multiple objects You can select single objects in canvas by clicking on them. To select multiple objects at once, click on the canvas background and drag a rectangle over the content you want to select. If you already have content selected and want to add a few more things to your selection, hold down SHIFT and click on the content you want to be added.

  • Moving objects in a canvas Once you have selected the content you want to move, simply drag it!

Filter to hide irrelevant content

In canvas layout, you can use filters to refine what content is visible so that you can focus your synthesis on a specific area or topic. For example, you might want to conduct synthesis of highlights related to a particular product area rather than all highlights in the project.

As with all views, you can choose to hide or display content by using the Filter button in the top right corner. Filters become even more powerful when you structure your note and insight content using fields. You can read more about fields here.

Here are some examples of filters you could apply:

  • Filter highlights by tag board or tag group.

  • Filter content by created date, to only show content from the past month.

  • Filter by persona (a note or insight field you could have) to analyze data specific to that customer type

  • Filter content by product area (a note or insight field you could have), to narrow your focus to what matters to you or your stakeholders.

Arrange content into themes using ‘Smart arrange’

Smart arrange is a powerful tool that you can use to speed up your synthesis process. You can use Smart arrange to cluster all of the content in your canvas, or just selected content. You can undo your Smart arrange in your session by clicking the undo button at the top of your screen.

With Smart arrange you can:

Arrange highlights

  • By Tag If you arrange highlights by tag, your highlights will automatically cluster into groups that have the same tag or same sets of tags. For example, highlights that are tagged with a “Pain points” tag will be clustered together, and highlights tagged with “Pain points” and “Charts” will be clustered separately from those with only the first tag. At the moment, it’s not possible for highlights to appear more than once in a canvas - this is something we’re considering as a future improvement!

  • By Note If you arrange highlights by note, highlights that come from “Note A” will automatically arrange themselves in a cluster separate from highlights that come from “Note B”.

Arrange insights

By published status: Using smart arrange to cluster insights by Status will result in a cluster of Draft insights and a cluster of Published insights.

Undo and redo actions in your canvas

With the ability to filter and Smart arrange in just a few clicks, content can move around or disappear pretty quickly! The good news is that you can undo these actions and more by simply clicking the undo button at the top (the counter-clockwise arrow). And, if you go too far back in time, just click the redo button - easy!

You can also use your keyboard controls to undo and redo things:


  • Undo: Ctrl + Z

  • Redo: Ctrl + Shift + Z


  • Undo: Cmd + Z

  • Redo: Cmd + Shift + Z

If your canvas looks different from how you left it, it could be due to actions someone else on your team has performed within the view. You won’t be able to undo these actions, but the teammate who altered the canvas can undo their actions at your request.

Add text to your canvas

You can add context or label clusters of content in canvas using a textbox. To do this, click on the text button in the floating menu on the left of your screen, and click to place the textbox. Then, change the size of the text by clicking on the options visible in the floating menu. You can also use the keyboard shortcut “T” to create text boxes.

Add rectangles to your canvas

Adding rectangles can be a great way to visually define clusters of notes, highlights, or insights. To draw a rectangle, click on the rectangle button in the floating menu on the left of your screen, and click and drag to draw your rectangle.

Create or refine your taxonomy using a canvas layout

Canvas layout can be a great space to create or refine a bottoms-up taxonomy. Depending on the type of research you’re conducting, your analysis process might begin by coding data with broad tags, and refining them as you begin to understand more discreet themes.

After initially highlighting and tagging your data, create a highlight canvas, and form clusters of related highlights by using the Smart arrange button, or by manually dragging highlights around. Then, select a group of highlights and, in the menu that appears at the bottom of your screen, select “Add tag” and create a new tag, or search for an existing tag to apply. You can also remove a tag by clicking the ••• button in the same menu, then clicking “Remove tag”, and searching for the tag you want to remove.

Add content to insights or stories from your canvas

Once you’ve mapped your content into groups, you may want to add a group to an insight or story. To do this:

  1. Select content you want to add to an insight or story.

  2. In the menu that appears at the bottom of your screen, select “Add to insight” or “Add to the story”.

  3. Choose an existing insight/story, or create a new one.

Afterward, a message will appear in the bottom right corner, with a link to the insight or story you added content to. You can use this to open the insight or story and modify how your newly added content is displayed. Read more about insights here and more about stories here.

Share Canvas with teammates

Canvas layout is a great tool for online collaboration with stakeholders and teammates. For example, our product managers sometimes use canvas layout with stakeholders, or a team of developers to help everyone build context on customer needs and pain points.

Actions performed by one user will apply to everyone on the canvas, so if you decide to filter or arrange, everyone will have the same experience. Full visibility cursors mean that you can see where everyone is on the canvas at any given time.

To invite a teammate or stakeholder to collaborate on the canvas:

  1. Click Share

  2. Click Copy link to clipboard

  3. Share the copied link with your collaborator. Note that your teammate will need to be a markup user to view or edit content.

Follow teammates in canvas

See canvas layout from your teammate's point of view. Track their movements to easily collaborate and get feedback.

Click your teammate's Avatar in the top right then follow along while they move, zoom and edit.

Find content in canvas

Use quick find in canvas to locate the content you're looking for.

  1. Click the search icon in the top right of your canvas

  2. Type in any keywords or phrases

  3. Use the up and down arrows to navigate between results

Export your canvas

At any time, you can export your canvas to PNG by clicking the more button (•••) to the right of your view name in the top panel.

What is this dotted line around my canvas content?

The dotted line on your canvas acts as container holding any notes, highlights, or insights you haven't yet moved or clustered (by hand or using the Smart arrange button). We call this area a "staging area", where content sits before it is committed to a place on your Canvas. You can move the staging area around anytime by clicking and dragging from the dotted line.

How does Smart arrange work?

Smart arrange lets you get a quick start on your synthesis by clustering notes, highlights, or insights.

If you have nothing selected, smart arrange will automatically arrange all of the content within your canvas. You can also select a portion of content and use Smart arrange to group that particular content into clusters.

Smart arranging highlights

  • By tags → this automatically arranges your highlights into clusters. Each cluster of highlights corresponds to a specific tag or combination of tags. Currently, only one of each highlight can exist within a canvas so that you won't find any duplicates between clusters.

  • By notes → this automatically arranges your highlights into clusters, where each group of highlights is from a specific note (e.g. an interview).

Smart arranging notes

  • By single select note field → this automatically clusters notes by their field value. You can see the field value by opening the note and looking at the field section. This function will only work if you have a single select field on your notes.

Smart arranging insights

  • By single select insight field → similar functionality as written above for notes

How does Smart arrange work when I have multiple tags on one highlight?

Currently, the canvas does not support duplicated highlights, so a single highlight can only belong to one if you’re creating clusters or themes. Smart arrange automatically arranges your highlights into clusters. Each cluster has a specific tag or combination of tags on the highlight canvas. For example, if you have some highlights tagged as ‘Pain point’ and ‘Charts,’ they will get clustered with other highlights also tagged with both ‘Pain point’ and ‘Charts.’ This cluster will be separate from highlights tagged with either ’Pain point’ or ‘Charts’ (but not both).

What happens if I delete something from my canvas?

Deleting an object from canvas will delete it from the project, not just the canvas — so don’t do that unless that’s your intent. If you’d like to zoom in on a particular subset of your data, it’s better to use Filter. Deleting rectangles and text from canvas can be done quickly using your keyboard, but we’ve intentionally made it more difficult to delete content (notes, highlights, insights). To delete content, you first need to select objects, then use the bulk select menu that appears to delete the selected objects.

I've lost my canvas content!

If you think you've lost your canvas content, there are a few potential explanations:

  • You're looking at the wrong canvas view. Check the other canvas views in your project.

  • You've accidentally panned away from your work, so the canvas seems blank. Use the Smart arrange button.

  • You've applied a filter that hides a lot of the previously placed content. Remove any incomplete filters or filters that might be hiding content you want to see.

  • One of your colleagues has used Smart arrange without you knowing. Ask your colleague to undo their changes.

  • Poor canvas performance makes it seem like you've lost your work, but the canvas was just taking some time to load. Performance shouldn't be an issue anymore.

Why can't I create or edit an object in my canvas?

If you can't create or edit a canvas object, there are a few possible explanations:

  • You are assigned a 'viewer' role for the current project or workspace. Contact your workspace's manager or project owner to grant you a 'contributor' role or full access.

  • You have reached the max number of canvas objects. Currently for performance reasons we allow 1000 text and rectangle objects to exist on a canvas at one time. If you delete unused text boxes and rectangles, you'll be able to create objects again.

  • You have hit the max character count for a text object. To prevent text objects from growing too large and unwieldy there is a 5000 character limit for a text object. If you wish to add more text, simply create a new text object.

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Create and update views in projects


Chloe Blattmann

Product Manager

Article info

Last updated 19 September 2022
9 min read

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