Building a better marketplace for Japanese art and doujinshi with Shenkii

Timeline: October 2020 - Present
Role: Co-founder, Product Designer, and Software Developer


the problem

A big problem with today’s online marketplace for selling digital art is the ease of duplication and piracy.

Being a form of art and publication, the same can be said for Japanese-styled art, manga, and doujinshi (Japanese self-published art).

what’s solved with blockchain?

With the development of blockchain, several digital art marketplaces emerged to solve this problem by tokenizing artworks NFT (non-fungible tokens) such as the ERC-721.

With a tokenized artwork, authenticity can be verified, the origin can be tracked, and ownership can be proved.

However, most blockchain art marketplaces were generic, lacked control for the artist, and due to the nature of web3, lacked the user experience that most users are used to.

the solution

Current NFT marketplaces vs Shenkii

A blockchain art marketplace for Japanese-styled art, manga, and doujinshi. The platform will be designed with a focus on giving the artist the control and providing a familiar Web 2.0 experience to allow ease of usage and onboarding for users.

gain creators

  1. Provide a Japanese-art focused platform to doujinshi artists and mangaka (manga artists) to self-publish and sell their work for cryptocurrency

  2. Provide the tools to allow doujinshi artists and mangaka to protect, track, and monetize their work

  3. Provide a social space for fans, artists, and collectors to share and view Japanese art

user personas


Jun Takahashi is an amateur freelance manga artist from Tokyo, Japan. Jun has 5 years of experience drawing manga and sell his doujinshi on various online platforms.


Jun’s biggest concerns with the current online platform are the lack of profitability and protection of copyright.


Jun wants a way to be able to sustainably generate profit and track the distribution of his work online.


Fan Kang is a university student from Toronto, Canada. An avid manga reader, Fan is passionate about Japanese culture and often collect both physical and digital merchandise from his favorite manga and anime.


Fan sometimes doesn’t know if the merchandise he bought came directly from the artist. He also doesn’t have a way to share what he collects with other fans.


Fan wants a platform where he can buy directly from artists that he likes, and a place to store all of his digital collection.


user flow

User flow chart for new users

From our previous identification of the problems that persist amongst current blockchain marketplaces, the user experience and usability of new users to the blockchain space was a key problem. With so many centralized social media and web platforms closely integrated with our daily lives, it may not be obvious to first-time users what it means to be a decentralized platform, or what values it offers. Many users may be unfamiliar with the term "wallet" in the web3 context and may be wondering why there isn't a way for them to create an account.

These are valid confusions and frustrations that the user would have if it's their first time interacting with a decentralized platform built on top of the blockchain. That's why when I designed the user flow of our platform, I took careful consideration into how I can make the onboarding experience for new users better. I took the experience from our team's first time with blockchain, and build the guidance that I wish were there at the time.

Key designs of the user flow

  1. Build an experience that the users are familiar with
  2. Choose technologies that minimize the barrier of entry and learning
  3. Make a comprehensive and informational About page that will educate the users on the technology, and provide answers to FAQ
  4. Provide helpful information and/or tooltips at key steps involving web3 technologies

designing the marketplace

Inspiration of the marketplace design (source)
Marketplace / wallet not connected
Marketplace / wallet connected

Different from traditional e-commerce marketplaces such as Amazon, a marketplace for art should be a visual-first exploratory experience. I wanted the user to experience the feeling of going to an art gallery, not a marketplace. Instead of cluttering the user's view with competing prices and endless options, I wanted the users to have their focus on appreciating the art.

I went with a very minimalistic design with our marketplace. Decluttering the UIs to free up as much space as possible to spotlight each and every piece of art. The card UI containing the art was designed to maximize the viewing size of the art, taking inspiration from art galleries.

highlight the artwork

Individual Art page
Past iterations of the Art page

With the art page, I continue to design with the philosophy that when building an online marketplace for digital art, art should be the focus of the user's attention. Like the real-world experience of walking up to a piece of artwork that you find intriguing in the gallery, I wanted the user to have a similar experience when selecting a specific piece of artwork. On the art page, the user is able to see the artwork in much greater detail and size. More relevant information such as detailed description, number of copies, past ownership will also be displayed.

In past iterations, the CTA and price on the art page were less obvious. Key details of a non-fungible token (NFT) such as showing ownership history and helpful tooltips for pricing were also missing. In the current design, I aim to make the CTA (purchasing the art) more obvious, as well as improve the visibility of important information on the page.

collecting can be social

Another user's collection page

From my user research, an important insight that I've collected was that the users feel that it's important for them to be able to showcase their collection to other people. With that in mind, I thought it would make sense to design a layer of rich social features on top of the barebone collection page. To keep the experience familiar, I designed a social sidebar with influence from Instagram and Twitter. The sidebar has its position fixed when scrolling so that it remains a point of interest while the user scrolls through the collection. I wanted the collector to be able to tell their stories. When the user wants to make a connection to the story or follow the collector, it can be done easily. An improvement that I would want to add on top of this would be the option to discover and showcase art to like-minded individuals.

An artist's collection page

If the user has created artworks before, their social sidebar on the collection page changes to reflect that. Once the user's role gets upgraded to an artist, additional tools and features are provided. One of the features that we want to implement in the future is Commission. An insight that I learned from the research was that users like the artwork/doujinshi more if it's personally made for them.

the user's collection page

To add a little incentive for the users to create and collect more artworks, I added flairs in the social sidebar to showcase their progression. As the user collects and/or create more artworks, the flairs will progressively upgrade.

make the web3 UX better

Traditional new user onboarding experience with Metamask (source)
New user onboarding experience with Fortmatic (source)

Due to the nature of web3, traditional user experience with onboarding to a decentralized app would require many steps and blockchain software that may not be intuitive to everyone. By choosing to use Fortmatic, a simpler and familiar experience can be provided to the user. By keeping the friction and barrier of entry to the decentralized app low, more users can be obtained.

Fortmatic wallet modal

By using Fortmatic, the developer experience was simplified too. Instead of worrying about the UIs of how users will connect to their wallets, Fortmatic's login modal can simplify development and save time, which is crucial in a small and lean team.

next steps

As Shenkii is currently still in active design and development, I anticipate the platform to continue to evolve with more feedback and research. Most of the decisions made with the design were based on the insights that we have gathered through speaking with our users and researching the current market. While our team's current focus is on implement the backend, I aim to conduct further usability tests on my design decisions.

Learning from our market and user research, another of our key focus is on the artist. We believe in delivering better tools to help artists in the tokenization, protection, and sale of their artworks. Expect the design of features and tools for artists coming soon.


Working on both the design and development of Shenkii has taught me a lot about decentralized applications (dApp), blockchain, web3, and the doujinshi art industry. While it was the first time for our team to develop with blockchain technologies, it was also my first time in taking a lead role in product design. With those two factors combined, I faced a lot of unknowns and technical constraints when designing Shenkii. One of the biggest challenges that I continuously work on with design is how to make the dApp experience for new users feel familiar and frictionless.