Abstract This research proposes a model that predicts the effect of the anode diffusion layer and membrane properties on the electrochemical performance and methanol crossover of a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) membrane electrode assembly (MEA). It is an easily extensible, lumped DMFC model. Parameters used in this design model are experimentally obtainable, and some of the parameters are indicative of material characteristics. The quantification of these material parameters builds up a material database. Model parameters for various membranes and diffusion layers are determined by using various techniques such as polarization, mass balance, electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS), and interpretation of the response of the cell to step changes in current. Since the investigation techniques cover different response times of the DMFC, processes in the cell such as transport, reaction and charge processes can be investigated separately. Properties of single layers of the MEA are systematically varied, and subsequent analysis enables identification of the influence of the layer's properties on the electrochemical performance and methanol crossover. Finally, a case study indicates that the use of a membrane with lower methanol diffusivity and a thicker anode micro-porous layer (MPL) yields MEAs with lower methanol crossover but similar power density.