6 Mind Mapping Tools to Increase Design Efficiency

Editor’s note: This is a contributed post by Jo Sabin, community manager at DesignCrowd.com, a leading online graphic design jobs marketplace.

The technique of mind mapping has actually been around for centuries, but Tony Buzan, a psychology author from the ’70s, was the most recent advocate of mind mapping, explaining that jotting down ideas in a branch-like fashion is much more conducive to the way we automatically skim a page when not conformed to linear note-taking. And it makes sense.

In a mind map, you start with a central idea or an image of your idea (such as "Fashion Business Card") and then branch out ideas in a hierarchical, flowing fashion.

Mind mapping helps designers float in between each aspect as ideas come to them in a visual way. It does this by allowing the use of colors, fonts, strokes on the connecting lines, graphics, photos, and even videos – yes, you can create digital mind maps now.

Here’s a list of the 6 best mind mapping tools for designers, and how they can help. Some are free, while others require a monthly fee, but they are all top-notch mind mapping programs.

1. Coggle

This incredible mind mapping program claims that it works more like people and thoughts, and less like a computer. It is completely free, and you can work on it completely online (there is no need to download anything). Your mind maps can be exported to PDF or PNG, if necessary.

Coggle.it also supports collaborative work and can track changes from anyone who is adding to or editing the mind map. It comes with a color wheel for easy selection of colors, as well as drag-and-drop for adding images. There is even a history mode that allows you to go back to previous versions and work from those.

2. MindMeister

With MindMeister, the features seem endless. Some of its best features include the ability to share mind maps via email or link, play back changes with History View, and export to lots of different formats. All changes from users are color-coded, and the change history is stored forever on the MindMeister servers.

Plus, you can use it on mobile and tablets and it is super easy to use. However, some of the more advanced options mentioned here come only with the Personal, Pro or Business versions which goes for $4.99, $9.99 and $14.99 a month, respectivey. You do get a free 30-day trial to try out the plans before subscribing.

3. MindNode

This mind mapper was featured on Apple as an "App Store Best", and only costs a one-time fee of $9.99. Although it only works on an iPhone, iPad or Mac, the good thing is that you can start a mind map on your Mac, leave for coffee with your iPad, and continue working on your mind map there at the coffee shop thanks to iCloud or Dropbox syncing options.

Other great features include the ability to cross-connect nodes from different mind maps, easy keyboard shortcuts, active hyperlinks, show and hide entire branches, tap to add nodes, and reorganize complicated maps. The maps also automatically rearrange to create room when adding content.

MindNode is simple and easy to use, and it comes with color themes, different strokes and fonts, and you can change colors of each aspect in the map. You can even embed your map into websites or blogs, share link on Twitter, email, or Facebook, and export to text file, FreeMind, PNG, PDF, or OPML.

4. Stormboard

Stormboard has a shared whiteboard and sticky note-like format for online collaboration. You can vote, comment, add priority, organize, and even connect remotely or via mobile device. Stormboard also gives summary reports instantly. You can also add photos and videos, and use the available templates, some of which has been customized by Stormboard based on previous mindmapping sessions.

It is also secured with SSL encryption, putting your mind at ease. Best of all, there’s actually a free version, which includes 5 users, 1 admin, and unlimited storms. The $5/user/month version comes with 30 users, 1 admin, unlimited storms, and a free 30-day trial. The $10/user/month gives you unlimited everything plus a free 30-day trial.

5. XMind 2013

The XMind 2013 is a beast of a mind mapping program, so it’s easy to see why paid versions start at $79. But there is a free version, which comes with everything a graphic designer would need: local network sharing, templates, IME support, different structures (tree chart, org-chart, logic chart, and more), a "matrix" view similar to a table which can be converted to a mind map or vice versa, presentations, attachments, password encryption, and even audio notes.

You can also share your mind map on the XMind network and set the privacy to public, private, or unlisted. Visitors can comment, bookmark, or download your map, if your map is public or privately shared with them.

What doesn’t come with the free version is the ability to export to Microsoft files, HTML, and images such as GIF, JPG, PNG, BMP. You can also export in vectors to PDF/SVG and to any Microsoft Office files when using a Mac, even if you don’t have Office installed on your Mac.

6. Mapul

Mapul has a fun, handwritten, organic look and feel, and it’s very colorful. It is only available on the web, but desktop and mobile versions are coming soon. For the surprisingly low cost of $2.50/month, you get quite a bit of excellent features. For instance, it comes with Web cloud images and you can upload images, export your mind map as an image or local file.

Other features include full cloud support, share via the Web, create unlimited maps, make presentations of your maps, add hyperlinks, and even premium support for email. Multi-user licenses are available as well. And there is actually a free version, but of course it comes with limited accessibility to all of the features mentioned above.

Wrap Up

You can check out these great mind mapping tools with the offered free trials before you actually get into some digital mind mapping. And if none of them appeals to you, there’s always the old-fashioned way of using large sheets of paper and colored pencils, or a whiteboard and colored markers.


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