When starting a new design project, it is often difficult to decide where to start from. Ideas can flow from the brain like a waterfall and so it’s hard to remember them for later use. In my experience, I’ve found that the mind mapping of ideas is the best and most powerful way to get real benefits from those ideas. It’s also a life-saver for the early stages of the design process. What follows is a brief explanation on how to use mind maps and why they should be part of your design process from the outset.
What are mind maps?
Mind maps are nothing more than a list of words—that are your ideas—arranged around a central word—or theme—and are linked to each other. The scope of mind mapping is to help in visualizing, structuring, and classifying ideas. To serve as an aid for studying, organizing information, and making decisions. In other words, mind maps are a graphical representation of your ideas and of the way your brain links them.
Instead of writing all your ideas in a long vertical list with scarce and poor connections, putting them around a central theme—the main idea to be developed—helps in studying them without the limits of a typical tree diagram. For example, in a tree diagram, the further down you go, the less important the information becomes. However, in mind maps, even if there is a differentiation, every single word or idea is important, and is a potential solution to the problem.
Basic mind mapping guidelines
As previously mentioned, the first thing you need is a central theme. This central theme will be what all the other ideas gravitate around. This is usually the problem you are trying to solve or it can also be the bigger concept you will expand on. When mind mapping for a design process, usually the central word is the main feature you have to develop. It must be one of the ideas your design communicates.
Once you’ve positioned it in the center of the sheet, you should start writing around it all the words that come to mind. For example, if your central theme is “wine”, perhaps some of the first words that will come to mind will be “bottle”, “grape”, “farm”, “red”, “alcohol” and so on. All these words must be written down around “wine”, the central word. Even the most trivial words must be written down. You never know how a seemingly “irrelevant” word can be helpful in discovering other links and routes.
Some experts recommend also using colors and small drawings in the mind mapping process in order to let it be more organic and natural. You can use colors, for example, to differentiate branches of words and better categorize them. Adding small drawings can give movement to the mind map and helps you focus on the idea you’re trying to expand. Remember that a picture or a drawing will be processed in a different way by your brain instead of a word alone. A picture usually makes a deeper impression on the mind and is easier to remember.
Mind mapping for design
There is no difference between mind maps for design and standard mind maps. The concept of how to develop them is exactly the same. Mind mapping during the design process is one of the first and most important parts of the whole design process. This is even truer when speaking of logo design. When designing for a client as well as designing for yourself, you need to expand as much as possible on the basic concept that works as the fundamental element of the design project. You need to gather as many ideas as possible and, most of all, you need a way to connect them and use them within the design.
If you have had one or more meetings with the client, you should already have enough basis for a concept to think about and develop. You will probably know what kind of feeling your client wants to express with the design you’re going to propose. Or perhaps, you may even know what feelings NOT to evoke. You will have at this point most likely talked about color preference and a bit of the company’s history. All these things help form the basis of your design, without which your design would be based on guess work.
To get the best out of this information, you need to expand on it and make connections. Here is where mind maps come in to help you. Some aspects you’ve gathered by talking with your client may not have any real use on their own, but once linked with certain other aspects, you’ll be able to use them in your design. Let’s get more specific.
A typical use of mind maps: logo design
Assume we’re talking of a logo design project. Is there a concept that stands out more than others as a primary characteristic of your new job? Well, this will be your central theme. Write it on the center of the sheet and free your mind. Let the ideas flow and while you think of some related words, write them around the central one. Connect them to the theme and, if applicable, link each of those similar in meaning. Does the central theme cause you to think about something new, modern, linear and simple? You’ve just found a great base to build from.
If you think about something new and modern, what kind of typeface do you think about? A serif font like Garamond, or a sans-serif font like Helvetica? Probably you’ll think of the sans-serif one. That is due to the other two concept you’ve just got thanks to the mind map: something linear and simple. So nothing curvy, fancy, or very complicated like a blackletter font. So now, you have found what kind of font to use in the design of the logo.
And what about the general shapes of the mark or, for example, the design of the complimentary stationery? Will you use groovy curves, complicated layouts and diagonal guidelines? Well, probably not because that would be everything but linear and simple. And what about the color choice? Will you propose to the client a rainbow-style logo, with drop shadows, and outlined text with every letter in a different color? If you don’t want to be fired in a few seconds, I guess you won’t design something like this. Why? Not only because you’re not crazy but, technically speaking, because a modern, linear and simple logo design will probably use only one or two colors, perhaps even none at all, except for black. Also, no weird effects will be applied to the text in order to let it remain clear and perfectly legible.
These are only a few benefits that can result by using good mind maps during the design process. Mind maps can also be useful to the designer for organizing tasks or to evaluate different graphical choices. They are naturally useful, not only when designing logos, but also when designing user interfaces. You could use mind maps for listing all the possible ways for reaching the final result of a specific part of the UI. Otherwise, you may use them for listing the problems that could arise from a given function. The possibilities are endless.
In a nutshell
Mind maps are an unparalleled tool for getting the job done when talking about graphic design. As briefly overviewed, you can use them for almost any aspect of the design process for arranging ideas, developing features and solving problems. They can be used to help with designing logos, websites and so on, without limits. I suggest you discover your own approach to mind mapping, create your own style and stick to it. Use mind maps every time you think they could help you, and soon you will become comfortable using them.
So, what’s your own experience with mind maps? Have they simplified your design process? How? Share your thoughts about them, as well as some pictures of your mind maps. We’d love to see how you’ve used them for solving your design problems.