Mind mapping

A primer on using mind maps to brainstorm, explore ideas, and solve problems

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What is a mind map?

Mind map definition:
A mind map is a diagram that allows you to visualize how related ideas and concepts are connected to one another.

Mind maps, popularized in the 1970s by pop psychology writer and TV host Tony Buzan, are diagrams that allow you to visualize the relationship between a series of concepts and ideas.

Mind maps themselves are pretty straightforward. They feature one main idea as the central point of the diagram, with subtopics branching out and connecting to supporting ideas — and so on. They are hierarchical in that the most important ideas are the closest to the center, and each subsequent tier rolls up to the one before it. This structure helps you see a broad overview of the concept, understand its complexities and connections, and make decisions effectively.

What makes mind maps so powerful is not just the diagrams themselves, but also the process that goes into creating them. The inside-out structure makes it easy to get all your thoughts and ideas down in one place and draw connections between them. They encourage lateral thinking, pushing you to explore and investigate a topic from every angle.

Product launch mind map example
This sample mind map outlines key aspects of a product launch in a simple, structured way. (In practice, most mind maps won’t be quite so symmetrical — and that’s okay!)

Mind maps vs concept maps

You may hear people conflate mind maps with concept maps, and it’s easy to understand why. Both are diagrams that use nodes and links to visualize how ideas are connected. The key difference is that mind maps are hierarchical, while concept maps are not. While a mind map has one central theme, a concept map illustrates how a variety of different topics or ideas are connected, with no tiers or levels.

When to use a mind map

Mind maps are like the Swiss Army knife of visual thinking — a flexible, multipurpose tool that can do a lot of different jobs. Let’s take a look at some common use cases. This list is by no means exhaustive, of course. There are a lot of ways to make mind maps work for you. 

You might create a mind map for:

  • Understanding a problem or challenge
  • Brainstorming
  • Problem solving
  • Collecting and organizing ideas from a variety of stakeholders
  • Note-taking
  • Organizing your to-do list

However you use mind maps, you’ll find that they allow you to discover hidden complexities and connections to facilitate better brainstorming, exploration, decision-making, and planning.

Mind mapping templates

Use these templates to jumpstart your mind mapping process.

How to create a mind map in 3 steps

Getting started with mind mapping is easy. Follow these three steps to create a mind map on your own or with your team.

1. Write down your central idea

At the center of a blank page (or screen, or whiteboard), write or illustrate the primary topic of your mind map. It can be a concept, a project you’re working on, even a question you need to answer. Make sure you have lots of space to work and branch out from the main theme.

2. Branch out into subtopics

Next, identify subthemes related to your main topic — we recommend starting with three to five. These will be the starting branches for your mind map. Then, you can continue branching out and adding additional layers of related ideas. Ultimately, there is no limit to the number of levels you can include in your mind map.

3. Draw connections

This is where the magic happens. Take some time to review the landscape of your mind map. Look for patterns, move things around as needed, and add arrows to draw connections between different branches. 

Mind map of thoughts during a boring meeting
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Mind mapping tips and techniques

The process of creating a mind map is simple enough, but it takes some practice to get the most out of it. Use these tips and techniques to improve the mind mapping process and make it easier to draw conclusions from your diagram.

Mind map design

Because mind maps are such a visual medium, it’s helpful to focus on how you design them. You by no means need to be a professional designer to make good-looking, easy-to-use mind maps — you just need to keep these tips in mind.

Colors and shades 🎨

Use a different color for each branch off your main point to make it easy to see different sections at a glance. You can also use lighter shades of that same color for subsequent levels as you continue to build out the branches of your mind map.

Lines and arrows ↗️

Consider using different line widths to indicate how strong the connection is between certain elements. You can also use different colors, dashed or dotted lines, and other visual cues to indicate the relationship between ideas. If you’re sharing your mind map with others, make sure you include a key so they can understand how to read it.

Images and icons 📸

Don’t be afraid to play around with photos, drawings, icons, emojis, and other visuals. They can help you communicate abstract ideas, orient the viewer, and provide inspiration as you go through the mind mapping process.

Collaborative mind mapping

When it comes to mind mapping as a team, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Collaborating in real-time makes it easy to get into a flow of free associations and building upon each other’s ideas — something that’s tough to do asynchronously.

Here are some quick mind mapping guidelines for more impactful collaboration.

  • Start with a warmup to get everyone in a creative mindset 🔥 
  • Timebox the activity to add some positive pressure ⏳
  • Keep an open mind and a non-judgmental attitude 😎 
  • When brainstorming, think quantity over quality 🧠 
  • Set aside time to build on each other’s ideas 🔨
  • End the session with clear takeaways and next steps 🔁

For more tips, get the full guide to facilitating a collaborative mind mapping session.

How to create a mind map online

Once upon a time, mind maps were reserved for sketch pads and whiteboards. But in a world where remote and hybrid work is the norm, those analog methods just don’t cut it anymore.

Chances are, you already use a tool that offers mind mapping capabilities — for example, Google Docs or Microsoft PowerPoint. If you can type words, draw arrows, and rearrange those elements on the page, you can create a mind map.

Still, these types of mind mapping tools have some limitations. They confine you to a fixed area, like a page or a slide, which can cause some trouble when your ideas are too big for the space. They can also be clunky because they weren’t built for rapid creation and moving things around on the fly. They also limit your team’s ability to collaborate on mind mapping in real time, making it tough to sustain a creative flow and get everyone engaged.

If you need mind map software that allows you to work quickly and collaborate with a remote or distributed team, you need a visual collaboration platform. You’ll have more flexibility with a dynamic mind map creator that makes it easy to drag and drop and quickly make connections — and to do it collaboratively.

Watch this video to see how to quickly build a mind map in Mural’s visual workspace, and learn more here.

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Mind map examples

Get inspired by these examples of mind maps and find templates to jumpstart your mind mapping process.

Basic mind mapping

Organize your ideas into a structured diagram to see an overview of the concept, understand its complexities and connections, and make decisions effectively. This basic mind mapping template gives you space to brainstorm, collaborate, and visually structure your ideas. It includes handy tips as well as different examples of mind maps, so you can choose the one that best fits your needs.

➡️ Get the template


Collaborative mind map example in MURAL
This collaborative mind map example explores considerations for redesigning a website.

Mind map brainstorming

Use this mind map template to brainstorm big ideas, identify new patterns, or quickly organize your thoughts.

➡️ Get the template


Screenshot of a mind map in MURAL
This mind map, which explores considerations for a new business owner, is color-coded by branch and level.


A sitemap is a specialized type of mind map that serves a critical purpose in every website build or redesign project. It helps to visualize the website’s structure to optimize navigation, map the user experience, and determine page hierarchies. It can also be used to identify gaps in content or accelerate the design process.

➡️ Get the template


Example of a simple sitemap
This simple sitemap has four main sections with two to three subpages per section.

Org charts

Also called a hierarchy chart, an org chart is the perfect way to show the organizational structure of your company. A visual representation helps people quickly understand where they fit in the organization, what tasks they need to accomplish, and key stakeholders for projects.

➡️ Get the template

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Collaborative mind mapping made easy with Mural

Anyone can visualize diagrams, flows, processes, and more in Mural to generate great ideas and solve complex problems. Work at the speed of thought alongside teammates, clients, or customers.

Get started with mind mapping and diagramming in Mural.

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