Add clarity and meaning to your mind maps with icons and symbols

Icons and symbols are small visual elements that you can attach to topics in your mind maps, which add meaning and context to them. These miniature images can be used to depict priority (A/B/C or 1/2/3), types of activities (phone calls, meetings or travel), tasks, and types of information and ideas.

It’s been said that a picture is worth 1,000 words. A symbol or icon, attached to a topic within your mind map, can convey much more meaning and context, which can be quickly understood by your brain. Symbols and icons are also a powerful way to categorize the contents of your map, as explained by Tony Buzan in The Mind Mapping Book:

“Codes enable you to make instant communication between different parts of your mind map, however far apart they may be on the page… For instance, you could use a range of simple codes in all your notes to represent people, projects, elements or processes that frequently recur. Codes reinforce an enhanced categorization and hierarchy to the simple application of colors, symbols, shapes and images. They can also be used to link source material (such as biographical references) to your mind map.”

In many mind mapping programs, icons or symbols can be used to filter the contents of your map to display, for example, only those topics that are marked with a task icon. This makes them a powerful tool for managing the content of large mind maps.

Customizing your icons and symbols

I recommend that you invest some time in exploring the icon and symbol libraries of your mind mapping program. This will spur some ideas on how you can utilize them in future maps. Also, if your needs are specialized and extend beyond the standard set of icons and symbols that ships with your mind mapping program, you may have other options: Some programs enables you to import small images into new, custom icon libraries. For example, MindManager enables you to import icon files in 3 sizes: 16×16 pixels, 32×32 pixels and 128×128 pixels.

There are dozens of sites on the web where you can download free or low-cost collections of icons and symbols for use in your mind maps, including FamFamFam, Infragistics and IconArchive.

Or you can always “roll your own” symbols with an inexpensive icon editing program like IconCool, which provides people who are not design specialists with the ability to quickly and easily create professional-looking icons.

You should make it a practice to utilize icons or symbols in most, if not all, of your maps, to add color, meaning and clarity and to help you to filter their contents. Remember, color and imagery stimulate the brain. So icons and symbols can also make the contents of your map more memorable.




  1. […] Add icons: Icons add color, meaning and context to your mind maps. The most valuable way to utilize them is to classify your topics by type, such as tasks, phone calls, meetings and so forth. Icons help the people viewing your map to visually classify its contents. In addition, some programs allow you to filter your map’s content based on the icons that it contains, giving you a quick and effective way to zero in on specific types of items contained within larger maps – such as displaying only the tasks it contains. One final point about icons and symbols: If you use them in your maps, then be sure to create a legend that explains what they mean. While their meaning may be intuitively obvious to you, the map creator, others may have trouble understanding why you included them in your map. Don’t make it hard for them – give them the “key” to understand this aspect of your maps. (Read my previous post about adding images and icons to your mind maps) […]

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