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.
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.