If you’re comfortable capturing ideas in mobile note-taking tools but are intrigued by the idea of mind mapping, the Escape app for iPhone and iPad is the perfect way to experiment with capturing your notes and ideas visually.
I recently had a conversation with the developer of Escape, Bogdan Gherasim, to learn more about the thinking behind this tool. In the process, I discovered (as people who live in the southwestern U.S. are fond of saying) that this is not his first rodeo. He previously developed the myMind app, which was subsequently acquired by Mindjet and morphed into MindManager for Mobile.
With Escape, Bogdan’s goal was to create a friction-free, inviting experience that will not only appeal to visual thinkers but note-taking aficionados, too. Along the way, he incorporated some unique functionality that’s worthy of a closer look.
Chuck Frey: What is your background? Anything related to visual thinking or mind mapping?
Bogdan Gherasim: I’m a programmer myself but I always felt the need to visually arrange the things in front of me when planning development steps or designing applications. I also store snippets of text and photos related to various personal and professional projects.
While jotting down notes is easy with any method, structuring and making sense of them is more difficult with the traditional linear approach, and this is how I came to mind mapping.
Frey: What needs did you see that convinced you that you should develop a tool like Escape?
Gherasim: I discovered mind mapping around 2008 and launched myMind in 2010, one of the first mind mapping apps in AppStore. I worked on it for a few years, then later it continued as Mindjet MindManager for iOS.
The technology and design trends evolved over the years and MindManager for iOS was left behind somehow. I continued using it but at some point I needed a faster and more powerful tool so I decided to develop a new app.
Frey: Is there any special significance to the name? Escape from ordinary thinking? Escape from information overload? Something else?
Gherasim: Simplicity. I needed a tool that lets me focus on the matter at hand instead of thinking what button to hit next.
Escape comes from the Esc key. Escape key is a wonderful piece of UI in itself, as all the technology/UI should be. You don’t need to read the manual to learn what it does. It’s always there, and it always does what it says on the tin.
The last but not the least, you don’t need to think about while using it, you just press it and keep thinking about what you’re doing. So I envisioned a tool with very little cognitive load.
Frey: Your website calls Escape “visual notes for people who can’t draw.” Do you think this is a common problem – people who want to capture their ideas, but they’re not able to do so visually?
Gherasim: People see beautiful diagrams posted on the internet and think: ‘I don’t have the skills to do it’. And there’s also people that don’t need aesthetic diagrams, but would benefit from the canvas like experience, as opposed to linear notes in a text document. They just want to take notes and highlight them, but they think that the tools are too complicated.
For all of them we are making mind mapping more simple, more like taking notes in a vanilla notes app.
Frey: When was Escape launched?
Gherasim: We launched the app in the end of 2018.
Frey: What makes Escape unique compared to the dozens of mind mapping apps available for iOS?
Gherasim: Escape bridges the gap between notes apps and mind mapping.
Mind mapping is a powerful tool but it’s under-utilised. Most mind map apps resemble diagram editors – presenting a canvas and some sort of side panels showing topic attributes.
They are too technical for the regular Notes users who just want to jot down some ideas or tasks, organize them hierarchically, and eventually highlight key points. That’s why mind mapping is still a niche technique.
So we’ve made Escape purposely looking and working like a notes app.
We removed the panels and the less used style features, like font families and line dash patterns, and instead built powerful functional features including batch sorting and tasks, all in a familiar notes app interface. You only have a keyboard and that’s all.
Frey: To me, the batching and sorting options are something I’ve seen on desktop mind mapping tools, but never in an iOS app. Is this unique?
Gherasim: Technology is evolving and mobile devices are capable of tasks previously available only on desktops. We are building Escape into a powerful tool capable of handling hundreds of notes and tasks.
As such, we’ve added options for users to be able to work faster without the hustle of transferring the maps to desktops and continuing the work there. You can sort items alphabetically or by priority and completion percentage. You can also convert multiple notes to tasks at once, or check and uncheck them. And we continue to add more.
Escape steers clear of the traditional view that mind mapping is just about inspiration, creativity and nice drawings. It’s actually a powerful tool for managing information overload, for developing and implementing projects, or for breaking down complicated subjects and making better decisions. And the batch options help with that.
Frey: Also, the ability to import MindManager MMAP files appears to be unique. (the ability to import maps files is unique) That’s quite common on desktop programs, of course, but I don’t believe I’ve seen it on an iOS app.
Gherasim: Mind mapping software landscape is pretty fragmented with respect to file formats, and we don’t want to add more fragmentation. We don’t want to lock your data in a specific format, we want you to be free to test or switch to any other application without any hustle.
MindManager MMAP is a powerful industry grade map format, and allows for advanced features like conditional formatting and project cost tracking.
More important, the native file format of the app is MMAP. That is, the maps are saved directly as MMAP, and Escape users can seamlessly collaborate with MindManager users, without having to import/export the map after each modification.
Frey: What do you hear from users of Escape? Who does your application appeal to and what are they using it for?
Gherasim: We got glowing reviews from our users. Escape rating in AppStore is currently at 4.7 from 58 ratings.
The first feedback email came from a real estate agent looking to map out properties. Then we heard from people writing blog posts. We got praised by a communication trainer and published author. And, less expectedly, by a Christian speaker, using the app for speaker notes.
Quite diverse backgrounds, which shows us that we are on the right track in distilling the most useful features for a wide range of usage scenarios.
Frey: Based on the fact that Escape has a fairly full-featured outliner, it looks like you’re trying to help writers gather and organize their thoughts. Is that the case?
Gherasim: Traditional mind mapping preaches short sentences and that makes sense if you’re looking at it as a learning tool. But this paints mind mapping in a corner and shy away people from it, because, well, they need more than a diagram. For instance, I’m answering your questions in a map, and I previously worked on another map where I store longer texts about app’s use cases.
Mind mapping and outlining are different sides of the same coin, and both modes sport full functionality. Anything that you can do on a mind map, you can do on the outliner.
Frey: Why should mind mappers consider moving up to the Pro version of Escape?
Gherasim: All mind mapping features are free to use. You can create topics, set colors, markers and shapes, or store photos and links without any limitation.
We made them free so more people can learn about mind mapping and how useful it is. If you use it once per week, you can happily live without the PRO add-on.
But if you are a power user and use it more often, or need to handle tens of notes and tasks, you can clearly benefit from the features included in the add-on:
- Outliner – work on longer texts.
- Batch Op – sort and check multiple tasks at once.
- Custom URL scheme – that’s a method you use to control Escape from other apps, and integrate it in your workflow.
Frey: What’s next for Escape?
Gherasim: We’ll continue to develop the app in the same vein, adding functional and visual features. For instance, next on the roadmap is text formatting, bold and italic, and different font sizes. We have users creating very informative diagrams and we are adding batch operations to set visual styles on multiple topics at once.
On the functional side, we work on integrating the app with the new Magic Keyboard for iPad, and later on the road we’ll be adding search and tasks synchronization with Reminders app.
Frey: In closing, is there anything else the readers of the Mind Mapping Software Blog ought to know about Escape?
Gherasim: We are looking forward to their feedback, and welcome them on the journey to make mind maps as ubiquitous as Post-Its. That is actually the mission statement from myMind days and we stand true to it.
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