To be most effective, your mind maps must communicate clearly and with impact to the people with whom you’re sharing them. Here are some tips on how to quickly maximize the visual appeal and persuasive power of your next mind map:
Make sure your map is well organized: All of the topics and subtopics should be logically arranged, and should follow a natural progression.When you are communicating with others, the onus is upon you to ensure that you are doing so clearly. Unfortunately, all too many software-produced mind maps only make sense to their creators. To ensure that the content and meaning of your map is abundantly clear to your target audience, you must put aside your own knowledge and biases and view your it as if you were one of your colleagues with whom you will be sharing the map. Ask yourself, “If I saw this map for the first time, knowing nothing about it, would it make sense to me?” Fortunately, it’s easy to experiment with rearranging topics and playing “what if” with different arrangements. If you move a topic to a new location and it doesn’t make sense in its new context, simply use your program’s undo key to return it to its previous location. If your map’s main topics are meant to be viewed in a particular order, make sure that you communicate that clearly to the people with whom you’re sharing your map – either by numbering the primary topics, or attaching a “start here” callout note to the first topic. I can’t emphasize this enough: if you are sharing your maps with others, they must be crystal clear and well organized!
Add color to your map: Many users of mind mapping software stick with the default settings of their favorite programs, which means that they are frequently black-and-white creations. This diminishes their visual appeal, and makes their contents less memorable. According to Tony Buzan, the developer of the mind mapping technique, your brain thrives on color and imagery. So take the time to add color to the topics, lines and text of your mind map. Several programs, such as NovaMind, do this automatically, making each branch radiating from the central topic a different color. If it makes sense within the context of the topic of your map, consider color coding its main branches based upon the content it contains. For example, action items could be grouped together on one branch and colored green, key issues to consider before implementing a new project could be colored in red, and so forth. (Read my previous post about adding color to your mind maps)
Add images: Another way to instantly add visual appeal to your maps is to add images to them. Many mind mapping programs come with extensive libraries of images that you can easily incorporate into the central theme of your map, or attach to any branch. Images help to communicate your map’s meaning to others, and help them to interpret its contents. Obviously, the images you add to your map should add meaning to it; never add random images to your map as if they were “eye candy.” If they don’t enhance the meaning and context of your map and its topics, then they shouldn’t be used. Where can you find such images? Most mind mapping software programs include extensive image libraries. In addition, you can utilize online services such as Google Images or Flickr, an incredibly rich source for images. Just be sure that the image doesn’t have any proprietary rights associated with it. Another source that I prefer is iStockPhoto.com, a website where you can purchase the rights to small, professionally produced images and artwork for only a few dollars apiece. (Read my previous post about adding images to your mind maps)
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)
Consider adding a background image: By default, most mind mapping programs utilize a white background for the maps they produce. While this provides an excellent contrast for the elements that make up a mind map, it can get rather boring to look at visually. To spruce up the color of your mind map, you may want to consider adding a background image or pattern. This will help it to grab attention; you can also use it to reinforce your corporate image by incorporating your organization’s color scheme and logo into the background. One caution, however: You need to test your background, both on screen and in print, to ensure that there is adequate contrast between the elements of your mind map and its background. Otherwise, your map may be hard to read.
How do you ensure that your mind maps communicate clearly and with maximum visual impact? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section of this blog!