If you’re tired of constantly getting lost in the thicket of ideas, half-concepts and free-floating words that emerge from your brainstorming sessions, then you should think about using a mind mapping tool.
Though the concept of mind mapping has been around for centuries, it was popularized in the 1970s by a British psychologist named Tony Buzan, whose own mind-mapping software program, iMindMap, is listed below. Mind maps can be a useful way to get your ideas out there and see how they’re connected.
Bubbl.us is a Web app, which means you don’t have to download anything to use it. All you have to do is open it in your browser of choice, click the “Start Brainstorming” button, and, well, start brainstorming! There’s a handy tutorial that helps you along the way, and if you get stuck, there’s a help page to guide you.
If you want to save your mind map for later, you can create a free account by filling out your username, password, and email address. A free Bubbl.us account gives you three mind maps, and the ability to export them and share them with colleagues. If three free mind maps just isn’t enough, sign up for the premium $6/month plan for unlimited mind maps, the ability to insert images and files, and priority support.
Sign up for Coggle using your Google account–assuming you have one–and start mapping your mind within seconds, right in your browser. To get started, double-click on the item in the middle of the screen labeled “New Coggle,” and rename it. Then, click on one of the plus signs on either side of the rectangle to add a thought branch. Coggle automatically assigns a color to each branch (which you can change by clicking on the branch to bring up a color wheel) so by the time you’re done, you have a mind map consisting of all the colors of the rainbow.
You can change the shape of your mind map by clicking and holding to drag the branches around. When you’re satisfied with your brainstorming/mind-mapping session, you can download your Coggle creation either as a PDF or PNG file. You can also invite coworkers to collaborate on your mind map with you, and view past versions of it. All of this is absolutely free.
This mind-mapping product was developed by Tony Buzan, the psychologist who popularized the brainstorming technique. The price is a bit hefty: $80 for the home and student edition, and $245 for the Ultimate version.
iMindMap focuses on quick-draw branch editing, so the process of mind mapping doesn’t get in the way of brainstorming ideas. It also allows you to create vibrant, interesting maps to better help get those creative juices flowing.
Powered by Microsoft Silverlight, Mapul lets you create mind maps in your browser. To test it out, you can register for free with your email address, and if you like it, you can sign up for six months for $30.
Mapul maps have a hand-drawn aesthetic, which is a bit more imaginative than the run-of-the-mill “bubbles and arrows” style of other mind-mapping tools. You can save works in progress to your account, and export them as well. You can also insert images to your maps, and customize fonts and colors.
Though it’s slightly dry-looking, and a bit difficult to get a handle on (there’s no in-program tutorial), Mind42 is a solid browser-based mind mapping tool. You got an email address? Then you can get a Mind42 account.
It’s that easy. You can invite collaborators to help you with brainstorming, create relevant groups around certain mind maps, and import mind maps you made in other programs, namely Mindmanager and Freemind. Exporting your mind maps as a JPEG, PNG, or PDF file is as easy as clicking your mouse.
Mindjet describes itself as an “engine for innovation programs.” You might want to sign up for the 30-day free trial for this one, because Mindmanager will set you back a cool $349, or $448 if you go with Mindmanager PLUS.
With impressive project-planning and information management tools, along with creatively stimulating visual frameworks, you’ll never get lost while brainstorming again.
If your preferred browser is Google Chrome, then MindMap may be a useful extension to add, especially if you do a lot of brainstorming and project management. First of all, it comes at a stellar price: free, the best price of all! MindMap offers cloud support via Google Drive, DropBox, and Box, and works offline, so you can work on mind maps anywhere, and share them with whoever you want.
You can also attach images, URLs. and even video to individual thought nodes, and hand-draw (well, mouse-draw) images with MindMap’s built-in drawing pad.
MindMeister was designed for collaboration: you and your coworkers can easily alter mind maps together in real time, discuss changes using the MindMeister live chat service, and view previous versions of a given mind map. Because it’s all stored in the cloud–secured by data encryption and monitoring–you don’t need to download any software.
MindMeister has three tiers of service: the personal plan for $5.99 a month, the $9.99-a-month, per user, professional plan, and the business edition for $14.99 a month per user. You can use MindMeister while out and about as well, with their iOS or Android app.
Speaking of mobile apps, MindNode is a great mobile-native app for mind mapping. Though it’s also available for Mac OS X, MindNode really shines as an iPhone or iPad app (sorry, Android users).
You can add branches to your mind map, and drag them around your touchscreen using your fingers. MindNode offers a more tactile approach to brainstorming that helps to put you closer to your ideas. The portable version is yours for $9.99, while the desktop edition is available for just $19.99.
Mindomo offers a suite of mind mapping tools designed for businesses and educators. Along with helping you create visually compelling mind maps, Mindomo lets you divvy up tasks and share resources among team members.
Prices range from $36 for six months for one user, to $162 for six months for five team members. You can also create three maps, and manage one project for free just by entering your email address.
Popplet describes itself as “super simple, super smart, and super fun,” and it’s hard to argue with that. Boasting a responsive interface and colorful graphics, Popplet is easy to use and easy to look at, whether you’re using it on the web for free, or as an iOS app ($4.99).
Popplet gives you room to created mixed-media mind maps, giving you the ability to post photos and videos, and even free-draw sketches in each thought bubble.
Scapple was developed for writers. Though it’s not necessarily a mind-mapping tool, it certainly can be used as one. It’s more freeform than other mind-mapping programs, letting you type out your ideas anywhere on the page.
Scapple allows you to connect related thoughts with one another. It’s available for download for $14.99, or you can test it out with the free trial.
Fortunately, it is simple to use, especially on mobile devices, where you can easily move branches and nodes around and organize your mind map while on the go.
With comment threads for each idea, along with a built in voting system, Stormboard is a virtual whiteboard that’s perfect for real-time collaboration.
Use a streamlined version for free, or go for the $5/user/moth or $10/user/month plans. All three of them come with “unlimited storms,” which sounds pretty intense.
XMind is perhaps the most popular mind-mapping tool on this list, and for good reason. Because it’s an open-source application, it’s super versatile, and easy to tinker with. Besides mind maps, it comes equipped with numerous other ways to organize and clarify your thoughts, including matrices, and fishbone charts.
You can also expand on a branch of your mind map by using the “drill down” feature, where the focused branch becomes central. Download it for free. or purchase the Plus or Pro versions for $79 and $99, respectively.