How to Create a Mind Map

Everything starts with an idea. Everything that you see around you –  your phone, computer, car, coffee mug – all came from someone’s mind.

Before you can do anything with an idea, you’ve got to put it down on paper, or using software that allows you to create clear visual links. Unlike your phone, where you can make written or voice notes, writing an idea down - with visual connections between different aspects of your thought process unlocks creativity in ways that isn’t possible with note taking.

What are mind maps?

Mind maps are a great way to join the creative dots and unleash the potential of your idea. Mind mapping is a technique for capturing information and visualizing thought processes, invented by the author, speaker, and self-described brain expert, Tony Buzan.

Mind maps can be used to aid learning, to present information, or as a tool for brainstorming and developing ideas. The key to mind mapping is visualization.

It's the visual elements that allow you to make connections, remember links, and spark new ideas. For entrepreneurs and students, academics and developers, a mind map is the first step towards turning an idea into reality. It gives you the scope to identify challenges and road blocks, map various aspects of the journey, plan your next steps and present your ideas to stakeholders, tutors or colleagues.

How to create a mind map?

Every mind map starts with a central idea. That can be a topic you want to explore, the theme for a presentation, or an idea you want to develop.

Your central idea - main goal or challenge - should be represented visually, in the centre of your mind map, in a way that grabs attention and makes it clear what you're describing. It can either sit at the left of your mind map, with branches expanding in front, above and below it, or it can be right in the middle of the page, with branches expanding from all directions.

Mind maps can either be drawn by hand. If possible, use a large piece of paper, either on a flipchart or white board, if you want to make changes before committing your thoughts to something more permanent.

Or you can use an app. Apps such as XMind and iThoughtsX - both available in Setapp - come with extensive visual functionality and the ability to share with others and yourself. Tools such as these are effective ways to put an idea on paper and make changes as it evolves. Before we get to more information about the tools, here is what should be included in a mind map.

#1: Top level themes

Think about your goal or challenge from the highest level.

What are the key, the driving elements to what you are trying to achieve?

If you are creating a marketing strategy, for example, your top themes wouldn't include social media, blogs and landing pages. You would start with the message and audience (who are they, personas, etc.), and other key themes to consider, before diving into the detail.

In the same way that working on an academic paper involves understanding the key questions to answer, after you've done the background reading to give you a top-level overview of the subject. Start with the big ticket items, then move into the detail.

#2: Sub-branches

Here is where you outline the smaller details, e.g. how you answer the big questions and what methods you use to achieve your marketing plan objectives.

Don’t worry if every branch of the mind map fills up with with a lot of ideas. You don't have to implement everything you write down. Mind maps are a chance to unlock what is possible before focusing on the implementation element of the plan.

#3: Greater than the sum of its parts

A finished mind map should outline all of the ways you could achieve the answer/solve the problem at the centre of the map. It doesn't mean you will do everything written down; but this should prove a useful starting point. Everything on the mind map should lead back to the core theme.

From the various threads and sub-threads of the idea, should emerge a solution, or series of steps that you and anyone else involved can implement. The most effective mind maps lead to actionable outcomes, which is a sign of a positive mind mapping session.

Mind mapping tools you can use

XMind, the one of the most popular mind mapping software on the planet

XMind is brilliantly simple to use and features a brainstorming mode where you can start documenting ideas with minimum fuss.

Choose from the list of pre-made templates or draw your own cartoonish mind map and bring it to life with a range of icons, images, and clipart –  all of which are available for free. The lack of any real learning curve is a big part of what makes this app so great, but it’s powerful slide-show presentation, and Gantt View modes are what really sets it apart from a lot of other software.

Getting started with creating a mind map with Xmind app

XMind makes it easy to do mind maps and brainstorms, thanks to the huge range of available visual elements and the ease with which they can be combined. Here is a short tutorial on making mind maps with Xmind app:

  1. Choose your layout. Click on the 'home' button at the left of the XMind toolbar and click on Templates. If there's one that suits your project, you can double-click on that to open it and you'll have a head start on creating your mind map. Most often, though, you'll want to create one from scratch, so click on Blank and choose a style, then double-click to open it.
    Xmind templates
  2. Create your central idea. XMind calls it a topic, but it's the same thing. It's automatically placed on the page when you open a new blank document. Double-click the text to rename it with your central idea.
  3. Format the node. Click the paintbrush in the right-hand sidebar to see the formatting options. From here you can change the shape of the node, as well as its color and the thickness of its border. You can also change the font, color, weight, case, and size of the text. Alternatively, if you click the My Styles menu, you can choose from pre-styled nodes. Finally, if you want to create a style of your own to use again, click the My Styles menu and click Add/Edit style. Now, click New Style and double-click 'Untitled Style' to give it a name. Click on each Property in turn and select an option. When you're done, click Save.
    Edit styles
  4. Add another node. To add a secondary node, or sub-topic as XMind calls it, click on the central topic and tap the Tab key. You'll see the sub-topic appear with a line joining it to the central topic. The style of the line will be dictated by the style you set in Step 3, but you can change it by clicking on the paintbrush and selecting a different option in the Line section. To add more sub-topics, keep tabbing with the central node selected. To add topics branching off the sub-topics, click on a sub-topic and hit Tab.
  5. Add Clip Art or icons. Remember we said earlier that the visual elements of a mind map are important? Here's where you add them. XMind has a large collection of clip art and icons you can add to your mind map. To see the, click on the picture icon in the right-hand sidebar and click either Clip Art or Icon Finder.
    Clip Art is split into different sections, such As Business, Education, and Festival. So you can scroll directly to the section you want or browse through everything. The Icon Finder displays just a search bar initially, so type in a term that best describes the icon you want.
    Clipart gallery
  6. Add your own images. If you can't find anything in the Clip Art or Icon Finder that suits, don't worry. You can add any image you like, provided it's stored on your Mac. Click on the topic you want to add an image to and then click on the Insert menu. Click 'Image from File' and navigate to the image you want to add. Then click Open to add the image. Once you've added it, you can scale it by grabbing a handle on one corner and dragging it inwards or outwards.
    Add your image to mind map
  7. Add information about a topic. Images are great for conveying a message, but sometimes you need to add more detail. Go to the Insert menu again and this time click Notes. You'll see a text box open. Type your notes into the box and format them using the text formatting tools in the box. Once you're done, click outside the box. You'll see it disappears, but there will be a note icon in the topic. Click on that to expand it and read the note. If the topic is a task, select Insert then Task instead. Here you can add detail like you the task is assigned to and when it must be completed.
  8. Carry on building your mind map. You can now add more topics and add images and other details to them to flesh out your mind map. As well as the elements we've discussed, you can add markers to each topic, such as a day of the week icon, a progress meter, or a priority badge. Using icons and images in this way is a great way of conveying detail in your mind map without adding too much text. Don't be afraid to experiment with themes and colours. Remember, the idea is to make it stand out and be visually stunning!

When you're finished, you can print your mind map, export it in one of many supported file formats, or press the share button to share it on social media, the web, or by email.

There’s also cloud integration, allowing you to sync, view and edit mind maps online, on your Mac, iPad or iPhone so that you can brainstorm on the move!

That’s it. Yes, it’s really that easy. XMind is definitely the best mind mapping app for Mac, so give it a spin.


If you want to get in-depth with your brainstorming and mind mapping, you’ll love what iThoughtsX brings to the table. The app boasts multiple layouts, map styles and link styles, and features over 200 built-in icons, clipart images, and background canvas designs. You can change colours and fonts, insert hyperlinks, add notes, and embed documents across all major file formats.

Basically, anything that you want to achieve with your mind map, can be done here.

iThoughtsX also lets you import and export from many of the most popular desktop apps including ConceptDraw, Novamind, iMindmap, and XMind, as well as Excel. Like XMind, cloud integration is second to none, and maps can be edited across devices.

But the app doesn’t just rely on its features – it’s beautiful to look at and has one of the best user interfaces you’ll find.

With both tools, you've got the ability to create visually appealing mind maps, upload documents and files, and sync between devices and other people involved in the project. At the creative stage of any project is an exciting opportunity to imagine everything that is possible. A mind map is one of the most effective ways to unlock your problem solving capabilities and visualize a way forward.

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