Mind Maps for Graphic Design :: Ideas Generation Techniques

The most difficult part of being a creative of any kind is idea generation. Why do you think there are so many copy-cats out there? There are several methods available to brainstorm.

Mind mapping has been around since the 70’s, it’s uses and attraction is snowballing. So what is it? And how does it apply to Graphic Design?

What is a Mind Map?

A mind map is an intricate web of thoughts, ideas, names, words and images that all stem from one central idea or word in diagram form.

Many designers use Mind Mapping to brainstorm and generate ideas. The loose and visual manner in which a mind map is created is not only a fantastic tool to ‘free up’ creativity, its a great way to communicate to clients, team members and professors while in a design’s concept phase.

Mind Mapping: A Crash Course

Lets look at a mind map that has a topic that we are all familiar with before looking at a mind map in terms of a design tool.

One can see in the Mind Map above, the author has started with a central topic ‘Solving Global Warming’. The main points then radiate outward from the centre. These represent the main points of the Mind Map. Each one of these points sprouts its own branches and twigs. This star-like pattern of ideas is referred to as ‘Radiant Thinking’.

Getting the Creative Juices Flowing

Mind mapping expert Paul Foreman has dedicated an enormous amount of time to the study of mind mapping, in his e-book entitled “Idea Creation”, he shares his philosophy on opening up your mind to the creation of ideas through mind mapping:

  • Everything stems from a thought
  • Every thought is a word
  • Every idea is a thought
  • Every word is a potential idea
  • Every image is a potential idea
  • Every thought is a potential idea
  • Good thoughts come when bad thoughts stop
  • Good ideas come when bad ideas go
  • You flick your brains switch to ‘on’ when you stop over *thinking
  • Once you still the mind ideas come
  • Patience allows time for ideas to evolve
  • Preconceived notions only breed preconceived ideas
  • Stressing for answers brings stressful results
  • Stretching your mind is effortless and simple
  • Saying: “I can't think of anything” Really means: “I think I can't think of anything”
  • Ideas don't dry up – thoughts do

Mind Mapping in Graphic Design

So, now that you know a little of how mind mapping works. How can you use a mind map while generating design ideas?

We contacted Damien Horan. Renowned graphic designer for international surf brands, Mambo, Volcom, Insight and a successful Freelance graphic designer in his own right.

Damien recently designed the logo and branding for hip new restaurant/bar “Little Avalon” (named after the local surf break). Damien, having lived and surfed in the area for years knew all there was to know about the local surf culture.

Damien worked in conjunction with infamous Mambo graphic designer and artist Jim Mitchel, in developing the concepts and ideas for the bar. Damien knew that the bar had to appeal to the surf culture in order to ‘make it’ in the Avalon scene.

Owner operator Shane Clinton, wanted the ambience of a chic inner city bar, with the familial feeling of local surf shops. It was important that the branding of Little Avalon, combine the culture of city and surf. Not an easy task.

Damien had received his client brief and used these to define the map’s main branches. The results of his research and images were then applied to the outer branches/twigs. Applying these words and images to a mind map helped create visuals, with relevant connections between the maps branches as well as between the twigs. Creating a somewhat intricate, yet easy to read, visual embodiment of all design aspects that the logo needed to encompass.

Points realised throughout the process:

  • Typeface must have serifs that represent the organic shape of a wave.
  • Inspired by a B&W photo of the area the color palette became very dark. Keeping it crisp, black and white were chosen.
  • Exploring the available typefaces with curved serifs, he was inspired to create his own font.
  • An abbreviated version of ‘Little Avalon’… ‘LA’ was the locals appelation of the surf break, therefore essential to feature it in the branding.
  • The ‘LA’ and ‘Little Avalon’ where to remain independent of each other.

Damien’s working sketches.

Hand Drawn Sketches
Computer Comps
Final Logos

One can imagine easily from this example how you may use a mind map in your career as a designer or during your studies as a student. Although idea generation is only one step of a much more involved design process. It is a recommendable practice to adopt at any level.

Unlike many methods of brainstorming that encourage refining the concept for an idea. A mind map does the opposite, it helps us think holistically about a problem and tackle it from all sides. Although most designers employ more than one method to brainstorm, we find mind mapping a very successful way to get those creative juices flowing.

Mind Mapping Spreading its Wings

David Kelley, founder of IDEO one of the planet’s most innovative design firms, uses mind maps to foster creativity. IDEO designed the Apple mouse, the first laptop computer, and the Palm V.

Mind maps are a popular thinking tool in Silicon Valley. Kelley says:

When I want to do something analytical, I make a list. When I’m trying to come up with ideas or strategize, I make a mind map. Mind maps are organic and allow me to free associate. They are great for asking questions and revealing connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. I start in the center with the issue or problem I am working on and then as I move farther away I get better and better ideas as I force myself to follow the branches on the map and in my mind. The cool thing is that you allow yourself to follow your inner thoughts, which is different than making a list where you are trying to be complete and deal with data.

Oprah magazine featured an article The Mind Map: “Six Steps to Get Your Creativity Flowing” on the role of mind mapping and idea generation techniques. In this article Oprah states:

Forget Making a List! Lists often come from the organized, analytical left side of your brain, and to solve an intractable problem, you want to engage the right, the creative side. Make a mind map instead. Get a big piece of paper and start in the center with a circle that contains the original problem. Write different solutions, and follow paths outward on the page, limb by limb, pushing beyond the obvious. To plan a party, for example, I put “A great dinner party for friends” in the middle, and among the many branches, one went: “Make your own sundaes → mashed potatoes → have dessert first → sit on floor → indoor picnic.” Another branch went: “Progressive dinner → go to a different restaurant for dessert(s) → show up at friends’ houses uninvited → scavenger hunt to find food.” A third: “Teach something → learn something → juggling → magic trick → expert invitee on food/wine.” Your to-do list will just get you from point A to B.

Other Fun Stuff, Extra Reading and Free Mind Map Templates

At The Graphic Design School, we are Mac lovers. We are now also iphone freaks, keeping in touch with the student forum when on the go is important for staff and tutors. We found this groovy new free iphone app ZeptoPad Brainstorming App that allows you to mind map on the run!

MindNode is a great mind mapping application for iOS - MindNode

Free Mind Map Templates Ebook

Paul Foreman from Mindmap Inspiration, has generously donated readers an e-book with 22 mind map templates. Download the Free Template Ebook here.


Author: Damien Horan for The Graphic Design School

Sydney Artist/Designer & Tea drinking procrastinator Damien began his creative journey as a Dazed 70’s child absorbed by the music, diversity & extreme lifestyles of the era.

This pathed the way for a dreamy high school experience followed by an even dreamier Art School education spent surfing twin fins.

Since then, after many broken pencils & command z’s he has nurtured his wiry frame into a High Profile Artist/Designer with talents compared to Picasso & Magritte.

He has worked with many international companies including Mambo, Volcom and Insight and is currently designing his own fresh blend of cotton called ‘The Astral Plane’.

“Share Your Graphic Design Process Group” on Flickr

We have started a group on flickr for Graphic Designers and students who wish to share their Graphic Design Process.

Share Your Graphic Design Process, on flickr

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