Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Mind mapping topics and ideas is a good way to jump start projects and tasks. Though good old pen and paper traditionally got the job done, digital applications like MindNode for Mac ($19.99) and iOS ($9.99) [No longer available] devices offer flexibility and features that save time and trees.
We last took a look at MindNode in 2009 alongside a few other OS X mind mapping solutions, and since then MindNode has added an improved user interface, additional exporting features and a brand new iOS app.
This is a fairly easy application to learn, and is useful as both a brainstorming and presentation tool.
If you’ve never tried mind mapping, you might be surprised how useful the technique can be for generating topics, ideas, and tasks for a project by seeing relationships between clustered items in a visual structure. Mind mapping is also similar to creating an outline, but it’s less linear and more focused on drawing connections between related ideas.
The technique is useful for writing projects, presentations, problem solving, project management, team building, studying for exams and lots more.
MindNode doesn’t come with pre-designed templates, which could be useful, but it’s still easy to get started using the application. A new MindNode document starts with what is called a “node” in the center of the document. A node simply represents an individual idea or piece of information. The main node is the main heading or topic of your project.
You might start off just adding a set of “parent nodes”, which could be sub-topics of the main node. You can add nodes with keyboard shortcuts, or click on the + button and drag and create nodes as ideas come to you in either version.
Note: You may not notice it at first, but if the document appears too big or small, use the zoom tool on the bottom-left corner to adjust the size of the content for better viewing. I find this feature works better than the assigned keyboard shortcuts for zooming in and out.
Adding Child and Sibling Nodes
In mind mapping, parent nodes are like the sub-topics of the main nodes, followed by supporting items called child nodes, but don’t let the terminology trip you up. Basically, as you add nodes you’re creating relationships and drawing connections. To add a sibling node, you can drag and create as you do with parent nodes, or hit the Return key to quickly create a “list” of sibling nodes.
To create a child node, you can hit the Tab key, or you can drag and create from the plus button. You might also find it easier to select a node and duplicate it using Command+D.
As you create nodes you’ll inevitable want to move one or more child nodes to another sibling node. To do this, select the child node and drag it on top of the sibling node you want to add to it, and release. It works the same way in the iOS version, except you’re tapping with your finger and dragging the node.
When you want to change the colors, font and font size of nodes, you don’t have to do them one at time. You can select multiple nodes and use the MindNode Inspector and font library (both accessible in the toolbar) to make stylistic changes. Both the Mac and iOS versions of MindNode also include features for changing the color of the background canvas.
Folding and Unfolding Nodes
As you create and label nodes, your map may become a little unruly, but don’t let the get in your way. Nodes can be moved around, resized, and even folded and tucked away. That’s right, you can select a set of nodes and click on the folding button on the toolbar to temporally hide them. To reveal them, simply click or tap on the three-line icon.
This folding feature is also included in the iOS version, but it’s a little difficult to tap the button for unfolding a set of nodes. Fortunately the developers added an Outline feature in the toolbar, which enables users to more easily fold and unfold items.
MindNode also includes a nifty Smart Layout feature (under the View menu) that resizes your map into a nice compact view.
Sharing and Exporting
MindNode documents can be shared via email, Messages, and AirDrop on iOS. Documents can also be exported to PDF, an image file, and to FreeMind, another mapping tool. MindNode also exports to a text file, creating a literal outline, and to applications that support Outline Processor Markup Language, or OPML.
MindNode uses iCloud to sync and manage documents between devices, and updates typically occur automatically. One of the advantages of using iCloud is that all your MindNode documents are saved to a single location in the cloud, which can be managed in-app. You can drag one document on top of another to create a folder.
MindNode also handles any conflicts with updates between documents, letting you decide what to keep and what versions to discard.
Worth the Investment
You can download a free lite Mac version of MindNode [No longer available], which includes most of the basic mapping creation features. The pro version includes iCloud and Wi-Fi sharing, image and file attachments, all important drag-drop-reorganization, the latest updates and much more.
The iOS version, especially on the iPad, allows you to interact with MindNode almost like using pen and paper. The uncluttered user interface puts the focus on your ideas, and all your content is automatically saved.
If mind mapping is useful thinking tool for you, MindNode is well worth the investment.
Download: MindNode for Mac ($19.99) / MindNode for iOS ($9.99) [No longer available]