Brainstorming has been considered an effective technique for collaboration, getting ideas out of one's mind or a groups' minds, and into a format that can be analyzed, expounded upon, and subjected to a critical process, with the end goal of finding the best ideas and acting upon them.
Mind mapping is a concept that originated a few decades ago, and has since come to the fore of productivity enhancement techniques. If you are not familiar with mind mapping, it consists of a visual representation of the relationships between ideas. A mind map is started with a single idea which becomes a node to which appendage ideas are connected. As the thought process flows, additional ideas are linked together through nodes, subsides, and with color or text style sometimes serving to differentiate trains of thought.
Studies have suggested that mind mapping can be a more effective means of note taking for students, as well as planning, decision making, problem solving, and information gathering/organizing. With such a method being so popular and effective, it only makes sense to bring it to the iPad and Mac, which IdeasOnCanvas GmbH, out of Austria, has done with their MindNode Pro and MindNode Touch apps (hereafter, collectively MindNode).
MindNode is available for Mac and iOS (both iPad and iPhone), and all versions interact with each other and can edit mind maps created with the other version. Dropbox and iCloud synchronization is available within MindNode Pro, so that whatever device you have available, you can use your documents.
For example, in a study group session or a meeting setting, you might put your mind map on the projector screen from your MacBook, allowing collaboration, and then saving it all to iCloud for later reference and editing from your mobile devices. I found the syncing to work exactly as expected, just as reliably as any Apple app uses iCloud, such as Pages or Numbers. It just works.
The software itself is polished and intuitive. It has relatively few controls, making it very easy to get right into and pick up the methodology of mind mapping, even if you've never done a hand-written mind map before. Main nodes are initiated with a simple click, and then branching off is as simple as dragging out from the main node in the direction you want to go. A smart layout mode is available to organize branches, or you can go free form and drag your ideas anywhere onto the page.
Sometimes, after you've got a few ideas on the page and many sub-nodes, you will have occasion to identify connections between ideas that exist within separate trees. Connecting these ideas is quite simple, and provides a visually uncluttered way of acknowledging and organizing relationships in the thoughts you've mapped. The programs' specifications say that the canvas size is unlimited. The ability to collapse and expand nodes as needed helps keep your map tidy when it begins to get expansive.
Colors and fonts are all customizable, but there are also several pre-programmed color schemes that are attractive. Media can be added to a mind map very easily, such as photographs, to add further visual impact to your maps. The flexibility of the software and the method by which the interface just allows your ideas to shine and take center stage really sets MindNode apart from other mind mapping apps I have tried and gotten frustrated with. The keys of good software design is to let the application sort of fade out of view so that the creative work being done is not obscured by buttons, widgets, controls, menus, and so forth. MindNode Pro's exceptionally clean design (across both versions, Mac and iOS) has made me enjoy mind mapping on the computer and iPad, something that a number of cheaper or free programs has not done.
In my use of the apps, I never encountered a single problem or difficulty either in execution of what I wanted to do, or in the results. I'm a big fan of being able to use the same apps across all my devices, and MindNode indulges this need of what I believe is a pretty large group of users. The interface in iOS is optimized for the touch screen, so it's pleasant to use MindNode across platforms, which is often note the case (many mobile apps have been ported from the desktop without much thought given to optimization for a touch interface). Once you've used either the iOS or Mac version, picking up the other without any training is quite possible, but there is a helpful manual and support website available.
Just as important as getting your ideas into the app, and organized, can be the need of getting your ideas out of your computer or iPad onto paper, or into another application for further collaboration. MindNode offers numerous exports, including formats such as PDF and images, but also text (into outline form), and FreeMind and OPML, which is useful for outlining apps such as Omni Outliner. In my tests, mind maps exported into OPML opened perfectly in OmniOutliner, with all data present and organized as a traditional outline. On the iOS version, a handy textual outline view is available. Exporting on the iOS version allows you to save a mind map to your camera roll, or export to another app via the same formats the desktop version supports (of course, using an easy touch interface). It is nice to see an app that exhibits so much thought put into the porting process from desktop to touch. As Mac and iOS users, as we know, it's the little things
Whatever your purpose may be in mind mapping, MindNode Pro provides the canvas for your ideas to bear fruit. I heartily recommend MindNode Pro without any reservations at all. There are no downsides or cons to the apps or to the MindNode ecosystem.
Get it here:
MindNode Pro (Mac)
MindNode Touch (iOS devices) (same app works on iPhone/iPod touch and iPad)
Ronald C. Schoedel III is an attorney, former broadcaster, student of Welsh, and Sinophile. He has lived in Alaska, Wales, and China (Hong Kong specifically), and presently calls Utah home. He has been teaching and training Mac users for nearly a decade, and started blogging as a software reviewer in 2004.