What is a mind map? Tips, examples, and templates

Written by 
Shauna Ward
August 30, 2023
A colorful illustration of a mind map
What is a mind map? Tips, examples, and templates
Written by 
Shauna Ward
August 30, 2023

Producing new ideas can be a challenge. If you place a blank page in front of your team members, give them a prompt, and ask them to produce something awesome, there will likely be a lot of frustration. It’s intimidating to jump straight into a fully formed, innovative concept. 

Mind maps can help ease that intimidation factor and get you and your team unstuck. Whether you’re brainstorming ideas to solve a specific problem, trying to put together big-picture plans, or just want to get those creative juices flowing, mind mapping is a great place to start.

What is a mind map?

A mind map is a brainstorming technique used to visually organize information into a hierarchy. They feature one main idea as the central point of the diagram, with subtopics branching out and connecting to supporting ideas. First popularized by Tony Buzan, an author and educational consultant, mind maps are a visual way to generate new ideas and solve complex problems. Individuals or teams start by naming a problem or central topic and then adding relevant subtopics.

Mind map diagrams follow a hierarchical structure where the most important ideas are the closest to the center, and each additional tier rolls up to the one before it. This structure helps you see a broad overview of the concept, understand its complexities and connections, and make decisions effectively.

What makes mind maps so powerful is not just the diagrams themselves, but also the process that goes into creating them. The inside-out structure makes it easy to get all your thoughts and ideas down in one place and draw connections between them. They encourage lateral thinking, pushing you to explore and investigate a topic from every angle.

A mind map diagram created in Mural
This sample mind map in Mural shows the basic structure of a mind map (In practice, most mind maps won’t be quite so symmetrical — and that’s okay!)

Mind maps vs concept maps

You may hear people conflate mind maps with concept maps, and it’s easy to understand why. Both are diagrams that use nodes and links to visualize how ideas are connected. The key difference is that mind maps are hierarchical, while concept maps are not. 

While a mind map has one central theme, a concept map illustrates how a variety of different topics or ideas are connected, with no tiers or levels.

When to use a mind map 

Mind maps are best suited for creative thinking and brainstorming that happens in real time. However, there are other ways that mind maps can be useful throughout your workday. These include:  

  • Brainstorming and ideation: Mind maps help you quickly create associations and map out related ideas in a way that can spark new, creative ideas. 
  • Note-taking during meetings: A mind map helps you quickly add and organize thoughts in a visual way that is easy to refer back to and build upon. 
  • Project management and planning: When you have a big project, you can break down complex tasks into smaller components to better visualize the steps needed to achieve your objectives.
  • Decision-making: Mind maps can help you weigh the pros and cons of a decision or lay out all of the possible options and then narrow down to your ultimate decision.  
  • Presentations and educational materials: A mind map can be a visual aid during presentations or when teaching people something new. It helps make complex information more accessible to the audience.

However you use mind maps, you’ll find that they allow you to discover hidden complexities and connections to facilitate better brainstorming, exploration, decision-making, and project planning.

Benefits of mind mapping 

The obvious benefit of mind mapping is that it’s an effective brainstorming technique. It helps you generate new ideas or solve complex problems and makes your job easier when you’re stuck on a challenge. But there are a few additional benefits of mind mapping that can positively impact your whole team and work performance.

  • It reduces the pressure or stress that can occur when problem-solving or trying to develop creative ideas.  
  • It increases memory retention and recall due to the visual and spatial arrangement of the mind map. 
  • It gives you a holistic view of your project or thought process. 
  • It reduces information overload and keeps things organized. 
  • It enhances communication and clarity as visual representations are more engaging, flexible, and direct. 
  • It helps you think more critically and analytically.

How to create a mind map: A step-by-step guide

Before you get started building out your mind map, you’ll need to choose a mind mapping tool. If you’re working with a team, use a digital whiteboard or mind mapping software so your team can contribute and access the mind map after the working session. The important thing is to not to let the blank space scare you; your mind map will naturally grow once you get going.

1. Identify the primary topic

In the middle of your workspace, add the main topic for this exercise. It could be a single word or a short phrase like “improving team morale,” or it could be a central idea like “work culture.” You could even use a central image or graphic to inspire ideas. 

For example, say your team is working on a new product. You could include an image from a competitor whose work you admire and want to build on or outperform. You could also add a few short phrases or words to describe the goal.

2. Branch out into subtopics

Next, identify subtopics and smaller themes related to your central concept — we recommend starting with three to five. These will be the starting branches for your mind map. Then, you can continue branching out and adding additional layers of related ideas. Ultimately, there aren’t any limits to the number of levels you can include in your mind map.

Remember, these ideas don’t have to be fully formed or polished, just associations that you’ll later build off of or develop further.

3. Connect related topics

Next, draw lines or use colors to connect related ideas. This visual representation allows you to see patterns and connections that might have been less apparent in a traditional linear outline or list. Examine your ideas and identify categories or themes that pop up. Add sticky notes, images, or text, or use different colors to illustrate these common themes. 

Taking our team building example, your team may notice that there are many ideas having to do with getting out of the office and participating in activities in nature. To produce a coherent theme, you might then highlight these as part of an overall theme called “nature retreats.”

4. Select the top themes and categories

Determine which themes are the most relevant and beneficial to your main objective. Then reorganize your mind map to reflect these categorical choices and steer your ideas in a specific direction.

5. Delve deeper into niched-down ideas 

Next, expand and refine each idea with more research and detail. Add important context and resources to make the mind map more informative for your team and external stakeholders. Each idea or piece of information you add ensures that no critical details are overlooked.

Mind mapping tips and techniques

The process of creating a mind map is simple enough, but it takes some practice to get the most out of it. Use these tips and techniques to improve the mind mapping process and make it easier to draw conclusions from your diagram.

Mind map design

Because mind maps are such a visual medium, it’s helpful to focus on how you design them. You by no means need to be a professional designer to make good-looking, easy-to-use mind maps — you just need to keep these tips in mind.

Colors and shades

Use a different color for each branch off your main point to make it easy to see different sections at a glance. You can also use lighter shades of that same color for subsequent levels as you continue to build out the branches of your mind map.

Lines and arrows

Consider using different line widths to indicate how strong the connection is between certain elements. You can also use different colors, dashed or dotted lines, and other visual cues to indicate the relationship between ideas. If you’re sharing your mind map with others, make sure you include a key so they can understand how to read it.

Images and icons

Don’t be afraid to play around with photos, drawings, icons, emojis, and other visuals. They can help you communicate abstract ideas, orient the viewer, and provide inspiration as you go through the mind mapping process.

Collaborative mind mapping

When it comes to mind mapping as a team, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Collaborating in real-time makes it easy to get into a flow of free associations and building upon each other’s ideas — something that’s tough to do asynchronously.

Here are some quick mind mapping guidelines for more impactful collaboration.

  • Start with a warmup to get everyone in a creative mindset
  • Timebox the activity to add some positive pressure
  • Keep an open mind and a non-judgmental attitude
  • When brainstorming, think quantity over quality
  • Set aside time to build on each other’s ideas
  • End the session with clear takeaways and next steps

Mind map examples and templates to get you started

Rather than starting from scratch, use one of these templates to jumpstart your mind mapping process.

Basic mind mapping

Organize your ideas into a structured diagram to see an overview of the concept, understand its complexities and connections, and make decisions effectively. This basic mind mapping template gives you space to brainstorm, collaborate, and visually structure your ideas. It includes handy tips as well as different examples of mind maps, so you can choose the one that best fits your needs.

Get started with the mind map template

Basic mind map example

Collaborative mind map example in Mural
This collaborative mind map example explores considerations for redesigning a website.

Mind map brainstorming

Use this mind map template to brainstorm big ideas, identify new patterns, or quickly organize your thoughts.

Get started with the mind mapping brainstorm template

Mind map brainstorming example

Screenshot of a mind map in Mural
This mind map, which explores considerations for a new business owner, is color-coded by branch and level.


A sitemap is a specialized type of mind map that serves a critical purpose in every website build or redesign project. It helps to visualize the website’s structure to optimize navigation, map the user experience, and determine page hierarchies. It can also be used to identify gaps in content or accelerate the design process.

Get started with the sitemap template

Sitemap example

A simple sitemap structure created in Mural

Org charts

Also called a hierarchy chart, an org chart is the perfect way to show the organizational structure of your company. A visual representation helps people quickly understand where they fit in the organization, what tasks they need to accomplish, and key stakeholders for projects.

Get started with the org chart template

Organization chart example

An example organization chart.

Collaborative mind mapping made easy with Mural

So, now that you’re ready to get started on mind mapping, do you have the right tools to make it happen? There are so many mind map examples out there, but it’s important to find one that works for everyone in your business, whether you work remotely or in-office. A mind map you can customize for your needs is crucial for an innovative brainstorming session.

With Mural’s mind map template, you’ll not only spur creativity within your team but also simplify complex ideas and concepts. You can then transform your mind maps into infographics that communicate ideas more effectively with stakeholders. Get started today with a Free Forever plan, and invite your whole team so everyone can get involved in your next brainstorming session.

Get started with mind mapping and diagramming in Mural.

About the authors

About the authors

Shauna Ward

Shauna Ward

Sr. Content Marketing Manager
Shauna Ward is a senior content marketing manager at MURAL. As a former remote work skeptic, she enjoys creating resources that help hybrid and distributed teams make collaboration fun, easy, and effective.