What is Visual Thinking?

Visual thinking is a collection of tools that allow you to collect, represent, link and organise thoughts to get a better idea of how they belong together. Mind mapping is one such tool. The most frequent structure is a central item surrounded by other items that split into more and more sub-items, similar to a branches in a tree. The depth of the structure is unlimited and each branch can contain as many sub-items and sub-sub-items as are necessary to represent a topic. The items are called nodes, with the central item called main node.

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Figure 1. Types of information

Types of information to add

The node title is the most basic part of a node. It summarizes a thought in a few words. These words can be for example keywords, quotes, or questions.

Beyond this most basic building block, nodes can contain images. Images add visual representation of information and can be screenshots, photos, or graphics, like the Stickers that are included with MindNode.

To add more detailed information on a title you can add notes. These notes can contain longer explanations of concepts relevant to the key thought presented in the title of the node, or a list of thoughts that relate to your keyword.

Both node titles, as well as notes can contain links to online resources. They can be references for resources and sources.

A node might also be a task, if you are planning a project and might contain space to check that off.

Lastly, if you are using a digital tool like MindNode (Mac only), you can link a file to your node.

Representing relationships between nodes

There are two types of relationships on a mind map. The first one is the Parent-Child relationship, the second is the Cross-Connection.

Parent-Child relationships make up the main branch structure of your document. Each child is a sub thought, or aspect of it’s parent. The ultimate parent being, of course, the main node. One parent can have multiple children, though one child will always have just one parent. Siblings of one parent are united by an overarching theme to the thoughts represented. From the other side siblings can be seen as riffs off each other related to the parent thought. Sometimes children contain additional information to a parent. This is especially useful, if the thoughts are too important to hide in the notes section of the document. A number of children could, for example, contain several links to examples, or images of examples.

Cross-connections connect thoughts that are not directly related to each other in a hierarchy of thoughts, but are relevant to each other nonetheless. These might be two action items that are dependent on each other, or thoughts that would have fit well in either branch of your document. In real life terms you could say that these nodes should be dating each other.

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