A Message To Mindjet – Part 3: Beyond MindManager 2013 – The Next Generation Of Visual Mapping
It’s time to push the boundaries.
It’s time to get creative, and let our thoughts wander into the possibilities.
In Part 1, we covered the bugs in MindManager.
Part 2 suggested several usability improvements.
This article is dedicated to thinking beyond the next version of MindManager.
My purpose here, again, is to contribute to your team. I want to share my vision for MindManager, which I use daily for my own needs and those of my clients through visual facilitation. I have gained a fair amount of experience with your software over the years, and it’s my way of giving back.
Take what is useful, and discard the rest. I have no expectations whatsoever, other than perhaps initiating a conversation within your company as to what will go into the next versions of MindManager.
Let’s get started with the small changes, keeping the bigger ideas for the end.
Sorting Topics By Fill Or Text Color
Microsoft Excel allows you to sort elements by fill color and text color, forward or backwards. Since there is no order or hierarchy in colors, contrary to the alphabet, the only color that you can sort is the one you select. The rest of the topics in the list with other colors than the one selected will remain ”messy”.
Whenever you have a list of elements in your map to which you give different colors depending on their status, this feature would be useful.
Sorting Topics By Strikethrough
You could show topics that are “struckthrough” first or last by sorting them on that criteria. That would be useful for to-do lists.
On the left, you have an unsorted list of to-dos, with some of them “struckthrough”. On the right, that’s what the list would look like once it has been sorted.
If we want to push this train of thought even further, there could be automatic sorting. So wherever you insert an element in the list, it would get sorted as soon as the text entry is confirmed. There could be an option in the topic’s settings to enable or disable this feature.
Header And Footer Images
May it be to insert your company logo or some other relevant image, there should be a header and footer editor. It could be accessed from the mind map itself like in Microsoft Word, via a menu or the Print Setup dialog.
Whatever map you’re in, you would always have access to the tags that you commonly use. You could edit that list from any map.
There should be a way to remove tags that you don’t need anymore. So either a popup window or a side tab would allow you to manage those tags, accessible from that Tags -> Global Tags -> Manage Tags menu item.
Empty Canvas Map Template
MindManager forces you to have one of the following seven shapes for your maps:
- Right Map
- Split Tree
- Org Chart
- Up Org Chart
- Split Org Chart
What do these templates all have in common? A central topic.
As relevant as this is to focus your mapping, it is not always necessary. If you want to map your thoughts freely, you can obviously use floating topics. However, the central topic then becomes annoying in most cases. You can’t remove it or move it, you’re stuck with it. All you can do is hide it by removing the text, the fill color and the surrounding line. If you use the central topic as the title for the map and you’re using floating topics to build some form of tree or diagram, you might well end up stepping over that central topic. Then, you need to move your tree because you can’t move the central topic.
So why not solve this situation simply by offering an Empty Map template? You could then easily create diagrams such as the Theory of Constraints’ Current Reality Tree, as well as flow charts and other types of diagrams.
Map Theme Design -- Unlimited Levels
In MindManager 2012, we can edit 4 levels in the Map Theme design window: the central topic, main topics, and two levels of subtopics. Why is there such an arbitrary constraint? Are users limiting their maps to four levels? If there was a way to add and remove new levels, you could design the theme for all levels of topics in your maps rather than being limited to four levels.
A new level could be added by right-clicking the last level’s topic and selecting “Add a new level”.
A level could be removed by right-clicking the last level’s topic and selecting “Remove this level”.
Map Part Templates
Currently, we can create and edit map parts. However, we’re limited to what we defined in the map part.
The same way that we can set the properties on branches in the Map Theme design window, we could edit a map part’s template. Let’s take an example map part that details who referred a job candidate. The following image shows how we would edit the template. It would be very similar to the way we currently edit the map theme.
If you formatted each subtopic under a given branch in a certain way, it is highly likely that the next subtopic you insert will need the same settings. It would make sense to apply that same formatting automatically.
The formatting would be applied as soon as you insert a new element -- even before typing any text.
Shortcuts To Topics
It is possible in MindManager 2012 to create shortcuts to other topics via Add Hyperlink dialog box -> Topics in this Map. This is not very user-friendly -- it’s a bit clumsy.
In Windows, if you right-click on a file (and optionally drag’n'drop it at the same time), you can create a shortcut to it. That would be an efficient way to create shortcuts to topics within a same map. You could also copy/cut and paste this shortcut into another map.
The result in the example above would be similar to how Windows does it -- a small shortcut icon added to the bottom left of the topic.
Vectorial images are scalable. If you zoom in, print the map or enlarge vectorial images, they will always be of good quality. It also makes for a smaller mind map file size since the information is normally kept in an XML file.
The Vector Doodle Kit 2.0, for example, offers a selection of 700 hand-made doodle symbols in three formats: PDF, PNG, and SVG.
SVG stands for “Scalable Vector Graphics”.
There should be support for SVG and/or other vectorial image formats.
The Direction For The Insertion Of Topics
Currently, topics are inserted in a clockwise fashion, from top-right to top-left:
To give users more flexibility, you could provide other options:
Left Then Right…
I found that several of my clients naturally the maps in this order.
Right Then Left…
That’s the least natural way of inserting and reading topics.
Mixed Numbered Lists
On the same level, you might want to have a list and some other un-related topics. A mixed numbered lists, i.e. numbered topics mixed with normal topics, would give additional flexibility to structure information.
This could be handled just like in Word. If you add a topic after #3, it would number it #4. You could remove the numbering on any topic by clicking the Numbering button, and the numbering on the other topics would be adjusted.
And if you were to select a numbered topic and press Enter twice, it would disable numbering and allow you to create a normal topic.
By definition, mind maps are hierarchical radial diagrams. So the topics are always supposed to be one to many, and not many to one. The boundaries act as a many-to-one way of organizing information. Why not support it directly within the topics, without having to add a boundary that includes a callout? It would lighten the map, as boundaries are visually cumbersome. By having both options (many-to-one topic and boundaries), you would have added flexibility in creating your maps.
A boundary forces you to have a many-to-one-to-many type of structure. When you insert an element on a boundary, it is really a callout and not a topic. By being able to avoid the callout and insert subtopics directly, you would now be able to have a many-to-many topic structure. That would give you yet extra flexibility in how you organize your information.
You could also avoid the boundary altogether and have something like this:
Hierarchical Mind Map Files
Often, maps that you create have a parent-child relationships. The following image illustrates what Fluent Brain’s hierarchy of mind maps looks like. My “Blog” map is a child of my company’s main map. “Posts” is a child of “Blog”, and so on. By capturing the information about the hierarchy of the files for a given project or client, we’d be able to navigate through the linked files much more easily. We could easily go up and down, and open any file the hierarchy.
The hierarchy, to keep it simple, would require a 0..n structure. Maps could only belong to one parent, or have no parent. For example, the “Posts” map is “Blog”‘s child. If you were to want to have another map link to “Posts”, you’d need to create a regular hyperlink. If you tried to link to it as a child map, the software would need to block the action and give you an error message telling you that this child map already has a parent map, and which map that is. Perhaps, there could be a way to change the parent map.
A n..n structure would be possible, but visually much more complex to represent.
The information about the parent-child map relationships would need to be saved differently than hyperlinks. These relationships would be special links. They would be different from the hyperlinks we use to link maps together.
You should also be able to create a new child map and link to it on the spot, as you can with hyperlinks.
Then, of course, we would need a navigator to move through the hierarchy quickly:
The navigator could be placed in the right tab bar. To open a map from the navigator, there could be icons as seen above, or we could click directly on the name of the map. Not having icons would make the navigator leaner. I suggest also that if a map doesn’t have any text in the central topic, the file name be used instead so that we’re able to show something in the navigator.
We would need to be able to edit the hierarchy easily. Allowing us to drag n’ drop maps into another branch would be the simplest way.
Now, what if I’d like to place the “Fluent Brain” map under a parent, i.e. as a child of another map? There would be two ways to do this:
- From Fluent Brain (the child map)
- Opening the hierarchical map navigator.
- Right-clicking on the “Fluent Brain” map and clicking Attach To Parent Map
- From the parent map
- Open the hyperlink window
- Select “Fluent Brain” as the child map.
This approach supposes that every parent-child relationship is visible in the parent map. Would we want to allow for “invisible” relationships, i.e. parent-child relationships between maps that would be only visible in the Hierarchy Navigator? At this point, I’d say no. I would keep parent-child hyperlinks and the hierarchical navigator tightly coupled. In other words, every parent-child relationship would correspond to a topic with a child hyperlink in a map.
I can only think of one use case where breadcrumbs are crucial, but it is a common scenario: planning your to-dos.
Assuming that you have a master list of to-dos such as the Planning Dashboard with GTD’s next actions above, keeping track of which category the to-do you’re planning for today is definitely useful. In this example, to-dos are organized in several categories located under the “Next Actions” branch: “Leads”, “Blog”, “Guest Posting”,…
As you move to-dos from various categories, it helps to know what category each to-do is from.
If you drag’n'drop an element from one branch to another, a breadcrumb would be added to the topic:
Once the day is over, if you haven’t finished a particular to-do, you could then more easily move it back to its category:
The same logic would apply to a copy-paste operation as it does for a drag’n'drop. The only difference is that the to-do now appears in both locations once you paste it:
If, for some reason, you pasted a topic with a breadcrumb back to its parent topic, the parent prefix would disappear.
Exporting Linked Maps To A Linked PDF
Let’s say that you created a main map that links to five other maps, as follows:
I removed the hyperlink icons to aesthetic considerations. And here are the five sub-maps:
Now you would like to create a PDF with those six maps. Obviously, you’d want to keep the hyperlinks between the maps. And it would be nice to have a way to go back to main map after drilling down to a sub-map.
How would you generate such a PDF? Right now, it has to be done manually. You need to:
- Export each map to a PDF;
- Combine those PDFs in a PDF editing software such as Nitro PDF;
- Add the hyperlinks on the main page to sub-pages.;
- On each subpage, insert a back arrow ideally in the top-left of the map and add a hyperlink on it that points to the main page.
I believe MindManager should allow you to export your linked maps to a linked PDF, in one step.
The result would be a PDF that resembles this one:
Grid, Ruler And Guides
As you position a new shape in Visio, it clips it to the grid and is offering you to align it with and space it according to other shapes.
The grid and the guides would be especially relevant when working with floating topics in MindManager:
Moving Topics With The Keyboard
In the same spirit, users should be able to move topics with the keyboard, and not just with the mouse -- both topics attached to the central topic, and floating topics. Since the keyboard arrows allow you to move across topics, you would need to press another key, or a combination of keys such as Ctrl + Shift + Alt + Arrow.
Post-It Notes And Cards
There are several dozens of team building, brainstorming, planning, strategy, clarity and creativity games that use post-it notes and cards. Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo, introduces many of those. Many of those games are used by innovation firms such as IDEO to maximize their creativity and productivity.
Post-it notes and small cards are also often used across the spectrum of small, medium and large companies, to think visually in teams.
I see a need for visual software to facilitate the use of virtual post-its, cards, and even posters and banners. And when technology catches up, distributed teams should be able to manipulate those tools virtually and write on them with their tablet, iPad or touch surface.
Relational Mind Mapping
I’m not going to get into much detail for this particular idea, as I’m still not convinced that the benefits would be worth the development effort on your part. Let’s throw it out there anyway and see if it sticks!
Essentially, it would be the intersection between mind mapping and relational databases, while keeping the benefits of both. Relational databases allow for powerful listing, sorting, searching, indexing and filtering. Mind maps provide great flexibility with information and speed of capture. We would still need to be able to add any relevant extra information in the mind map. So, some information would have to be stored in the database, and some in the mind map files.
It would involve a bit of coding in the beginning to define the UML diagram for the structure of the maps. Let’s take an example from the recruiting industry. You’d have clients, positions (jobs and mandates), and candidates.
You can have several positions for a client, and several candidates for a position. A candidate can also apply to more than one position.
Here is the list of clients, categorized by their status.
The map of one of those clients:
The map of one of those positions:
And the map of one of the candidates:
You can download those four mind map files here:
It gets especially interesting when you start providing various views on this data:
- Show clients with a certain status only
- On Hold
- Sort clients by status
- Show clients in a certain city (ex: Montreal) or near a postal code
- Show clients with positions of a certain status (ex: with an “open” status)
- Sort clients by their frequency of activity (clients with the latest updates at the top of the list)
- Sort clients by the candidates who applied most recently
- Sort positions by client
- Filter or sort positions by their status
- Sort candidates by their to-dos: those candidates that have to-dos come up first
- Filter candidates by their to-dos: show only candidates with to-dos
- Filter candidates by their creation date: show candidates added since a certain date
- Filter or sort candidates by their rating (ex: those who have thumbs up)
- Filter on job applications: show candidates whose CV was sent to more than one job, show candidates whose CV was sent to more than one client,…
I realize that most of what I’m suggesting in this series of articles isn’t necessary for typical MindManager users. My needs are definitely bigger than those of most mind mappers. Would it make sense, to accomodate the needs of professional mind mappers (a.k.a graphic recorders and visual facilitators) to have a professional version with more features? Would there be a market for a more advanced piece of software?
How would typical MindManager users react if, let’s say, all of my suggestions from these three “A Message To Mindjet” parts were implemented? Would they appreciate and use such features?
Now the ball is in your court.