If you had to identify the crux of mind mapping in a single phrase, it might be: order from chaos.
The note-taking and information-diagramming technique offers a way to organize and logically link together the many various stray threads related to a given topic. It does so by visually connecting a central idea to its various subtopics and then connecting related items within those subtopics.
The technique emerged primarily as a way to organize notes into a more cogent structure — both hierarchical and radial — than outlines allow. But in time, that same hub-and-spoke-style layout proved useful in charting relationships for a number of business use cases. Mind mapping has borne fruit for information architecture in UX design, project and people management, organization charting and more.
But ironically, juggling all the considerations when choosing mind-mapping software might feel like anything but streamlined and orderly. There’s a lot to weigh. For instance: Do you need it for personal work or teamwork? Do you need to port maps into other frameworks, like Kanban? Do you need a tool that can create other diagrams beyond mind maps? And, of course, what are the pricing considerations?
14 Mind-Mapping Tools to Know
Grant Robertson is a semi-retired, self-employed Austin-based network manager. He uses mind maps to chart out concepts that have a lot of interconnected parts. For example, he finds most software manuals wanting, so he’ll make individual maps to diagram how features interact with one another.
Robertson has struggled to find an ideal fit for his situation. Commercial options require subscriptions beyond a small number of free editable documents, so pricing may seem costly for moderate, individual users.
“Even if I was a business, no employee of mine is doing $24 a month worth of mind mapping,” Robertson said. “They shouldn’t be!” At the same time, as Robertson discovered, free options sometimes have limited functionality.
In other words, there are tradeoffs. Below we dive into 14 noteworthy mind-mapping software options and what kind of user might find each worth a try.
Who should try it? Users who need to transition from mind maps to lean development.
MindMeister has a long track record, dating back to 2007. It supports the traditional use cases associated with mind mapping, such as project management (Michelle Matus, product marketing manager at MindMeister, told Built In last month that she creates a distinct map for each new feature launch), presentation mode (users can turn branches and topics into slides) and collaborative brainstorming (multiple users can edit the same file).
But the software is maybe most noteworthy for offering a task management app, called MeisterTask. The app lets users turn subtopics and items within a mind map into tasks, then port them into a Kanban-style board, with cards positioned in columns to track states of progress. It’s a valuable feature for users who need to use mind maps as a concepting tool for a more formal product development or project management roadmap.
Another notable feature: MeisterNote, a note-taking and documentation app, along the lines of Evernote or OneNote, which also integrates with the software’s mind-mapping and task-management capabilities.
Who should try it? The all-in-one types.
Along with options like Notion and Trello, Monday.com is among a wave of platforms that attempt to package seemingly every aspect of digital workspaces under one roof, from product timelines to calendars to meeting agendas. “[W]e want to be the brain of the business,” Matt Burns, startup ecosystem leader at Monday.com, told Built In last year. The wave, of course, has only intensified amid the push to remote and hybrid work.
Last year, Monday.com also incorporated a mind-mapping visualization, built on Thoughtflow, to its selections, or views. In it, users can transform a mind-map subtopic or item into a task, which then becomes visible in the platform’s broader table view. It’s a similar concept to MindMeister’s “mind maps-meet-Kanban,” but slotted into a larger productivity suite.
Who should try it? Users who want to blur action and planning diagrams.
Y Combinator alum Taskade is another all-in-one-style digital workspace, with visualizations for weekly planners, meeting agendas, project boards, checklists and more. There’s also, of course, a mind map option. (Technically, it’s more of a topic map than a mind map, since it’s not radial, but users will likely find the effect the same.)
One differentiator between Taskade and other many-view productivity workspaces is that it allows users to add assignments and due dates directly into mind map nodes — essentially blurring the line between a mind map subtopic and an action-list task. Those who appreciate that kind of intermingling, compared to a harder wall between planning diagrams and action tables, may want to give the platform a spin in the live demo window. Try one of the platform’s two-dozen-plus templates — including those for daily scrums, startup strategy mapping and onboarding information mapping — to get started quickly.
Who should try it? Users who require information diagrams beyond mind maps.
XMind covers the mind mapping basics, with six quick-reference mind map templates from which to choose, plus several options to customize from there. But what stands out most is the app’s inclusion of eight additional diagramming schemes: logic charts, brace maps, org charts, tree charts, timelines, fishbones, tree tables and matrices.
Here’s a quick rundown of each and why they might be of use: Logic charts and brace maps are similar in appearance to mind maps, except they flow left to right rather than center out. Org charts and tree charts both visualize top-down structures. Timelines and fishbones are each helpful for showing linear cause-and-effect relationships. And tree tables and matrices mimic the rows-columns-and-cells layout of spreadsheets.
Other features to note are XMind Works, which allows users to run the program on desktop or mobile without downloading the application; a toggle key that converts mind maps into outlines; and intuitive keyboard shortcuts — “enter” and “delete” adds or removes a topic, “tab” adds a new subtopic, and “space” edits branches. The software also integrates with Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive.
Who should try it? Mind mappers who dabble.
Due to its pricing structure, Coggle is one to consider for those who mind map only on occasion. Many commercial mind-mapping software lets users create a small number of maps (three or so) before they’re asked to subscribe, but Coggle allows for unlimited free public diagrams. The hitch to note there is public. Non-private maps are included in Coggle’s available-to-all, searchable gallery, so don’t map anything you wouldn’t want the world to see. (Unlimited private maps start at $5 per month.)
In terms of design, the web-based Coggle considers simplicity and collaboration its central features. Indeed, the no-toolbar interface remains nearly identical to when it debuted in 2013 and was described as “bare bones” by PC World. As for collaboration, users can invite others to edit and add to a map (in real time) by clicking on the “plus” icon and dropping in an email.
Who should try it? The (patient) open source devotee.
A crop of free and open source mind-mapping software emerged in the early 2000s after the technique started to gain greater popularity in the business world. One notable entry was FreeMind. A fork of that project, called Freeplane, added a slew of additional features, including formula functions (like those in spreadsheet programs) and an outline mode, plus the ability to add numerous extensions.
Freeplane is notable among free options in that it doesn’t come with restrictions that require a subscription to bypass. At the same time, some have noted usability woes. One user described the design as clunky, “with a steep learning curve,” even while still valuing the application for being both free and flexible.
Who should try it? Users who mind map for quick, personal brainstorming.
Before it became apparent that mind mapping could be incorporated into product development, project management and other team-based workflows, it was essentially a solo enterprise — a way to quickly brainstorm and organize one’s notes and ideas. MindNode hews closer to that original vision.
It eschews the trends of “multiplayer” functionality and feeding into larger app ecosystems — which is what appeals to users like Kevin Trowbridge, chief technical officer of Qwoted. “I never have tried to do multi-user collaboration or had any need for it to integrate with other apps,” said Trowbridge, who considers MindNode his favorite mind-mapping app. “Basically, my mind map is highly personal and for my use only.”
Instead, MindNode prioritizes ease of access. There’s an option to install a menu bar on desktops and app widgets on iPhones. Both allow users to quickly jot down ideas (without first opening the application), which they can later launch into a mind map. The app has also netted praise for its “level of customization and aesthetic value.”
Who should try it? User experience and product designers.
Mind mapping is often said to be a natural fit for certain aspects of UX design, but not all such tools seem to center the needs of UX designers and product managers as digital whiteboard Whimsical does.
Whimsical allows users to build diagrams as user-journey-style flowcharts and wireframes, in addition to sticky notes, documents and mind maps. As you might expect, it also has a good reputation for ease of use and visual clarity. A notable feature: the ability to copy and paste, or drag, text from a different text application into a diagram.
Who should try it? Users looking for templates and inspiration.
Biggerplate isn’t a tool, but rather a network and library — something of a Behance or Dribbble for mind mapping. The site features a searchable database of some 17,000 downloadable templates and examples, which can be filtered by category and by software format, in order to find maps that are compatible with your preferred vendor. The subscription tier gets members access to upcoming webinars, an archive of over 100 past webinars and an image library, among other features.
Other Mind-Mapping Tools and Software to Know:
Miro: Like Whimsical, Miro is also a digital whiteboard that pairs well with UX and product design. In addition to the mind-mapping function, Miro includes tools to chart empathy maps, user personas and customer journeys. The company also recently announced a Zoom integration, which allows collaborative whiteboarding during video meetings.
AYOA: This whiteboard and mind-mapping application also sports Kanban, canvas, Gantt and pie-chart-style views. AYOA also promotes the app as a neuro-inclusive platform that can benefit users with dyslexia and neurodiverse needs.
Mindomo: This freemium, web-based tool supports mind mapping, plus outlining and Gantt charting. Templates are divided into education, work and personal. It also supports multi-user collaboration.
MindManager: This commercial option, launched in 1998, dates back to the era when corporate culture first fell in love with mind mapping. It originated as a Windows-only product and even though a Mac version followed a few years later, MindManager is often still closely associated with Microsoft shops (it integrates with Teams) and enterprise user bases.
SimpleMind: This cross-platform tool allows users to make an unlimited number of free mind maps on an iPad, iPhone or Android. (The subscription tier supports more devices and ups the features.) It’s marketed for both personal and company use. Corporate clients include Deloitte, Cisco and Ubisoft, according to the company’s website.