When I think about my writing, I think in outlines, which is a remnant of my days as a law student. A big part of every law school’s first-year curriculum is teaching students how to synthesize vast quantities of research materials into carefully-organized outlines. Outlines are a system of organizing my thoughts that have served me well, but it’s not the only approach, nor is it always the best.
Mind maps provide a more visual way to organize your thoughts and afford more room for creativity by making it easier to spot connections between related ideas and organize them in a less constrained way. Outlines suffer from a linearity and information density that makes those connections harder to find. However, when you pull back and consider most mind maps and outlines from a birds-eye perspective, they’re complementary rather than alternative ways to approach the same problem.
Last year, as I planned my Big Sur review, I briefly considered switching from MindNode to an outlining app to organize my notes. MindNode has included an outline view for years, but it wasn’t editable, which always bothered me. I appreciated the alternate visualization but wanted the ability to move nodes around within the outline’s hierarchy.
When MindNode debuted its last major version, it brought a major revamping and modernization of the core app experience. The update was a resounding success in my view: adopting the document browser, an adjustable panel system, and drag and drop made MindNode a shining example of modern iOS design; at the same time, additions like quick entry mode and a slate of new, easy to decipher iconography made MindNode more accessible to the mind mapping novice.
Where MindNode 5 brought major evolution and a fresh foundation, today’s version 6 for iOS and the Mac is able to build on that foundation with refinements and advancements that make the app more versatile and expand existing features in new ways. I’ve grouped those improvements into two categories: focus aids and efficiency aids.
I have a confession: I’m not a big mind map guy. I know Federico uses a mind map for his iOS review each year, and lots of other people love visualizing their thoughts that way too, but mind maps have never really clicked for me – at least not on computers.
Up until recently, whenever I needed to do a brain dump and get my thoughts better organized, I would often turn to pen, paper, and a hand-drawn mind map. It’s an odd habit, since I shun paper for digital tools in every other case I can think of. Yet this one holdout remained.
My main problem with digital mind maps is that they have always felt unnatural. When using a traditional computer, moving and clicking via trackpad was cumbersome for me; with a format as creatively freeing as a mind map, it seems especially important to have freeform input methods. Even on devices like the iPad though, while touch input certainly helped remove a barrier, there was still always something missing in my view. Digital mind mapping still wasn’t quite right.
MindNode 5 on iOS fixes that.
MindNode has long been one of the premier mind mapping apps for Mac and iOS, and its version 5 is a huge update that, for me at least, centers around two main changes: a streamlined, intuitive user interface, and the adoption of drag and drop support. There’s a lot more to this update than those two things, with plenty of goodies that die-hard MindNode fans will appreciate, but for users like me – those dissatisfied with digital mind mapping, or even inexperienced at it altogether – the most important changes are those that make the app more approachable, and the new UI and drag and drop certainly do that.