Mind Mapping is a great way to lay out your thoughts and brainstorm new ideas. Rather than just using simple lists, you’re able to link ideas in multiple different ways. You can think creatively rather than just linearly.
Mind mapping starts with a big idea. From there you work your way down into smaller and smaller concepts. The big idea is like the trunk of a tree, each idea a branch, each sub-idea a smaller branch, and so on down until you get to the twigs and leaves. You can always follow any branch back to get to the main idea.
We’ve got a full tutorial on mind mapping, Mind Mapping 101, so if you’re not over familiar with the concept, you should check it out before continuing. In today's article we’re going to look at some of the best mind mapping apps available for both individual users and small teams.
What Makes a Great Mind Mapping Software Tool
Mind mapping is a pretty free flowing concept, this means that you need an app that can take whatever you throw at it. Your idea of a neat and tidy mind map might be another persons’ idea of messy hell and vice versa.
On the other hand, mind mapping is meant to help you structure chaotic ideas. It can’t be too free flowing, like say MS Paint; it just wouldn’t be of any use.
Go From Brainstormed Ideas to Visual Order
So for good mind mapping software, we’re looking for something that can take whatever brainstorming ideas you throw at it and turn it into an ordered mind map.
Other features, like collaboration, are nice but optional for some users. If you’re a solo writer you don’t need to be able to work with other people. If you’re part of a small start up, you definitely do. We’ll be covering the most popular mind mapping software that will work for either case.
Finally, like all software decisions, what mind mapping app you use for brainstorming is intensely personal. My perfect app might drive you up the wall. That’s why we’re going to cover a broad selection.
Test Drive the Best Apps Before Committing
Try a few apps that have the features and feel that might fit your workflow and go with the one that works best. Many of them are free, have free trials, or have a free tier so you can check them out before committing.
10 of the Best Mind Mapping (Software) Tools
There are a lot of good mind mapping apps available and since the creative process tends to be quite personal, it’s difficult to draw hard and fast “this is better” comparisons between them. All the mind mapping apps featured below are good; it’s just that some of them will be better for you than others.
1. Bubbl.us (Web)
Bubbl.us is a web-based mind mapping software tool. Unlike some of the other solutions which often try to do a lot more, Bubbl.us is focussed on pure mind mapping. It’s one of the simplest cloud brainstorming apps available.
Bubbl.us has two tiers: Free and Premium. Users on the Free plan are limited to 3 mind maps and only get basic features. The Premium plan starts at $6/month/user and enables features like realtime collaboration and revision history.
If you want to keep things as simple as possible and know you don’t need more than a mind mapping app, Bubbl.us might be what you’re looking for.
2. XMind 8 (macOS, Windows, iOS)
XMind is one of the more professional options available and may be the best mind map software for Mac. There are three different pricing options, XMind 8 (free), XMind 8 Plus ($79), and XMind Pro ($99) but to make the most of it, you’ll need to shell out for Plus at the very least, and realistically, for Pro.
While you can create mind maps with the basic plan, you can’t export them to other formats. The Plus plan adds the ability to export them. Pro adds powerful features like Presentation Mode so you can present your mind maps to your colleagues, and Brainstorming Mode to make creation easier.
With the XMind Cloud you can sync your mind maps between devices and with your colleagues.
XMind is billed as “the most popular mind mapping tool on the planet” and it’s easy to see why that would be the case.
3. WiseMapping (Web)
WiseMapping is a free online mind mapping software solution for individuals and businesses. Since it just runs with a browser, it doesn’t matter what device you use to access it.
If you’re running your own business, you can even run a copy of WiseMapping on your own server. This should alleviate any security concerns about using a web app.
4. Mindomo (macOS, Windows, Linux, iPad, Android)
Mindomo is a freemium mind mapping app for macOS, Windows, and Linux. There are also iPad and Android sync apps so you can work on your mind maps on the go.
Mindomo is free for up to 3 mind maps with limited features. If you want to do things like back your maps up to Dropbox, add video or audio, or export them to other formats, you need to upgrade to a paid plan. The Premium plan is $36/6 months and gets you 1 user account. The Professional plan is $90/6 months and gets you 1 user and 5 guest accounts as well as enables guest editing. The Team plan is $142/6 months and includes 5 user accounts.
5. FreeMind (macOS, Windows, Linux)
FreeMind is a free and open source application for macOS, Windows, and Linux. While it’s a little less user friendly and intuitive than some of the other solutions, it’s pretty powerful and flexible.
FreeMind doesn’t have much in the way of a collaboration features so it’s best for just one user. If you are only making mind maps for yourself and the other free options seem a little basic or limited because of the paid plans, FreeMind might be the solution for you.
6. IdeaFlip (Web)
IdeaFlip is a web software designed for group brainstorming, although of course individuals can use it. As a web app, it can be used on any desktop or tablet device.
Individual plans that would work for small teams start from $9 a month. Enterprise solutions start from $145 and come with team management features.
7. MindNode (macOS, iOS)
MindNode is a beautiful macOS and iOS mind mapping solution. The Mac app is $29.99 and the iOS app is $9.99. While some mind mapping solutions include everything and the kitchen sink, MindNode is really focussed on brainstorming new ideas and then organising them into coherent mind maps.
MindNode really embraces Apple’s design ideas and includes features like full VoiceOver support, iCloud Syncing, and an Apple Watch app that aren’t available on other platforms. If you’re fully invested in Apple’s ecosystem, it could be the best app for you.
8. Scapple (macOS, Windows)
One of the classic examples of a use for a mind map is an author writing a book, and Scapple is designed to do just that. Literature and Latte, the developers of writing app Scrivener, also created Scapple as a tool to help writers outline their projects.
It’s $14.99 with a free trial. Scapple integrates with Scrivener so you’ll need both apps to get the most out of it.
9. MindManager (macOS, Windows)
MindManager is the most enterprise focussed mind mapping app on this list. It’s used by big companies like Proctor and Gamble and integrates with Microsoft’s Office suite. The Windows app is more fully featured, and thus more expensive, than the Mac app. The Windows app is $349 per licence while the Mac app is $179. There is a 30-day free trial.
Obviously at that price point, and with it’s aim to be an enterprise solution, MindManager is one of the more powerful mind mapping software tools on this list. This isn’t just a visual brainstorming solution for a small team, it’s something the CFO of a Fortune 500 company can sign off on.
Most teams won’t need something as enterprise focused as MindManager, however, if your team is looking to work with much larger companies, say as consultants, it might be worth a look, especially if that company is already using it.
10. Lucidchart (Web)
Rather than being a strict mind mapping app, Lucidchart is a diagramming app. This makes it perfect for creating mind maps, but also gives it a huge amount more flexibility to diagram out other things like process flows. It’s used by the likes of Netflix, Spotify, and Ford.
If you want mind maps for brainstorming, but also want a tool that can be used for other things as well, Lucidchart is a good bet. A single user Basic license starts at $4.95/month while licenses for Teams start at $20/month for three users. There’s also a limit free tier if you only want basic features.
Mind mapping is a powerful tool for fine tuning and creating new ideas. You can do it with a piece of paper and a pen, but any of the apps in this article will help you keep everything safe and secure. A sheet of letter paper is a lot easier to lose than a properly backed up digital file.
This is far from a complete list of mind mapping apps. Almost any app, from Word to Photoshop, can be repurposed to do it. Though you may need a dedicate mind mapping app, especially if you visually brainstorm your ideas out often. If so, try one of these apps out.
Learn more about brainstorming techniques in our ultimate guide, or dive deeper into one of these topics:
- Brainstorming19 Top Brainstorming Techniques to Generate Ideas for Every SituationLisa Jo Rudy
- IdeationHow to Use Brainwriting for Rapid Idea GenerationLisa Jo Rudy
- BrainstormingBrain-Netting: How to Brainstorm Online Better in a Distributed TeamLisa Jo Rudy
Which is your favorite software for mind mapping? Let us know in the comments.