Four mind-mapping apps to clear your muddled thoughts

Mind-mapping: the best apps for people who don't 'do' lists: MindNode
Mind-mapping: the best apps for people who don't 'do' lists: MindNode

Our minds work in diverse ways. Linear thinkers organise their thoughts in chronological lists, while creatives prefer visual arrangements.

Some are pathological about scoring items off neat to-do lists, and others scrawl reminders across notepads at all angles, flipping the book upside down to work out where they should be at 3pm. More confusing still, some rarer thinkers borrow practises from both modes.

Broadly, though, technology typically favours the structured, methodical list-maker. Apps imagine organised minds: consequently there is a glut of to-do list and calendar apps sitting primed in the App Store.

There are fewer solutions that cater for those whose notepads employ bubbles and spider diagrams, who etch sweeping arrows and loops in order to outline the order of their day. This group are not necessarily artists or designers but those operating in the grey matter between left- and right-brainers.

Presumably it is quite difficult to create a compact system for a brain that is not systematic.

However, slowly, developers are acknowledging that not everyone gets a thrill off a to-do list: a new generation of mind-mapping apps is giving structure to those with a style of thinking fondly termed as “muddled”, and creating order from (gentle) chaos.

MindNode is a simple, functional option: create one central “thought” and then you can create sub-thought after sub-thought, all tied together with colourful lines. Suddenly, out of the swirl, a sort of structure appears: it’s still visual but it feels calmer than scrawling a raggedy mind map with a Biro (and it’s easier to decipher later on).


It requires only a few taps to create your first bubble, and MindNode positions each bubble on the page for you — though its interventions feel like suggestions, not demands. You can add pictures too. Diagrams can be shared, though the app is currently only available for iOS.

Mind Vector is similar, though its structures are enlivened with more colour. There are different visualisation modes, so you can structure your thoughts like a map, or in square blocks. The drag-and-drop interface means it is easy to move bubbles around. It’s available for both iOS and Android and invites you to collaborate with other users.

Mindly, which bills itself as a tool to “organise your inner universe”, has a sleek, sparse interface that resembles a solar system: a map structured around main planets, each of which can have its own rings and moons. It is built for both iOS and Android.

And if further game-ification of thought appeals, Popplet has an even more playful design. The app is probably the most visual of these three options: shapes and colours are central to the organisation of your thoughts. Maps are well-spaced out and therefore readable at a glance. You can format text bubbles like with Word — pedants will be thrilled — and if you do want to use it for collaborative work, it’s possible to invite different users to share the same diagram.

Bubbles can be labelled by name, to make it clear which tasks are the responsibility of which people. You can draw free-hand — which is pleasingly reminiscent of playing around on Microsoft Paint — or add images.

It’s also easy to add or delete bubbles. Popplet is available for iOS, or as a web application.

However your mind works, there’s an online template to help you think things through.

Follow Phoebe Luckhurst on Twitter: @phoebeluckhurst