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Mind Maps: the Poor Man's Design Tool 97

Posted by Soulskill
from the asking-for-directions-is-taboo dept.
CowboyRobot writes "'UML too complex? Flowcharts too old school? Mind maps offer a simple way to capture designs and weave them together elegantly.' The quickest way to begin designing a program is to simply write down the steps in normal text, but this method breaks down with more complex projects. UML can be a useful format for larger projects but can be difficult to get right, especially when trying to use it with a less conventional project. The middle ground are 'Mind Maps,' 'a diagrammatic representation of loosely connected ideas. They are a central tool in brainstorming sessions. Mind map tools help capture ideas and then mush them around until you have the structure you want.'"
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Mind Maps: the Poor Man's Design Tool

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  • Oh boy (Score:4, Funny)

    by Mska (2742945) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:32AM (#41535247)
    Slashdot discovers mind maps. News at 11.
    • Re:Oh boy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stephanruby (542433) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:03AM (#41535355)

      Slashdot discovers mind maps. News at 11.

      Wait until you guys discover doodling... Doodling is my secret competitive advantage.

      And unlike mind mapping, you don't need some fancy software to do it with, I doodle my ideas on paper napkins, pizza boxes, and unopened envelopes all the time.

      • Re:Oh boy (Score:4, Interesting)

        by isorox (205688) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:22AM (#41535415) Homepage Journal

        Slashdot discovers mind maps. News at 11.

        Wait until you guys discover doodling... Doodling is my secret competitive advantage.

        And unlike mind mapping, you don't need some fancy software to do it with, I doodle my ideas on paper napkins, pizza boxes, and unopened envelopes all the time.

        What's wrong with opened envelopes?

      • Re:Oh boy (Score:5, Funny)

        by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @05:32AM (#41535751)
        Perhaps you can come back to myspace and doodle my google til its reddit and I yahoo all over your facebook.
      • by ebbe11 (121118)

        And unlike mind mapping, you don't need some fancy software to do it with, I doodle my ideas on paper napkins, pizza boxes, and unopened envelopes all the time.

        Ahem...

        Mind mapping is perfectly possible using pen and paper. Actually, IMNSHO it is much better than using a program as there are no constraints on how you make the mind map. You might call it structured doodling :-)

  • I suspect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:35AM (#41535261) Journal
    I suspect we all know what a Mind Map is, and what their uses are. Alas, I don't know of any program which implements the original concept for Mind Maps (BBC2's "Use Your Head" series from the 1970s). Does any existing program support cyclic relationships, for example? Other than as a hack with external arrows or similar added as decorations.
    • by Bill Currie (487)

      Actually, I'd been working as a programmer for about 15 years before I heard of mind maps, and that was in a TESOL training course, so I suspect that not everyone knows what a mind map is.

      • by shaitand (626655)

        That doesn't make the submission news. Forget reading TFA, there is no FA.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's pretty well-known in the UK - I think we covered it in school.

      • by mikael_j (106439)

        That may be but I'm pretty sure a lot of people know about mind maps. Hell, here in Sweden I was "taught" how to use mind maps in school sometime around grade 5, then again for grade 8 and finally a couple of years later in high school. And so were all my classmates.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        Actually, I'd been working as a programmer for about 15 years before I heard of mind maps, and that was in a TESOL training course, so I suspect that not everyone knows what a mind map is.

        well, judging by your slashdot id it's entirely possible you went to school in the fifties but for the rest of us this is really is a blast from elementary school.

        • I'm about to turn 29, and live in the UK. We didn't cover mind maps in school. However I heard of them about 3 years ago when the head of our Engineering dept got me to make a tool for exporting data from one of our web apps into a format that could be viewed using Freemind [sourceforge.net].

        • by jlusk4 (2831)

          :) Ok, tiger, good one. Made me laugh (but quietly, since I'm in a cube farm).

          I can guarantee you no one on my team (of developers, of varying ages) knows what mind maps are, except our BA, who got handed one by someone on ANOTHER team.

          • by rioki (1328185)
            Yea but does that make them better developers? Thinking about a problem is the key discipline, what mental crutches you use and how you communicate the results is mostly irrelevant. I for one find mind maps of only little use and use a a structured text document written in markdown...
    • Re:I suspect (Score:5, Informative)

      by digitig (1056110) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:42AM (#41535513)
      Vue [tufts.edu] from Tufts university supports cyclic relationships. It also has good tools for plotting routes through a mind map which are good for getting a linear form out of a model. I use it a lot for complex reports and essays, with good results.
    • by moodel (614846)
      Use Your Head is a book by Tony Buzan (not sure if he had any input in the BBC2 series). I do not think you will find a suitable program since part of the learning process is designing your own map with associated colours and visual triggers.
      • Re:I suspect (Score:4, Informative)

        by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:52AM (#41535555) Journal

        Use Your Head is a book by Tony Buzan (not sure if he had any input in the BBC2 series). I do not think you will find a suitable program since part of the learning process is designing your own map with associated colours and visual triggers.

        Yes, I have his book, and he was behind the BBC2 series in the 1970s. I watched the series, and found the information quite useful in general life and in studies (but not great for lecture notes in math, science, or engineering topics). Unfortunately, his ideas degraded between the TV series and the book and software, so that the mind maps in his book involve branching from a central concept without cycles. I really wish the TV series was still available, but it can't be found on the BBC shop, and it was broadcast in the days before video recorders were common.

        • by RDW (41497)

          Unfortunately, his ideas degraded between the TV series and the book and software

          There also seems to be a bunch of First Earth Battalion style prose in a recent edition of The Mind Map Book ("We dedicate this book to all those Warriors of the Mind fighting in the Century of the Brain and Millenium of the Mind for the expansion and freedom of Human Intelligence"). Apparently this stuff can pretty much turn you into a Jedi:

          "The Mentally Literate Human is capable of turning on the radiant synergistic thinking engines, and creating conceptual frameworks and new paradigms of limitless possib

    • Re:I suspect (Score:4, Insightful)

      by war4peace (1628283) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:57AM (#41535577)

      That's exactly what I disliked about mind maps. They're too damn limited. You have a central point and stem all your directions from there. But cyclic relations don't exist, also you can't make any many-to-one or one-to-many references. If point X refers to more than one branch, you'd have to hack the mind map to display it.

      • by 3dr (169908) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @01:05PM (#41540073)

        Back in my youth, I had the thought that, since I'm drawing it on paper, I should be able to connect *this blob* with *that* blob by drawing a line...

        It was a risky thought, since mind maps were always taught to be acyclic, but as was common, no one else was around when I created these diagrams. I contemplated what path it would lead me down if I decided to try this. It may lead to such infractions as tearing the consumer information tags off all my mattresses, but that was a moral risk to my very core that I decided to take.

        The fateful day came. Well, it was actually the same day as when I got the thought of taking such drastic action in one of my graphical creations, and in fact it was just mere seconds later, but whatever, there I was facing my destiny. After a feverish last glance around, I tried it, using my Berol Prismacolor Copenhagen Blue PC 906, and it worked! I connected two already-connected orange blobs with a blue arrow! I wiped the sweat from my hands on my pants, and continued to decorate the new incestuous interloper with a halo of bright green dots.

        In the years since that discovery, I have wisened a bit, lost a little of that rebellion hellion, and promised myself, my family, and my country that I would never attempt such a risky diagrammatic insurgency as that! I should be following the rules!

        (I don't remember ever learning about "mind maps" in elementary school (in the 70's), and while looking for diagramming tools I stumbled upon a "Mind Maps" book in 2004 or so. For software developers such as myself, much of what a mind map attempts to do is what we already do (mentally or on a whiteboard) when gathering requirements, or brainstorming app structure, or even user experience. But what struck me as so silly about mind maps was the emphasis on coloring/doodling within very structured organizational rules. It is a real dichotomy. BTW, I do not actually own a Berol Prismacolor Copenhagen Blue PC 906, although it is real. Very real.)

    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      I never "got" what's so special about mindmaps. It seems just like how used to flesh out ideas on paper for as long as I can remember (well before my first computer at the very least), but using a specific notation style. In practice I found being forced to use mindmap-style distracts from the actual thought processes it's supposed to help.

      • by rioki (1328185)
        Same here; but also do that with UML. I do most of my diagrams on paper and they are not "pure" UML. It is a tool and you adapt the tool to the problem, not the problem to the tool. And that is why pen and paper or a whiteboard are so much more powerful than any CAD/Graph tool.
    • Re:I suspect (Score:5, Informative)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @07:50AM (#41536495) Journal
      Most mindmaps boil down to a visual representation of a hierarchical list, with some comments and maybe a few extra relationships added. As a visual representation they are great for individual ideation, brainstorming, or even scoping functional designs. In those cases you're working with concepts that fit a taxonomy but are otherwise only loosely interrelated (as far as matters for the mapping exercise). A lot of what you're doing there is fitting items into the taxonomy, checking whether every (sub)category is complete, and tweaking the taxonomy itself. Mind maps are a very useful visualisation for such tasks, and even for people new to the concept they are simple enough to understand and work with.

      But design work? Things like ordering and complex flows are not naturally captured very well in a mindmap. The mindmaps in the Dr. Dobbs article appear to me as rather awkward flow diagrams. There are better representations; even a simple indented list might work better for the examples given. I have used mindmaps when designing software, but in those cases I used them to map out functional areas of the software, break down each area in distinct tasks and perhaps subtasks, but I stopped at the level where timing, order and interdependencies become important.
    • by lee1 (219161)
      A prominent one would be graphviz [graphviz.org], of course. But most other software that describes itself as dealing with "mind maps" can only handle a basic tree structure, you're right. Another exception would be Tinderbox [lee-phillips.org], but that's closed source.
  • Compendium [open.ac.uk]

  • I like FreeMind (Score:5, Insightful)

    by I cant believe its n (1103137) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:42AM (#41535515) Journal
    I like FreeMind [sourceforge.net] (mentioned in the DrDobbs article). Of course I knew about mind maps before, but the ability to export a perfectly formated map as Pdf, HTML and in various image formats is great. I think I'll be using this instead of paper in the future. I've tried various UML design tools in the past, but they all require that you have already made some of the decisions beforehand.

    I think UML is a great way of describing a system once you have made all major decisions, but whenever I need to think about a new project, I have always prefered pen and paper. I'll seriously give FreeMind a go now.
    • Too linear. No cyclic stuff in it. Apart from that, it looks pretty cool, and the exports are pretty awesome.

    • by sgtrock (191182) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @09:01AM (#41537135)

      Undoing mod points to post this. If you like FreeMind, you really need to try out Freeplane. [sourceforge.net] Much more functional than FreeMind on so many levels. :-)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I counseled one thesis where the student was awestruck by FreeMind. His highest level of achievement was to cram the whole topic into one gargantuan mind map. That didn't help him write one line, and seemed more to hinder his ability to start working from any particular point.

      Instead, when he was sinking into desperation, I sat down with him and we basically brainstormed [wikipedia.org] the whole topic all over again and put it down to a bullet list [wikipedia.org], which turned into a preliminary index [wikipedia.org], and each top level bullet was su

      • Basically, write the headings first then the sub-headings. Depending on the end product there may be several more levels of 'sub'.

        When you reach the desired level, you fill them in with text.

        Of course there's no way you can sell training courses, seminars & software based on common sense...

  • Beyond mind maps, there are Warnier-Orr digrams. One of the bigest disappointments in software is that Varatek hasn't upgraded B-Liner so it runs well on Windows 7. For small systems design, it was great.
    http://varatek.com/ [varatek.com]

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:50AM (#41535549) Homepage

    You can spend a week in a tiger team lock-in session, mind mapping the shizzle out of your next project. Eventually, a desperate delirium sets in, and you'll agree to anything just to get out of there. Thus the design is "finalised".

    Then by the time you get back to your keyboard, some executive vice president of marketing is accidentally exposed to a copy of Wired, and decides that instead of writing an app to keep recipes on, what you really need is to ride the frontsurge to a collaboratively cloudsourced web 3.0 win-win solution, and the charade starts all over again.

    Experience starts to look a lot like cynicism after a while.

    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @06:39AM (#41536105) Homepage

      Brainstorming exists to give dumb people a false sense of ownership over the smart guy's ideas.

      • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @08:42AM (#41536941) Journal
        Brainstorm session are a great way to get buy-in from others if you need it... But not all sessions are like that. If you are genuinely interested in the outcome of such a session, be selective about who you invite. Leave the dumb people out of it, and get a diverse group of smart people.
        • A properly managed brainstorming session is a great tool for generating ideas. Some minds (such as mine) work really well in a brainstorming environment. One person says one thing, it leads to another, and through an associative process a whole bunch of ideas will come out. Lots of them will suck, but that's ok because sometimes a sucky idea will trigger someone to have a great idea. Only when the session is finished to you start evaluating them.

          You ought to be careful using brainstorming to get a person to

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Brainstorming exists to give dumb people a false sense of ownership over the smart guy's ideas.

        Clearly, you've never seen smart people brainstorming.

        Years ago, the dev team I worked on white boarded everything, and usually did our design by locking ourselves in a room until we'd fleshed out what we were doing. We called it the Screeching Howler Monkey method.

        Everybody contributed, we listened to the various ideas and weighed them. Looked at what worked and what didn't work, and decided on what we could do

    • You can spend a week in a tiger team lock-in session, mind mapping the shizzle out of your next project. Eventually, a desperate delirium sets in, and you'll agree to anything just to get out of there. Thus the design is "finalised".

      You're brutally right here. Brainstorming is fine for coming up with ideas. Design by comity is almost always a guarantee that a system will perform the bare minimum without ever being able to achieve the perceived full potential and more.

    • by Ryanrule (1657199)

      Ah yes, dilbert covered that part of my education

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fJiK02_Rx0 [youtube.com]

  • If you have a group of people unused to thinking then you can draw pretty lines and boxes together in a friendly sort of way. It is a social thing like ten people going to the kitchen to cook a meal.

    If you are an experienced thinker then you probably need time (in ways you have got used to eg On waking-up or hiking or "Shut up! I've just had an idea!") to note your thoughts and see where they lead. You're quite likely to have ways of grouping and ordering notes on [bits of] paper which just happen. T

  • This is not the same as the Dr Dobbs of 1994, 1995 and prior :-(

    WTF is going to happen next? A description of using a text file to write down high level concepts then inserting indented lines that break the concepts into even more pieces? Then, indent again and break down even further! You could even call the non-indented lines functions, the lines with one indent a function as well, and the lines with 3 or more indents pseudocode for the functions! Maybe you could even use this text file to produce comment

  • HyperList [isene.me] may be an alternative as a straight text solution (even with a VIM plugin doing all kinds of tricks).
    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      I had a program on my TI-86 calculator years ago that did that, essentially a text file but each line could have more lines inside it, and it wasn't limited to 15 layers. It was very useful
      • by FalMunir (2744313)
        Neat :) Similar to a program I have on my HP-41CX. HyperList is not limited to any number of layers. though. But the VIM plugin is.
    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
      It's basically lisp without any power.
  • by lkcl (517947)

    yep. User Mode Linux is definitely too complicated to use for any real serious business work, as any slashdotter knows. we should all be using the latest and greatest version of windows with a large coloured tile of applications full-screen, just like a mind-map except regular and safe and already laid out with the paths predefined, so that we don't have to think or use any creativity at all. yes! that's it! we should all get lobotomies, stare at pretty squares and be happy to live in our brainwashed s

    • Re:UML (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LourensV (856614) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @07:58AM (#41536533)

      I suspect that for most people, the reason to use a mind map rather than UML would not be UML's complexity. UML scales pretty well: a bunch of boxes with names in them and lines between them to signal what is related to what is a valid UML class diagram already. Instead, I think the problem with UML is that it forces you to think very carefully about what exactly it is that you're going to create. Back in the 1960's and 1970's, people like Donald Knuth and Edsger Dijkstra advocated careful thinking about software, rigid specification, and proving correct any important algorithms. They saw software as a mathematical construct, and the exercise of building software as akin to proving theorems.

      Fast forward to the Internet age. Software is everywhere, and rare is the project where the customer can tell you clearly what they want. The small cadre of people who are capable of the precise and abstract thought required to do programming the mathematical way is not by far big enough to write all the software that the world needs, so even if customers could make rigid specifications, most programmers would find them written in an alien language. So we have adopted a biological rather than mathematical approach: specifications are never exact, software is always broken, but it's okay because the software has an immune system (we call it vendor support), which fixes up errors continuously. In such a world, maybe a mind map is as formal a description as you need.

      Personally, I used UML to describe a logical data model in my last big project. I was the only one with a formal CS background in the project, but everyone understood the diagrams just fine. I had to explain a few more advanced things to some people, but it was no problem. And we did think everything through very carefully, and so far the whole thing is holding up very well because of that. In my opinion, even in the age of agile development and web technologies, careful thought is still invaluable in software development, and a diagram language that lets you specify a bit more detail when you need it is a very useful tool. I'll stick with UML.

      • In my opinion, even in the age of agile development and web technologies, careful thought is still invaluable in software development

        It is extremely valuable, you just have to be carefull about what you want to spend time carefully thinking about.

      • Don't get me wrong. I'm a big advocate for mind maps. See http://ploneglenn.blogspot.com/2010/10/mind-mapping-in-modern-age.html [blogspot.com] for a list of map mapping software that I have used over the years. I just don't see why you would use a mind map as a replacement for UML. Outside of them bothing being a type of diagram, I don't see much similariity or purpose. You use UML to model object oriented systems. Mind maps are a diagrammatic way to organize just about any cognitive activity. Using a mind map as a repla
      • I'm a business analyst, and when I did my degree they taught me UML and DFDs and various other types of diagrams. In the real world I never follow the rules though - I pick and choose the bits and pieces that I need. Ultimately my goal is to express information; having rules and a structure helps, but it's just as important to know when to break the rules.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    As mentioned above they can't handle complex data structures (or much data at all). Wiki-based software is better.

    http://zim-wiki.org/
    http://wikidpad.sourceforge.net/

    • As mentioned above they can't handle complex data structures (or much data at all). Wiki-based software is better.

      http://zim-wiki.org/
      http://wikidpad.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]

      There's a lot of things they don't do well.

      I like FreeMind as an idea organizer. Especially since, although it has a very nice GUI, you can rapidly outline stuff using only the keyboard. But FreeMind is just the overview where I do my brainstorming. Once I start adding diagrams and tables and schemas, I either hyperlink it to something more suitable (like pages in a wiki) or I run an XSLT on the freemind file to produce a prototype ODF ("Word") outline document.

  • I seem to recall having this discussion before. Everyone got all excited and said they were going to change everything, and then nothing happened. One of the trendy developers at work jumped on that bandwagon for I think all of ONE attempt at design. I think that's the shortest amount of time I've seen one of those guys jump on any bandwagon.

    I spent an hour and a half yesterday jotting down the design for a fairly small supporting application I'm planning to write, pushing some objects around on paper unt

  • When I was very young, I used to swear by a book by Tony Buzan that was very much along these lines. The title was "Using Both Sides of Your Brain" or something like that. It was helpful to me though it made my class notes unreadable to anyone else. (This was before it occured to me to use computers for these things.)

     

  • Mindjet Mindmanager rocks. I have shown that tool to at least 20 people and I don't think a single one adopted it; fools. For brainstorming I can't imagine a better tool. You just keep throwing information into the tree and there is always a perfect place for it. My favorite is when a long term project has a new idea for some future feature and I go to put it in and it is already there in the exact place where I wanted to put the "new" idea. Then as the project moves along the tree becomes a source of great
  • How is drawing UML-compliant boxes more expensive than drawing regular boxes for mind maps? Is there somewhere in the UML specification that says you can only use Faber-Castell pencils or commercial software?
  • i used to watch tony buzan on the television when i was about 12. i have been using mind maps ever since. to the people who "just don't get it". that is your loss i'm afraid.
  • I've used Ketso [ketso.com] for mind mapping in a group product design brainstorm session. It worked really well for capturing everybody's ideas and grouping them to come up with common themes and shared ideas. I know its a bit low-tech, but its nice to get away from the computer sometimes.

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