How Important is Flexibility to Visual Thinking?

Both flexible and structured environments are important tools for mind mapping. Some users naturally prefer to start from scratch, others from a template which they customise later. How important is flexibility in mind mapping and what part does it play in visual thinking?

Flexibility is a fundamental part of all visual thinking. Combining illustrations and short accompanying phrases, the designing and constructing of a mind map is unique to each individual user. Colours, images and positioning of links that constitute the map are a conscious, personal choice of the user that not only records knowledge but does so in the specific way the user perceives it. Information is thereby represented in the most legible way possible to the user, enabling clear and complex levels of thought. Mind mapping is so accessible precisely because it encourages users to pursue their own means of thinking. 

The Intuition of Mind Mapping

Crucially, mind mapping’s genesis is as a drawing: beginning with a central topic and expanding outwards using different coloured pens or pencils for different links. Young students are taught to do so in early education, which they commonly adopt into higher education, the workplace, and general life. A lifetime thinking tool, this is especially beneficial for those with neurodivergences or SpLD’s, preventing overstimulation and overwhelm by clearly ordering and laying out a particular topic. Otherwise, the user’s thinking must conform to a potentially limiting format (for example, writing in the case of a student with dyslexia) which could resultantly increase cognitive load and render information unnecessarily hard to comprehend. Negatively impacting clarity, retention and confidence, the student’s ideas are lost in this translation. 

For Tony Buzan, the creator of mind mapping, flexibility is a central principle of mind mapping. In his book 2020 Vision: Mind Mapping, Mind Sports and The Brain, he outlines, ‘Mind Mapping is a highly personal and idiosyncratic activity where your thoughts can reach out in any direction’ (Buzan and Keene, 2020 p. 78). The freedom of thinking is accommodated by mind mapping in the free placement of any link, idea, colour, or illustration. Buzan sees this as the perfect outlet for the brain’s creative proclivity to think in images. By imposing less restrictions on such creativity, drawing facilitates stronger, abstract thinking – ‘doodling’ being a prime example. He writes, “Doodling, putting a pen or pencil to paper, is a building block to mind mapping and the mind’s never-ending natural connectivity” (Buzan and Keene, 2020 p. 104). Connectivity is specifically how a mind map enables each user to express their natural mental connectivity. 

|Visual thinking software, then, must ensure that technological accessibility does |not replace this natural accessibility, by preserving flexibility of construction.

One study that assessed the effectiveness of mind mapping software tools on student memory concluded, “what is needed is a way of combining these advantages in an educational tool that provides more flexibility and power” (Davies, M. 2011). It is imperative that flexibility is preserved in order to effectively mind map. 

Constructing a mind map or diagram in Inspiration 10 preserves the natural connectivity of the mind by being flexible in several ways. Foremostly, its free forming imitates the freedom of drawing on a blank page. Users can freely move any component of the map to any area of the screen (see GIF above), to orient ideas akin to their perception of them. Subsequent links between these ideas have full customisation available: colour, thickness, and style can all be changed to represent the nature of the association of ideas. Equally, symbols containing these ideas can be changed to visualise the information they contain, using the symbols library, colour, shape, and size. Users also have the freedom to free- draw in the workspace to capture any specifically envisioned idea and change the workspace background colour. As such, user thinking is not restricted to any predetermined, limiting framework. 

Combining Flexibility and Structure

However, if users lack initial clarity or feel overwhelmed by the blank page, Inspiration 11’s structuring tools reinvigorate thinking. An extensive templates library is at the user’s disposal when struggling to envision a suitable layout for a subject. The Rapid-Fire Tool allows users to capture ideas with or without links, which can then be automatically arranged using the Arrange Tool to support different paces of thinking. Furthermore, users can enable a ‘Snap to Grid’ function for symmetrical symbol placement, as well as enabling a grid view. As such, the structuring tools available are engineered to encourage customization: whether personalising a template, quickly capturing ideas and ordering ideas to embellish later, or enabling a grid view for symmetrical thinking,

Inspiration 11 uses framework and automated structure to supplement |thinking, not direct it.

Ultimately, to retain Tony Buzan’s central principle of ‘natural connectivity’, flexibility is indispensable. Namely, users having the choice to determine how they visually think is central to learning. Inspiration 11 ensures that, like drawing or doodling, mind maps are artefacts of individual thought. 

Works Cited:

Buzan, T. and Keene, R. 2020 Vision: Mind Mapping, Mind Sports and The Brain, (2020). [online] Available at:

Davies, M. Concept mapping, mind mapping and argument mapping: what are the differences and do they matter?. High Educ 62, 279–301 (2011)