The Ultimate Guide to Visual Thinking

An Introduction to Types of Visual Thinking

Visual thinking is a practical cognitive exercise whereby knowledge is mapped and annotated to record lengthy information that would otherwise be overwhelming. This makes for a powerful learning tool, whether in the workplace, academia or at home, because it increases the capacity to think. As such, there are many ways to visually think that accommodate the type and use of the knowledge recorded.

We've set out four core methods of visual thinking, which are; Mind Mapping, Concept Mapping, Outlining and Graphic Organizers.

Each fulfil a different function based on the information they are designed to represent. Here is our guide to each type of visual thinking - including their uses and benefits.

Uses of Visual Thinking

In education, visual thinking is an interdisciplinary learning tool as different methods are suited to different subjects: Mind Maps are commonly used in English to categorize literary elements in a work of fiction, poetry or drama, whereas Scientific subjects favour Concept Maps that illustrate natural or phenomenological processes like the refraction of light or the water cycle. However, these are not limited to any particular subject.

Visual Thinking is also a proficient workplace-tool used to present information to a team, analyse potentials or outline tasks in an overall business plan. More simply, it can be used to order and prioritise tasks in day-to-day life or merely illustrate one's thoughts.

Whatever its function, visual thinking improves cognitive clarity and efficiency.

Mind Mapping

A Mind Map is a visual representation of hierarchical information that starts with a single, central idea surrounded by connecting branches of associated topics.

Visual cues like colours, images and words visualise the categorisation of information, which in turn allows for in-depth analysis of subtopics.

Click here to read our comprehensive guide on Mind Mapping in Inspiration 10.

Body Systems Mind Map

Concept Mapping

A concept map is a diagram that illustrates the relationships between concepts and ideas. Concept maps use linking phrases and arrows between sections to explain their connections and relationships.

This helps the user to structure their thoughts in an ordered and progressive way that furthers their understanding of multi-staged processes.

Click here to read our complete guide to Concept Mapping in Inspiration 10.

Concept map example


An Outline is a preliminary summary of written work, typically hierarchically organized using headings and subheadings.

Outlining helps users to organize and structure their ideas and knowledge on a topic before undertaking a written project. This can serve as a powerful planning tool for academic essays that both saves time and improves quality of work.

Click here to read our guide on Outlining in Inspiration 10.

Graphic Organizers

A Graphic Organizer is a visual display that demonstrates the relationships between facts, concepts or ideas. Typically, a semi-complete diagram is given as a task for the user to complete, where initial entries guide their thinking to build up and fill in the Graphic Organizer.

This develops the user's knowledge on a particular subject, by encouraging them to classify groups of information surrounding a main idea or multiple main ideas.

Click here to read our all-inclusive guide on building Graphic Organizers in Inspiration 11.