Trying out the “Better Mind Map”

A while ago I came across a blog by Courtney Gallagher titled the “Better Mind Map” and was intrigued. I learned how to use them at school but seldom put it into practice – at least, in the form that it’s supposed to be. Since I was still gathering inspiration to formulate my own design process used here at I thought I’d give it a try. Hopefully by sharing my experience with you, the reader, I can consolidate what I’ve learned and inspire others to try it out if it seems useful to them too.

Photograph of an empty template that can be used to perform the "Better MIndmap" exercise.
A physical copy of my attempt at using the Better Mindmap, blank.

What is the “Better Mind Map”, exactly?

Mind mapping can be an excellent tool to organise and consolidate your thoughts into a format that you can revisit, understand and share with others. For a lot of applications this works, but often times in the beginning of a design project you can go in 1,000,001 directions. If you think I’m making this up, have a look at Wicked Problems – an excellent way to think of your most difficult design challenges with characteristics such as “there’s no stopping rule” and “there is no right or wrong solution, only good or bad” in the context of Design Thinking. I believe the Better Mind might be a solution for some of us to avoid “Analysis Paralysis”.

The “Better Mind Map” provides some structure to your mind mapping process, in order to aid creativity and remain focussed on the problem. Remember, constraints can boost creativity when done right; see this post on Harvard Business Review or the (now unethical) experiment where children explore more square footage of a wheat field when fences were present, than when they were absent (I’ll link it here when I find it!). I won’t repeat how to do it, you should read the original blog for that, but essentially it covers stating user needs, commercial drivers, constraints, service design triggers and inspiration to kick start your creative process around your design challenge.

My design challenge

As someone who has moved a reasonable number of times in the past to new cities, new countries, and knowing people from other countries who took a leap of faith moving to the UK for study or work I know how frustrating it can be to meet new people and make new friends. There are existing solutions like for example, but I wanted to see if there might be a better way. Hence, my challenge is as follows:

“Reimagine finding new friends when moving to a new city.”

The final mindmap

Picture of a better mind map template filled out, centred around the design challenge "Reimagine finding new friends when moving to a new city".
A (mostly) filled in better mind map.

Above you’ll find my completed Better Mind Map. In a short space of time and on half a sheet of A4 I’ve actually managed to capture a lot of contextual information that could prove useful to designing something new. It’s great because I know one of my habits from a previous life is thinking of solutions straight away or using tech as the driver. Here we step away from that – we’re thinking of the design challenge, and the context surrounding the challenge, even sneaking in some business acumen in brief around commercial drivers. They may seem obvious when written down but forcing yourself to capture in this way gets you thinking about the problem first, giving a chance to redefine it if needed before moving forward in your design process.

You may notice I haven’t filled in the “service design triggers”. For your benefit and for mine, I was supposed to pick three out of six qualities of innovative products based on research findings. For simplicity and saving you opening up more tabs, they are:

  • Entertaining
  • Light
  • Adaptable
  • Economical
  • Complete
  • Durable

Out of those I’d like to pick Durable, Economical and Light. I picked Durable because making friends can be done all throughout your life, and it spans generations. Our children and our children’s children will want to and need to continue making friends just like our parents did before us. Economical is important not simply to make it more widely accessible to all budgets, but because in this day and age the newer generations of millennials are lot more ethically conscious in how they want to exist in this world. Finally, being Light is a deliberate choice to encourage using the eventual solution as a catalyst and companion tool. I would want people to focus on the quality of their friendships, interactions and favour face-to-face over digital – there’s nothing like saying hello and giving someone a high five!

Closing thoughts

I do like the “Better Mind Map”. It doesn’t take that long to create, it has some sound reasoning behind the structure provided and can stop you from jumping into ideation or solutionising straight away. If you use this at the start of a project you will probably give yourself a better chance at a suitable solution. If you do it part way or at the end, I still think it allows you to pivot if you haven’t been so focussed before. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with pivoting your project or business – it’s the spirit of the startup world. Give it a go, remix it into your own tool and share back what you’ve learned with the community!

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