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3-Steps of Mind Mapping for Successful Design Thinking

Do you use a mind map in your design brainstorming? A mind map is "thinking out loud"—the ability to visualize how ideas are connected. With traditional mind maps, you write down every imaginable option. This approach often fails because there is too much uncontrolled information.

We asked innovator and designer, Matthew Rhoades to introduce us to a more targeted and impactful approach. Want to be more forward-thinking in your design?

Matthew's D|MAP — think "D" for disruptive, divergent design — helps you organize all those thought bubbles into something both oppositional and directional. It gives pattern and rationale to the obvious mind dump.

Follow Matthew through an exercise in his one-of-a-kind approach to design thinking. Try it for yourself!


Draw a star on a piece of paper. Why a 5-pointed star? "Design is not linear," says Matthew, "It's a multidimensional path." In the center of the star, write your objective.

Example: Create a bluetooth speaker.

STEP 1 – Generate 5 opposing ideas/directions

The star has five points of differentiation. At the top of the star write what the object is. For our example, speaker is "a box with sound." From there, begin to explore its absolute opposites. What would be the antithesis of that box? Ask yourself questions like, "What is sound? How do you make sound?" and see where they lead you. Alternatively write in the center, "What is a speaker?" then explore contradictory and dissimilar characteristics or directions.

Begin writing down your thoughts.

Ask yourself 5 times: What is a speaker? Then think about its opposite.

  • Explore dissimilar materials it could be made of. What if, instead of a rigid plastic box, the speaker is compostable? Flexible? What if it's grown?

  • Explore the inverse of its shape. A speaker is a "box with sound." But what if it's a piece of paper? Or a flat plane or surface? What if it's a piece of jewelry?

  • Explore opposites in function. If a speaker projects sound up, ambiently, what would be the opposite of that? What if it erased sound? Or created a personal, localized area of sound? Or each person in the room hears something different?

  • Ask WHY five times. Write your answers at each point of the star. "Go around the points and be as creative and dumb as you can," Matthew suggests. Try to push out into five distinct directions, each somewhat opposite from the opposing points. Find the craziest one, the most exciting idea. Let these ideas lead you down the path.

STEP 2 – Now go deeper in each direction you've brainstormed. Every design deliverable typically has 3 layers: mild, middle and wild.

For each of your five points differentiation, come up with a mild, middle and wild around your core idea. You can express these are a star with the core idea at the center, surrounded by the three layers: Mild, Best, and Wild.

A Mild design idea is what people know, what people expect. It's what marketing or engineering ask for. It is the simplest solution because it's not a risk at all.

The Middle (often the Best) is the typical end result for most design projects. It lies halfway between known and crazy. it offers an element of the familiar while still pushing the idea forward in a new direction.

Wild represents the "potential" of an idea. It's the futuristic show car at the auto expo. It's the experiment. The wild idea belongs more on the long-term concept roadmap than on next season's line plan.

STEP 3 - Select the most innovative direction you have explored. This is the path to follow. Let the Wild idea spark your imagination and pull each idea out to its furthest potential. Present the best possible mild, best and wild ideas to your client.

There is no such thing as a wrong idea during ideation. The worst thing you can do is put constraints on something. That could be mathematically, financially, or physically. You've got to really reach and go to a new place to come up with a different perspective. That is design thinking.

Jumpstart your design process and think outside the box. Follow the directions above to create a D|MAP of your own!

Does traditional Mind-Mapping help you and your team? When should you use Mind Maps in the design process? Want to learn more? Calin Balea for explains in:

"When designers are kicking off a new project, everyone on the product team probably has a fuzzy idea of what that project should be. Mapping out the system will help everyone gain clarity so that when it’s time to wireframe an app, for example, the team has a clear picture of the system they need to build—what the main sections of the app are, what features it needs to have, how those features interact with the rest of the system, and so on." (Calin Balea)

Learn more about using Mind Mapping in your design process with the full article from

Want to learn more? Designer and D|MAP creator, Matthew Rhoades taught a Workshop "Exploring The Design Process" for Inside Fashion Design. You may access the video in our IFD Insiders library, by visiting here

Thanks for visiting today! Peace, Blessings and Happy Mind Mapping!


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