Biz Tips: The 8 Types of Thinking Maps and How They Help Visualize Ideas

Biz Tips: The 8 Types of Thinking Maps and How They Help Visualize Ideas


The 8 Types of Thinking Maps and How They Help Visualize Ideas

As content creators, we’re always looking for new ways to become more productive, not only in the process of creating content but also how it is communicated.

For example, when we create content without brainstorming or outlining, we risk making mistakes, which in turn causes us to waste time and not be as productive as we’d like.

There is a set of powerful visual learning tools used in schools, universities and workplaces all over the world that can help us better organize our ideas. They are called thinking maps.

The 8 Types of Thinking Maps

There are 8 different thinking maps, each one for a specific purpose and thought process.

Circle Map

The purpose of the circle map is to brainstorm an idea or topic using the information we already know.

A circle map consists of a large circle with another circle inside. The inside circle is where the main topic or idea takes center stage. Surrounding it is the larger circle where corresponding ideas flow.

As the second circle fills up, connections and definitions grow organically and visually. In the second circle, any type of wording can define the main idea: nouns, adjectives or even phrases.

Preschoolers use the circle map to learn simple concepts like colors and shapes. For example, the triangle shape. The world triangle goes in the center and surrounding it are things that have a triangle shape. The outer circle can even include how a triangle makes them feel.

Circle maps are great for brainstorming the very beginning of an idea. You can use a whiteboard for a group brainstorm session. With the help of a circle map, great ideas can begin to take shape and then become complete and complex plans.

A circle map is great to get the ball rolling with a newly created team. If the team members don’t know each other very well, a circle map exercise can break the ice and get them to open up about their ideas. Use the interior circle to ask, “What do we want to achieve with this project?” and watch the interaction flourish.

Bubble Map

The bubble map’s purpose is to define the main topic with specific adjectives and phrases. In this instance, the center circle stems off into other circles or bubbles which surround it. Each connected circle will include a defining adjective or phrase.

In schools, the bubble map makes a regular appearance in science classrooms. Students learn to define new lessons visually, by defining the main topic with a bubble map. For example, animal families. The center bubble is mammals and the surrounding circles are give birth to live young, have fur, etc.

In a marketing setting, we can make a bubble map to define an audience persona. In the middle circle, we state the general idea of the persona: a multiracial millennial male. In the surrounding circles, we add defining adjectives like: works for himself, lives in the city, considers his friends his family.

Another idea for a bubble map is for goal setting. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to figure out a set of goals in a timeframe, like the bubble map below. Goals for the rest of the year.

The other idea is to map out why you want to complete a certain goal. For example, Why do I need a new website? and the surrounding bubbles can include: The design is boring and dated, the UX is not working very well. This can then help to sort out the exact things that need to be changed on your website!

Double Bubble Map

The third thinking map is a combination of two bubble maps and is called the double bubble, also commonly known as a Venn diagram. The double bubble map is a comparison map that defines differences and similarities between two topics.

The two central circles contain the two main ideas. Stemming out from both are bubbles of two types. Between the main circles are the bubbles that hold the shared similarities. Towards the sides, are the bubbles that define the differences of each central circle.

This type of map is perfect for situations in which concepts or ideas need a visual comparison. School students use double bubble maps for literature classes. They compare characters, situations, and parts of the story, making it all easier to grasp.

Another situation in which a double bubble map could come in handy is for making decisions. If you have to choose between two solutions to a problem, a double bubble map can help you make a final decision. By comparing and contrasting visually, the option becomes more clear. In the same way, a double bubble map can be a slide inside a presentation. It can show the comparison between two concepts.

Double bubble maps can also work really well as an infographic. The layout of the double bubbles don’t need to follow a strict grid. Don’t be afraid to get creative with the organization of the bubbles as long as they’re still understandable.

Tree Map

When it’s time to classify and organize information, the tree map can be of great help. Visually, the tree map resembles a real tree, and some people even associate it with a family tree.

The topmost section is the main title or topic, below that are the qualifiers or subtopics. Below the subtopics, the relevant information forms a list.

In an elementary school setting, the tree map can help classify concepts such as animal families or types of sentences.

A tree map can be used as a visual outline for any type of written project like an essay or blog post. The title and introduction is placed at the top and the paragraphs branch out underneath.

A practical way of using a tree map is to organize tasks for a large project. The name of the project goes at the top and each team is a subtopic below. Further below that are the names of the team members and their relevant tasks.

Flow Map

A flow map is pretty much the same as a flowchart. A flow map is a visual representation of a process, progression or set of instructions.

The main topic of a flow map is labeled outside of the map itself in the rectangle that surrounds it. Connected rectangles form the steps in the progression or explanation of the map. Some rectangles can also have an extra rectangle below it to describe that step.

We see flow maps all the time in infographics about the growth of a startup or the progress of change of a topic. Here at Visme, we used a flow map to show you how our graphics editor improved in 2017 with new feature updates.

Recipes also look great as flow maps. Start at the beginning with the ingredients, then the step-by-step process of the recipe, filling in each consecutive rectangle.

Flow maps, just like double bubble maps, can be quite creative in their design. You can include illustrations, shapes, colors or even animations.


The multi-flow map helps to figure out the causes and effects of certain events. The way to use a multi-flow map is to start with the main event, which fills the main central rectangle of the map.

From the main rectangle, other connected rectangles stem out to the left and right. The rectangles to the left represent the causes that helped the event happen. The rectangles on the right are the effects of the chosen event. In some occasions, an effect can also become a cause, creating a feedback loop.

It can help to show the ways in which something is achieved by using the causes functionality. For example, Be more productive is the main event. To figure out how to be more productive, you use rectangles to the left representing the causes. Some of these could be, spend less time on social media, use a calendar or use a timer.

Another way to use a multi-flow map is to predict the outcome of a certain event. For example, We move the office to a bigger place downtown is the main event. To predict possible effects, you have to connect rectangles to the right of the main event and fill them in. Some of the resulting effects could be, it would be a longer commute, or we would be closer to networking events.

The multi-flow map can also be combined with a regular flow map. This way you can create a progression towards a cause, or a succession of events after an effect.

You could make a combined multi-flow and flow maps for flipping a house. The main event is Flipping a House. The causes are: looking for a new investment, buying an old house, seeing a great opportunity to invest.

The multi-flow map is one of the most versatile of all the thinking maps.

Brace Map

A brace map helps analyze the parts of a whole and the relationship between them. Visually, a brace map looks like a sideways tree map. The difference is that a brace map spreads out into all the parts of the original whole. The tree map is more conceptual and used for organizing rather than separating.

This type of map must include a real object or situation as the initial premise. Concepts and ideas are not what brace maps are for.

Math teachers use brace maps to help kids understand the parts which make up large numbers. By separating whole numbers into smaller parts, the children can see how a number works. When it’s time to add or subtract, the children can use the knowledge learned through brace maps and feel confident about their conclusions.

For example, the number 563. The number is the initial object and to the right of it is a bracket. Inside the bracket are the parts of the number; 500, 60, and 3. The number can be further separated by adding a brace next to each part. The parts of 500 are 100, 100, 100, 100, and 100. The parts of 60 are 30 and 30. The parts of 3 are 1, 1, and 1. Reading the brace map from right to left, all the parts add to the original whole, 563.

Outside of a school setting, brace maps can help visualize the creation of a website. The initial object is the website as a whole. To the right of the initial object, a brace opens to reveal the main parts, in this case the website’s pages. Each page then opens a new brace which reveals everything that should be inside that page. A brace map can extend sideways until all the parts have been identified.

Another great use for a map is for workplace organization. A beautifully designed brace map can be made into a poster showing all the sections of a startup office, including who works where and where to find them. Or for a premier co-working space that houses all sorts of enterprises. A fun brace map can be used as an outline to show everyone how they can network with each other.

Bridge Map

The last map of the collection is the bridge map. This is a map used to find similarities between things and create analogies. In a few words, an analogy is a comparison of two things by showing their similarities.

This is how an analogy works:

Superman has the power of flight as Spiderman has the power of web-slinging.

We are comparing Superman to Spiderman by using what they have in common: a superpower.

For children, creating analogies is an important part of language development. Bridge maps make it easier for them to internalize this knowledge.

A bridge map can be used to create a narrative style for a piece of written work. By using the main words in an idea and creating analogies with them, it can make content more appealing. From business proposals to informative blog posts, analogies add a personal touch.

Another use for the bridge map is for a training session of a new team member. With the use of analogies, the training can be more fun than just a bunch of information they need to learn.


As you can see, thinking maps are a rich resource when it comes to creative analytical thinking processes. They help us visualize even the most complex ideas and make them tangible. Sometimes, when we take on a new project, it can feel daunting and enormous. By using thinking maps, we can relieve our brains of excessive thought work.

How will you use a thinking map the next time you are having a hard time organizing your ideas? Tell us in the comments if you already use thinking maps and what your experience is with them.

The original version of this post first appeared on Visme’s Visual Learning Center.

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