Turning inner space into outer space

July 20, 2019

Mind maps and web design

All these years I guess you could say I’ve been winging it when it comes to planning out the structure of a website.

Mostly I would use indented lists, occasionally a spreadsheet — or just let the site grow organically.

Then I saw someone with a beautifully designed sitemap. She told me she made it in And that got me thinking — are there other tools that come to mind when mapping out a website? Hmm. How about a mind map!

To my amazement, there are literally dozens of apps and online services devoted to mind mapping. It’s practically an industry unto itself. And these are not necessarily fly-by-nighters. They charge a lot of money to corporate types who need ways of collaborating on projects. The brainstorming that mind maps allow is a big piece of the collaboration puzzle.

Even so, there is a place for the lowly web developer. And I have recommendations.


This online service is super easy to use. Between tabbing and entering, you can have a visual sitemap put together in no time. They have an org tree layout that is great for presentation of a complex site. Or you can do a before and after — current site on the left, proposed changes on the right.

I am enamored with the ability to share with clients. You can give them a link that lets them get in there and move stuff around. Now, that’s collaboration! On the other hand, if you don’t want them making a mess, you can share a link without giving them the ability to edit.

There’s a free version that allows you to do up to three maps. So far, this has been fine for me. I delete old maps and move on. But the paid versions are reasonably priced with a big discount if you work in education.

XMind Zen

You can download this app and use it for free as long as you like. Some of the features are disabled, but none of them are deal breakers. They put a watermark on exported PDFs, but I’m OK with that. One way around this would be to take a screenshot and convert it to PDF with Photoshop.

The app has a more features than Mindmeister, but getting it to the org tree display is tricky. This is just the way I prefer to look at things, so you might not care about it.

There is no way to do online collaboration the way you can with Mindmeister, but on the other hand you can make as many maps as you want.

The verdict

Currently, I’m using a combination of Mindmester and XMind Zen. I have a feeling, though, that I will eventually spring for a paid version of Mindmeister. It’s not a huge amount, and I love being able to show clients something that looks professional and allows for collaboration.