Using Mind Maps to Provide Creative Direction

03.29.2010 / Author: David Ansett

The thing about brand design is that it brings with it a communication imperative. We are a creative brand agency providing brand strategy and design to clients across almost every conceivable market. Our methodology is built-upon the belief that the role of brand is to serve the business. It then follows that the role of design is to deliver the promise of the brand. Many designers see this approach as unnecessarily restrictive, we we see it as not just completely necessary, but also the launching pad for unrestricted design with purpose.

The primary demand we place on our brand identity design is that the solution must communicate both the brand proposition and the brand personality to the market — something a solution of style alone can never achieve. Whilst the defined brand personality drives the style dimension of the design, the conceptual message provides the cues for communicating the brand proposition.

Our strategic process has been crafted to provide outputs which directly inform the design process. Those outputs include a brand personality profile, which allows us to define, explore and leverage the relative code of visual language, and a platform made-up of several layers of the brand proposition. That platform provides the inputs to our conceptual brainstorming, and the mind map provides the fame-work.

We’ve recently been working with Australia’s leading specialist Gen Y recruitment brand. We provided GXY Search absolute clarity around their market proposition and layers of brand definition to allow them align and focus their brand and business activities. As it often does, this new-found clarity of brand led to a brief to update the GXY Search brand identity.

We began the conceptual stage of the design process by charting the three key layers of brand proposition on a blank mind map:

  • Individualism / Self Expression – this was defined as both a key attribute of the Gen Y tribe, as well as the culture of GXY Search itself;
  • The ‘C’ Word — the individual nature if the greater Gen Y tribe means they’re as much defined by what they are not, than by what they are. This was highlighted by the revelation during the strategy process that even for a recruitment firm, the term; ‘career’ was considered ‘off-brand’ for their Gen Y market.
  • Multiple, Unique Excitement Tribes — the other thing about GXY Search is that their clients can all boast ‘excitement jobs’ — the kind of jobs most people would give their left arm for. But whilst this was a common denominator, different clients each were part of unique Gen Y tribes from sport to fashion, from lifestyle to advertising.

Mindmap 1

We brainstormed a number conceptual directions that sprouted from those three starting points. As the discussion evolved, mind maps were drawn and re-drawn over and over as they refined into the richest expressions of the three key layers of brand proposition. The project designers then translated the three mind-map directions into a number loose brand identity concepts. At each creative review, the concepts were assessed against the mind-maps to find the richest vein of both relevance and creative solution. Visual language style was also injected into the design process, driven by the brand personality outputs. As the ideas evolved, the strongest solutions came to the fore, weaker solutions were abandoned, and the first design concept presentation took shape.

Mindmap 2

Mindmap 3

Mindmap 4

Mindmap 5

Mindmap 6

Mindmap 7

Mindmap 8

As always we presented the strategic context for the creative, walking our client through the journey from strategy to brand personality and visual language, through brand proposition to the mind map, and through each of the mind-map journeys to the design concept. The result as we’ve come to expect was a great outcome. We thought all three solutions were A grade, but had a particular soft spot for the one the client selected. Feedback from the client was firmly positive – we’d hit the mark with all concepts, and the decision was about which style they felt was most right for positioning the business for the next five years of growth.

We’ve found the mind map process to be incredibly rewarding, and a critical part of our brand identity process. Far from restricting creativity, the process allows the creative side of the mind to roam free, once the logical side has set the direction. But just as importantly, the mind map allows us to take our clients on the creative journey, showing the logical pathways that lead to the creative magic.

We think the proof is in the brand identity outcome (Please note these images represent design intent and include ‘positional images’ only. Our client GXY Search has generously agreed for us to use this project as a case study, even as we refine and finalise their brand identity).

Mindmap 9

Mindmap 10

Minmap 11

David Ansett is the founding Principal of Storm Design. For the last twenty years david has practiced-in, judged-on, written-about, lectured-on, and pushed the boundaries of brand design.

Brand DNA & Storm is a Brand Strategy and Design agency based-in Australia. Brand DNA and Storm work with clients across almost every conceivable market helping them gain absolute clarity around how to position their brands for success, and then design each and every touchpoint to bring those brands to life.

David and the rest of the Storm and Brand DNA squad tirelessly feed brand thinking through their blog

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7 comments, please join in the discussion

  1. 03.30.2010

    Fantastic article and insight into the creative process in brand development. Has been circulated around the studio. Thanks David.

  2. 04.08.2010

    Thanks so much for writing this David. Mind maps have become a critical tool in my design process for the same reason you give — they encourage creativity. I would be curious to know if you strictly avoid imagery until after the mind maps are complete or is this sometimes done in parallel? Also, I have not gotten into the habit of showing my mind maps to my clients as part of my presentation. Clearly, you find sharing them to be beneficial but do you ever meet to discuss the mind maps with your client before moving ahead any further with the project? Thanks!

  3. 04.13.2010

    Great, great insight. My friend just recommended me to this site, too:

  4. Jason

    Great article outlining how the component of mindmaps fit within the UX-IA-UID process.

  5. Bimzilla

    Mind maps work well for me in the creative space. However, I can get limited by space. I’ll create multiple mind maps, with and without a group to help, then compare thoughts. I loved your ideas on focusing on the personality of a brand, rather than other features. In the end, brands are defined by how we perceive them to be; this is almost entirely based off their personality.

  6. 12.14.2010

    Mind maps are very useful. I have had to do these in multiple classes. It may seem silly but these actually help you think of things you may not have thought of if you go on your first whim.