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Does anyone have any experience with brain storming software for early stage design work?

If so, do you have any recommendations for particular software to use? Or to avoid?

To pre-empt certain possible answers: I'm aware a blank bit of paper serves well but I'm interested in using software in this instance.

  1. So I can refine the results easier than copying it out into paper.
  2. Easily move the results between locations/store in dropbox.

Some further information: Brainstorming is perhaps a misnomer in this case, more of a brain shower. The software would be used by 1 person only (me) for my personal projects. Of course anything that can also deal with a more corporate setting would also be good as if I use it and like it I may try to introduce it to my team.

Further further info: After asking this question I found Xmind, and I've been playing with it for half an hour or so. My first impressions are that it is pretty good.

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My best results are with a voice recorder and someone to listen to it after the meeting is over, producing a document to be starting point to the next meeting/step. – Vitor Py May 1 '11 at 20:28
Paper.......... – d-_-b May 2 '11 at 3:19
Colored sticky notes on a white board, plus a good digital camera on a tripod at the end of the meeting so the results can be emailed/posted, etc. – hotpaw2 May 2 '11 at 4:11
up vote 7 down vote accepted


You may want to give FreeMind a try as well, I'm very happy with it. Although it's not a web app., it will serve you well for Dropbox-assisted sharing. A feature that I especially value is very good keyboard support - almost every actions has a keyboard shortcut, so the app doesn't get in your way if you want to quickly map your thoughts.

I noticed that you are asking for design-oriented brainstorming app, and I'm sadly not aware of any with the exception of any easy-to-use wireframing software. FreeMind is a generic brainstorming app, not much unlike XMind is (as far as I can tell from their web page).

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Checked the screenshots via your link and it looks like it supports a node being linked to by multiple other nodes. Not found a way to do that in xmind yet. – Kevin D May 1 '11 at 21:39
For the benefit of anyone reading this in the future, there is indeed a way to do this in Xmind, using the relationship connector. – Kevin D May 2 '11 at 10:13
FreeMind is rather clunky, ugly and buggy in my experience. I strongly prefer XMind, which the OP also mentioned. You could also go with the rather enterprisey MindJet MindManager, but that one's ridiculously expensive :) – onnodb May 2 '11 at 13:20
@onnodb: I never had any problems with it personally, but my maps usually aren't that large. I didn't use XMind yet, so I cannot compare. – MicE May 2 '11 at 17:33

Try for creating online mindmaps. This is my preferred way of brainstorming during the initial phases.

The advantage of Mindmeister is real-time collaboration (like Google Docs has), so you do not run into versioning problems during brainstorming and can have many (I have just tried with 5, but I do not know if there is a limit) participants in one single brainstorming session, all working on the same mindmap. I have had successful brainstorming sessions where participants do not get their thought-paths interrupted by ideas that they have to politely listen to.

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would you mind explaining more on what it does and why do you recommend it as answering the question asked? "Link-only answers" are not quite welcome at Stack Exchange – gnat Aug 4 '13 at 22:24
Ok. I have updated my answer now. – David Aug 5 '13 at 9:51

I can't really brainstorm unless I can draw. The input is going to be key. I miss my pen tablet; it was just too easy. Can be difficult to share with others if they don't have similar software.

There are pen pads out there. I have a Bamboo Pen tablet, but just can't get the hang of the thing. Probably just need practice.

Can't even imagine drawing with a mouse. I'd write to paper and scan it first and then make corrections on the computer or just draw it over.

I've found writing on a white board and taking a photo of it with my phone and uploading it with Evernote (have to install app on phone) has worked real well. You can even search for text.

Edit: Google Docs and Microsoft Word (I'm sure there are others) allow the creation of text box objects with a document that can be edited, moved, and connected. Similar to diagramming and mind mapping, but very basic and I thing flexible. I do this more at the office when I know something a little more formal/presentable is required.

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I think the speed of input is key, not so much the form. I think I could software if I can get the word/idea on screen quickly, connect it as required, then modify that connection easily. Appreciate your input though, thanks for answering. – Kevin D May 1 '11 at 21:36
Are you looking for something like mind mapping? – JeffO May 1 '11 at 23:23
That is probably a better word for it. – Kevin D May 2 '11 at 8:18

An Outliner

I don't know if I would call it brainstorming but I use an outliner for doing a "braindump" of different ideas and aspects of potential new projects. It's a great way to capture and organizing everything and you'll be surprised on how fast the information stacks up.

I especially like abstractspoons app called todolist (a bit of boring name I know) since it's free, simple and has excellent features including encryption

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Another good outliner is OmniOutliner. – rightfold Dec 31 '11 at 11:11

Today, I started using iMindMap ultimate for brainstorming and planning a website and quickly fell in love with it! I love it for several reasons:

  • its intuitive
  • its easy to use
  • draws your ideas (branches, leaves, relationships etc) VERY rapidly using keyboard shortcuts
  • there is a totally free version
  • easily rearrange your ideas
  • automatically spaces your ideas as it grows
  • very addictive because its very attractive

I highly recommend it!

I used to draw "spider" diagrams using pen and paper to express my ideas with very good success but was tired of all the scrappy paper that I could not edit neatly. iMindMap does exactly what I used to do with a whole lot of other features.

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