hen Shannon first approached me to build her a website, my first question was (to her) a stupid question: “What’s the web site for?”

“For my Durham Chalkboard.”

I could tell by the look on her face that she obviously thought that I never listen to anything she says and that I’m completely oblivious to her extra efforts for self improvement. Since I’m used to “That Look” I had to switch modes from “Dad” to “Professional”.

“Duh!”, I responded. IT Professionals are *Extremely* sarcastic. More so than Dads.

“I mean, what’s it for… what do you want it to do? Is it a Brochure Site? Interactive? Are you going to do all the content? Do you want others to help you? Any restrictions on what you can have? Do you need approval? Can you monetize it? Have you defined the possible structure?”

I deal in complex systems and I’ve found that Mind Mapping software is an excellent way of white-boarding on the computer. Sure, we can use a real whiteboard, or chalkboard in this case, but software provides us with savable, printable, shareable product. My favourite tool for this is xmind. There are free and paid versions. With an Academia Discount, it’s as low as $59US. Everything done below is done with the free version. There are lots of other mind mapping tools available and you can do this in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. but, in this case, dedicated tools are much faster.

Let’s get started.

  • Set the Central Bubble and Label it:
    Mind Map Central Bubble
  • Hit [Enter] a few times and it starts to build the map:
    Mind Map stage 1
  • Go around the items and relabel them (just type when the item is highlighted). The order doesn’t matter.
    Mind Map Stage 2
  • Highlighting any item and hitting [Enter] adds an additional item at the same level. Now we want to expand on our core concepts and add sub-items. Pressing [Insert] will add a child object and highlight it. Hitting [Enter] now would add more children.
    Mind Map Stage 3
  • We now start to see a structure. Let’s rearrange it a bit. Activities should be more dynamic than static pages but we don’t want them to get lost in the Blog section. So, we’re going to use a special project format for them. Chat is future item. Picture galleries can be a resource hog, let’s delay that implementation also (this is independent of the pictures used in articles anyway).
    Mind Map Stage 4
    Using the mouse, we can grab any item and move it to a new location or make it a child of another item.
  • Our initial kick at structure is now done:
    Mind Map Stage 5
  • Time to expand it with to-do items and responsibilities. These are available by Right-Clicking the mouse on a label. I also turned on the legend:
    Mind Map Stage 6
  • Keyboard shortcuts are available for most actions and it really speeds up development times. For example, I’m going to add a couple of relationship links to show that items are linked. Ctrl-L from a highlighted item will show an arrow that you can connect to another box.
    Mind Map Stage 7
    Clicking on the destination label allows you to define the relationship and positioning of the resulting connection:Mind Map Stage 8Sometimes the overlapping lines are a distraction. You can easily grab entire sections to move them to better positions.

All that leads to our final (so to speak) website plan:

Mind Map Final

There is a lot more power in this software, it can easily do timelines, org charts, logic charts, etc. The actual time it took me to produce the result was about 15 minutes. This was mainly to get Shannon to visualize the project so that we can move it along. In the real world, this is only the start of the project. This is family though so Shannon makes the decisions and I do the grunt work.

Full Disclosure: I’m Shannon’s (the person driving this project) father. I’m building this site for her so that she can realize her vision of a safe, independent resource for early childhood educators. Personally, I have over 30 years of IT experience under my belt.