Cognitive mapping, mind mapping and concept mapping, all these three very powerful visual mapping strategies for organizing and representing knowledge.
They help us lay out complex ideas, processes relationships, recognize patterns and retain knowledge. Cognitive maps, mind maps and concept maps looks pretty similar. This similarity causes confusion. They are all three different ways of visualizing a mental model, whether it belongs to the designer or to the user. Each has its strengths and benefits. I’m going to run through these three.
Cognitive maps are the umbrella term for visual representations of mental models. This means they include mind maps and concept maps. A cognitive map is any visualization or representation of a person or a group’s mental model for a given process or concept. Cognitive maps have no visual rules. They have to obey. There is no restriction on how we visually represent these things. Cognitive maps have two key unique characteristics compared to the other two. One, they are extremely diverse in nature. They’re used for a range of disciplines and have a variety of purposes too. They have no restrictions on structure or form.
The next we have is mind maps. These are the most simple thus straightforward kind of mapping. They have a clear hierarchy and format which makes them pretty quick to create and consume. A mind map is like a tree map that represents a central topic. The subtopics consistently have a clear organization and structure because they are just that tree structures.
Lastly, we have concept maps. Concept map is a more complex version of a mind map, which I just talked about. They place an emphasis on identifying the relationships between topics with action verbs. Nodes within concept maps have several parents whereas nodes in mind maps had just one.
Cognitive maps, mind maps and concept maps ultimately enhances our cognitive performance. Using one technique over another is not going to make or break a project. In fact, a combination of all three will be used as needed at different points in your process.