Lack of inspiration. Roadblocks. Confusion.
These are just a few of the problems concept mapping can solve for you and your team. By visualizing the relationship between different concepts, these maps simplify complex ideas, support learning and promote critical thinking.
Not quite sure what a concept map looks like? Not to worry. The following concept map example roundup will clear things right up. But first, let’s make sure we have all our basics covered…
Click to jump ahead:
- What is concept mapping?
- How can businesses use concept mapping?
- Concept map example roundup: 10 templates and design tips
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What is concept mapping?
Simply put, a concept map is a diagram that shows how concepts are related to one another. These maps have many modern uses, but were originally developed to support meaningful learning.
In his book, Learning How to Learn, Joseph D. Novak defines this as, “the assimilation of new concepts and propositions into existing cognitive structures.”
In addition to learning, concept mapping can help with everything from brainstorming to decision-making. (More on the different ways businesses use concept maps in a sec.) How?
By representing a main idea in a circle or box (called a node) and connecting related ideas with labeled lines (called links), a concept map organizes all the information on a topic, outlines how that info fits together and points to insights and/or actions.
For example, this concept map lists out strategies for staying awake and alert. Each strategy links to additional bullet points with supporting facts:
How can businesses use concept mapping?
From clarifying complex concepts and promoting memory recall to solving sticky problems and generating fresh ideas, concept maps have many uses in the realm of business. But let’s get a little more concrete about it…
Here are a few quick examples of how businesses can use concept mapping:
- To simplify complex topics. When onboarding new employees or training existing ones, concept maps can help you convey processes and information (and help them retain it!).
- To make decisions. By mapping out a strategy or problem, you can identify any information or resource gaps and decide on next steps.
- To brainstorm new ideas. Visualizing the relationship between different concepts can help you uncover new connections and, as a result, new strategies.
- To map customer journeys. Understanding how customers interact with your brand and product is key… and with a concept map, you can create a visual representation of these journeys.
- To facilitate communication. Concept maps can come in handy if you need to convey a vision or strategy — your team will be able to see the big picture and how everything fits together.
Concept map example roundup: 10 templates and design tips
Now for some examples, design tips and concept map templates!
Sidebar: you can edit any of the following templates with Venngage’s concept mapping software. Many of these templates are free to use, while others require a small monthly fee. Sign up is always free, as is access to Venngage’s user-friendly, drag-and-drop editor.
This template uses one of the most popular formats for a concept map: the spider map (also called a spider diagram). Spider concept maps feature a main topic in a central node with sub-concepts branching out in various directions.
If you’re doing a brainstorming session, this type of concept map is a great choice. It gives you lots of flexibility, and you can keep extending your map as new ideas crop up.
Design tip: create a stronger visual connection between your concepts by color-coating related nodes. For consistency, choose colors in similar tones (e.g. all pastels). Here’s a helpful guide for more advice on how to pick colors.
Here’s an example of a concept map with a hierarchical structure. As you may have surmised, this format visualizes related concepts in a top-down fashion. The content here goes from general concepts to more specific ones the further down you read.
Ideal for study or job aids, this particular template gives you plenty of space to include additional details about the relationship between concepts.
Design tip: for legibility, try not to add more text to this template than the placeholder content showcases. If you need more space for your content, you can extend the page size in Venngage and add additional nodes, links and notes as needed.
Another example of a spider concept map, this template gives you lots of room to elaborate on ideas and get creative. In addition to an intro and outro, it makes clever use of icons and illustrations to visualize the main concept and sub-concepts.
All these elements give this concept map the feel of a bonafide infographic. All this to say, if you’re looking for an option to engage an audience, this template is a great choice.
Design tip: when customizing the icons in this template (which you can do with a click in Venngage!), try and stick to one icon style. For example, if all your icons are flat, don’t add a three-dimensional icon to the mix. For more tips on styling icons, check out this post.
I did say spider concept maps were the most popular! Here’s a more playful example of this concept map format. Again, icons paired with text make this template easy on the eyes, and of course, easy to understand.
In educational settings, you could create a concept map like this to help students get a better understanding of a topic or study for an exam. In a business setting, this concept map could outline an organization or department’s structure. But really, you could customize this map for many different uses.
Design tip: make sure you size your icons as consistently as possible. Consider both the positive space an icon takes up and the negative space (also called white space) around it. If your icons are near other elements, it can actually be easier to gauge whether they’re sized properly by looking at the padding (space) around them, than just the icons themselves.
For the minimalist in you, this template uses succinct terminology and simple arrows to convey a complex process. The hierarchical structure here makes this simple concept map a good option for visualizing cascading steps in a process, like protein synthesis.
But you could visualize any business process in this concept map template, too. Just click create to customize away!
Design tip: not big on red? No biggie. You can swap out any of the colors in this template with your company’s brand-approved options. In fact, with a Venngage business account, you can even change colors with a click using My Brand Kit.
Hierarchy abounds! This concept map example visualizes an even more complex system with many different branches and relationships. It features strategic flourishes: the background behind the main node and the icons atop the two first nodes draw the eye to the key concepts.
Though used here for educational purposes, you could visualize anything from company structure to the competitive landscape with this template.
Design tip: as a rule of thumb, stick to using a maximum of two to three typefaces per design, like in this example. Any more than that and your design may become messy! For more on choosing fonts, check out this guide.
Recognize this content? Yup, it’s the same as the minimalist example we saw above, but the design of this concept map template has a totally different feeling. It’s clean and modern, while at the same time pops of color add visual interest.
Again, the structure here would work for mapping any business process.
Design tip: notice how this template uses just one icon to support the main idea. Consider this clutter-free approach for more complicated concepts where icons might just create confusion.
Now for a new type of concept map! This example has what’s called a “system” structure. Similar to a flowchart, a system concept map branches out in a linear manner. The difference is, a system concept map is more free-form and can feature many different nodes and concept clusters.
System maps are great for mapping (you guessed it!) systems. This is a simpler example, but you can also use these types of concept maps to organize extremely complex systems, like you might encounter in software design.
Design tip: a surefire way to make sure your color choices complement each other? Choose a one color and use varying shades of it, from dark to light. Find even more color selection tips here.
On the system concept map theme, here’s another example with nodes going in multiple directions. Again, you can see how this type of concept map is more free-form — the nodes and links can go in any direction necessary to represent the relationships between concepts.
You might use a diagram like this in a classroom or in a business setting with a few tweaks.
Design tip: add a little depth to your concept map by playing with patterns and icons with dual toned icons. You can choose from many pre-made backgrounds in Venngage or import your own. Check out this post for some simple background inspiration.
Chemical reactions take two! Though a little less traditional, you could still classify this template as a spider concept map. Between the vibrant colors and the generous use of icons, it’s certainly an eye-catching design.
If you have a lot of text to park and you’re looking for a more casual option, this concept map template is for you.
Design tip: choose a symmetrically balanced design like this one when all the elements in your composition have equal importance. Read up on the balance design principle here.
Concept map example FAQs
How do you make a concept map?
There’s no hard rules that dictate how to make a concept map. But there are some general guidelines you can follow when creating your own.
Start by identifying the core concept or topic you’d like to map out. It can help to turn this concept into a focus question to better define the problem you’re trying to solve.
Next, brainstorm a list of related concepts. Write everything down that comes to mind. Organize these concepts from least to most specific.
Now you’re ready to start creating your concept map. Copy your ideas into a concept map template, connecting them with lines or arrows and linking words as you go along.
Take a step back and consider whether there are any missing links, cross-links or concepts. Once you’re happy with the contents of your concept map, add graphics, like icons and illustrations, to clarify your ideas and make your map visually appealing.
What are the types of concept maps?
There are four main types of concept maps: spider, hierarchy, flowchart and system.
- Spider concept maps feature a central concept with sub-concepts radiating outwards. This format is great for brainstorming or conveying simple concepts.
- Hierarchical concept maps showcase a main concept on top with sub-concepts underneath. It follows that this type of map is a good choice for getting across the relative importance of concepts.
- Flowchart concept maps organize concepts in a linear manner. Choose this type of concept map to outline processes and workflows.
- System concept maps are similar to flowcharts but more free-form with additional nodes and concept clusters. This type of concept map is the best choice for visualizing complex systems and data.
What goes on a concept map?
Concept maps are made up of several key elements, including nodes (circles or squares that contain a concept), links (lines or arrows with words describing the connection between concepts) and cross-links (lines or arrows that connect concepts across a map).
A concept map may also include longer descriptions and examples, depending on the content at hand. It’s common for a concept map to feature visuals, like icons, illustrations and images as well.
Is a bubble map a concept map?
Bubble maps and concept maps aren’t the same thing. In fact, they’re quite different. A bubble map may refer to an actual map that uses circles of different sizes to represent numeric values in various regions. Or, it may refer to a mind map style diagram that showcases related ideas.
Bubble chart mind maps are likely the version that get confused with concept maps. But as we’ve seen, concept maps also describe the relationship between concepts via linking words. Bubble maps lack linking words and the additional context they provide the reader.
Make your own concept map in minutes with Venngage
You may have noticed many of the concept map examples we covered featured educational content… and this is no coincidence!
Concept mapping has its roots in education.
But nowadays, the practice is popular across many professions: product managers, business leaders, L&D professionals and more create concept maps to simplify information and stimulate innovation. After all, who doesn’t need to come up with new ideas? Or communicate existing ones, for that matter.
Ready to give concept mapping a try? Get a head start by choosing a Venngage template and make your own concept map for free.