2.4 Word associations

The purpose of this research task was to explore and extend the use of mindmapping so that I can be better utilise it as a way to generate ideas in my practice.

Key words from the brief:

  • Undertake a series of mind-maps or spider diagrams to generate associations based on a single concept
  • Use lateral thinking techniques as further prompts

  • Develop a process that moves your thinking through the obvious, to find more subtle, subjective, specific, or unusual motifs


I’ve been using mindmaps as a way to capture and process complex ideas for years, and have been a big fan of incorporating imagery and doodles into maps as a way to aid thinking and strengthen recall.

Recent examples are from 4.14 Contemporary ceramics,

Mindmap generating ideas for 4.14 Contemporary ceramics

and 4.8 Pixelated images (both exercises from Responding to a brief).

Mindmap generating ideas for 4.8 Pixelated images

What I hadn’t come across before was the idea of rhizometric thinking (introducing more than one main topic to the same map).

This is area that made a lot of sense and one I wanted to explore using a current area of interest.

The word association exercises

I created two maps.

Idea map 1 – Narrative

The first map was based on the word ‘Narrative’. As the central interest in my own practice is narrative storytelling, I thought this would be an excellent place to start.

As the map progressed I tried to think of different/unusual angles to spark off new thinking and connections with topics like, “Why do we like stories” and, “How do I know what I don’t know?”.

Red lines indicate connections between different thoughts/concepts/ideas.


‘Narrative’ idea map – A2 sized

Download a high resolution PDF of the map here: Narrative mindmap

Idea map 2 – Brookwood Cemetery

One of the subjects I’m currently interested in is Brookwood Cemetery, which is a large Victorian Cemetery about 30-minutes drive from where I live. Over the last year I’ve spent several days there sketching.

I used this as my main topic for the second map.

It’s a beautiful location, full of interest. I know there’s a projet there for me of some kind, but I can’t put my finger of what it is and I thought using this exercise might be a way to clarify my thinking.

The problem I have is that there are so many possible angles to work from.

‘Brookwood Cemetery’ idea map – sized

Download a high resolution PDF of the map here: Brookwood Cemetery map

I started by trying to capture ‘what I know’. What was interesting is that I very quickly started following possible areas of research, particularly around the history of the place which is fascinating. This began to feel like going down ‘green lanes’. At a point in time I had to pull back from that detailed level of enquiry because it was detracting from my objective of getting broader thinking down on the page.

After a couple of hours of broader thinking, I decided I’d got enough down to introduce a second topic: “What does it feel like to be there?”.

My reason for asking this question was to try and tease out what it is, from all the possible rich areas of investigation, I’m actually paying attention to.

After another period of mapping I stopped to consider those ideas and connections that seemed to resonate with me the most. I highlighted these using a Photoshop overlay.

Mindmap02 with overlay
‘Brookwood Cemetery’ idea map with areas of interest highlighted

That resulted in the following list of words/ideas:

  • Brookwood Cemetery
    • Memories
    • Human stories
    • Big landscape
    • A leveler, a reminder
    • Graceful decline
    • Many have grown to be much larger than expected/planned and are pushing over headstones
    • Nature reclaiming the tombs – ivy crawling through the mausoleums
    • Architecture
    • Victorian monument symbolism


The ‘Narrative’ mindmap was an interesting reflection on all of the things I’ve learned over the last year about visual storytelling. One whole area I hadn’t consciously grouped within ‘Design’ is panel composition in all of it’s different aspects. I think the map is an interesting template that I can reuse to drop in other subjects or themes to see what connections are made.

The Brookwood Cemetery map is full of ideas and new starting points for research. It’s very much work in progress. As soon as I captured it digitally I noticed other areas I wanted to add to and expand on. It’s a very rich source of content.

I liked the idea of adding more lateral thinking to the areas of enquiry to get more value from the exercise and push thinking into new directions.

Overall I think this is an excellent tool for my way of thinking and processing information. I think the rhizometric approach is a powerful addition for identifying new connections that I will certainly use for future mapping.


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