Don’t you love those moments at the beginning of a project when the sparks fly and you have idea after idea? You’re all fired up, full of enthusiasm, and raring to go. What could possibly go wrong? Well…
While this part of the project is always the most exciting, it’s also the easiest to mess up. With so many thoughts floating around, it’s normal to lose your sense of focus. Before you know it, you’ve either spread yourself too thinly over too many ideas or honed in on just one, forgotten the rest, and lost that initial sense of enthusiasm.
Both scenarios are common problems to have at the start of any project. The good news is, with a little careful management, you can tame those wild ideas and direct them towards a singular goal. This is where spider diagrams come in handy.
What is a spider diagram?
A spider diagram is a visual tool that organizes concepts using space, color, and images. It gives you a complete overview of all your ideas, so you can see everything at a glance and brainstorm deeper connections.
Why ‘spider?’ Well, you start your diagram by writing your main concept in the center of your page. Then you add additional ideas and connect them to the center via lines. The lines look a little like the legs of a spider — or in the case below, several spiders.
Once you have your root idea and sub-ideas mapped out, you can begin making connections between ideas and fleshing your diagram out with additional concepts, connecting and adding as you go.
What’s the difference between a spider diagram and a mind map?
There’s no doubt about it: spider diagrams and mind maps look similar. Both diagrams are visual representations of concepts and ideas and their relationships. The main difference is a spider diagram is more freeform. There are no rules about how to structure it, and using color is optional.
Why use spider diagrams?
Firstly, spider diagrams are great for when you have lots of ideas to work through. They’re quick and easy to create, which means you can record all your thoughts before they drift away.
Secondly, spider diagrams root your ideas to a central topic, which helps you stay focused. Building links between concepts helps you apply a sense of structure to your thoughts and deepen your understanding of the overall project.
There’s also a scientific reason why these diagrams are so practical and memorable. They closely resemble how the average brain processes information — with lots of interconnected ideas shooting off in all directions. In fact, according to one 2006 study, concept mapping (such as a spider diagram) is more effective than “reading text passages, attending lectures, and participating in class discussions.”
Who should use a spider diagram?
Spider diagrams are helpful for any activity involving planning or brainstorming. So, whether you’re a student studying for an exam, a project manager planning a new process, or just taking notes during a meeting, a spider diagram can help you throw everything together and organize it in a meaningful way.
Spider diagrams aren’t just for displaying ideas, either. They can help you identify where you’re missing knowledge. Because it’s a visual thing, you’ll be able to see at a glance which areas of the content are less developed. This instantly shows you where to bulk up your research or focus your efforts.
How to make a spider diagram in 3 easy steps
- First, choose a broad topic or concept. Write it in the middle of the page and draw an oval, square, or whatever shape you like around it.
- Next, write down your subtopics and link each one to the central theme using a line or arrow. You can put these subtopics in a circle or oval if you like, but there’s no set rule here. Just do what works best for you.
- Add more detailed ideas around your subtopics until you have all your information present in the diagram. You can add color and customize the diagram with images if you like.
Spider diagram examples
As we previously discussed, how you design a spider diagram is entirely your choice. The most important thing is to use a consistent method of organizing your ideas. Take a look at the examples of spider diagrams we created in Cacoo.
A bubble-style layout (as shown above) is a better option when you plan to make a large diagram. Depending on how you space out the bubbles, you can easily add more and more branches to each section. If you’re only exploring a few topics, the line-style diagram below offers a quick way to group similar ideas together.
How to choose the right format
You can either draw the spider diagram by hand or create a digital version with a diagramming tool. Both options have pros and cons. Hand-drawn spider diagrams are convenient when you’re taking notes away from a computer. However, the finished product will have a homemade feel to it, and you won’t be able to easily edit or share your work later on.
Using diagramming software isn’t always possible while in a meeting, but the digital aspect means you can save time with a premade template and edit it as many times as you like.
Another benefit to digitally creating your diagram is the shareable aspect of it. No man (or woman) is an island, or so the saying goes, and no idea should exist in isolation. The purpose of a spider diagram is to display as many ideas as possible. When you share those ideas with other people, you’re likely to inspire them to think of more, making the whole process much more collaborative.
The most effective way to do this is to share your diagram digitally, ideally in the cloud. Everyone can access it wherever they are and, if appropriate, edit as needed.
Choose whichever method is best for your situation. And remember, you can always use a combination of both. Sketch your spider diagram on a whiteboard or notepad first, and then create a digital version to share with the team.
A spider diagram is a great way to identify and organize your thoughts. It’s also an effective method for identifying gaps in your knowledge or within a larger process.
The beauty lies in its simplicity. Spider diagrams are incredibly easy to create, flexible enough to adapt for any project, and simple enough for anyone to use without prior training. And if you do have diagramming software, take advantage of the editing and sharing capabilities to make the process as convenient and collaborative as possible. Because when it comes to spider diagrams, the more ideas, the better.
This post was originally published on August 2, 2019, and updated most recently on January 11, 2022.