Best 21 idea board software as of 2021

Alexandra Martin

Written by

Alexandra Martin

Read Time

15 minutes

Dispel the myth that brilliant ideas just happen. They result from the conscious and constant pursuit of ideation, of making insightful connections. Creativity hence is not a mystical talent. It’s a skill that you cultivate and hone. Yet where do you put all those ideas that come in swarms when you least expect them? There are a plethora of options for idea board software that you and your team can use for idea management.

WHAT IS AN IDEA BOARD?

As the originator of the Getting Things Done® method, David Allen, put it, “your mind is about having ideas, not holding them.”

So, instead of stashing them in your mind, consider putting them on a blank page or a whiteboard. During a meeting or a brainstorming session, your team may contribute ideas, concepts, experiences, visuals, or fleeting thoughts. These are hard to flesh out, yet alone be displayed in a methodical manner that makes sense to everyone. What we recommend instead is to keep track of them by creating mind maps, flow charts, mood boards, spider diagrams – any visualization method for your ideas.

To take it to the next level, use a digital idea board. What’s great about digital idea boards is that the ideational capabilities stretch beyond traditional idea boards. You might take audio notes or attach links, which would not be possible on a physical board. You can create boards within boards and link content across multiple projects. Templates, libraries, and integrations have made idea boarding fun and easy.

We have scoured the web in search of the best idea board software as of 2020, so you don’t have to do it yourself. Let’s take a look at some of best idea board software organized by ideational style:

IDEA BOARD SOFTWARE 

TEMPLATE BANKS

1. Lucidchart

Lucidchart screenshot

Idea management in Lucidchart

Designed for entrepreneurs, salespeople, engineers, developers, educators.

Pros: Collaboration

Cons: Sharing options could be improved

Best features: Mind-mapping, storyboarding, diagramming, flowcharts, organizational charts, wireframing, integrations

  • Cloud insights
  • Various integrations
  • Vast template gallery

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + Windows, Mac, Linux + iOS, Android

Pricing:

  • Starting at  $7.95/user/mo
  • Free plan available

 
2. Creately

Creately screenshot

Idea management in Creately

Designed for businesses, marketing teams, engineering teams, creatives, educators

Pros: Collaboration

Cons: No mobile platforms

Best features: Mind-mapping, storyboarding, diagramming, flowcharts, organizational charts, wireframing, integrations

  • Business and technical diagramming
  • 1000+ template library
  • Creately for Scholarship and Education

Cloud: yes

Platforms: Web + Windows, Mac

Pricing:

  • Starting at $4.95/user/mo
  • Free plan available

WHITEBOARDING

3. Miro

Miro screenshot

Whiteboarding in Miro

Designed for startups, businesses, enterprises, consultants, creatives, and education:

Pros: Collaboration, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: No news feed

Best features: Timer, mind-mapping, Kanban, outliner, templates, integrations

  • Attention management
  • Miro Live Embed for customers
  • Works with Microsoft Surface Hub

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + Windows, Mac + iOS, Android + Surface Hub

Pricing:

  • Starting at $8/user/mo
  • Free plan available

 
4. Mural

Mural screenshot

Witeboarding in Mural

Designed for creatives, consultants, nonprofits, enterprises, and educators:

Pros: Collaboration, shareability, sync, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: No news feed

Best features: Timer, outliner, templates, integrations

  • Private mode: hiding contributions of individual collaborators to prevent groupthink
  • Super Lock: items may be moved only by facilitators
  • Attention management

Cloud-based: Yes

Platforms:  Web, Windows + iOS + Surface Hub

Pricing:

  • Starts at $12/user/mo depending on the team size
  • Special plan for educators and students

 
5. Milanote

Milanote screenshot

Whiteboarding in Milanote

Designed for creative professionals, designers, and product teams:

Pros: Collaboration, shareability, sync, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: No news feed

Best features: Kanban, outliner, mind-mapping, templates

  • Templates for creative pursuits
  • Timer
  • Milanote Web Clipper for Chrome: clips images, videos, and links from websites

Cloud:  Yes

Platforms: Web, Windows, Mac + Android, iOS

Pricing:

  • Starts at $9.99/user/mo
  • Free plan available

 
6. Stormboard

Stormboard screenshot

Whiteboarding in Stormboard

Designed for businesses, enterprises, managers:

Pros: News feed, collaboration, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: Complex to navigate

Best features: Timer, mind-mapping, outliner, templates, integrations

  • Business-oriented templates
  • Works with Microsoft Surface Hub
  • Free plans for Educators & Students until June 2021

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + Windows, Mac + iOS, Android + Surface Hub

Pricing:

  • Starting at $10/user/mo
  • Special plan for startups $5/user/mo
  • Free plan available for individuals and educators

 
7. ConceptBoard

ConceptBoard screenshot

Whiteboarding in ConceptBoard

Designed for startups, businesses, enterprises, agencies:

Pros: Collaboration, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: Web only

Best features: Whiteboarding, brainstorming, Kanban, integrations,

  • Real-time communication, video conferencing
  • Centralized content
  • Board access management

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web only

Pricing:

  • Starting at $6/user/mo
  • Free plan available

 
8. Ideabuddy

Ideabuddy screenshot

Whiteboarding in Ideabuddy

Designed for startups, businesses, enterprises, universities, business schools, consultants:

Pros: Progress status

Cons: Web only

Best features: Kanban, outliner, templates

  • Documents financial & business plans
  • Financial projections
  • Good for business incubation programs

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web

Pricing: Starting at $9/user/mo

 
9. Ideanote

Ideanote screenshot

Whiteboarding in Ideanote

Designed for businesses, enterprises, agencies, creative teams

Pros: Collaboration, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: Lack of integration

Best features: Kanban, brainstorming, templates

  • 100+ idea collection templates
  • Real-time analytics, custom rating
  • Gamification: missions

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + iOS, Android

Pricing: Starting at $249/admin/mo

 
10. GroupMap

GroupMap screenshot

Whiteboarding in GroupMap

Designed for teams, businesses, NGOs, educators, creatives:

Pros: Collaboration, idea review

Cons: Lack of integrations

Best features: Timer, Kanban, custom workspace

  • Real-time online brainstorming tool for meetings
  • Polling + time limit for news feedback sessions
  • Breakout sessions for smaller brainstorming groups

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web

Pricing: Starting at $20/facilitator + 10 participants/mo

 
11. IdeaDrop

IdeaDrop screenshot

Whiteboarding in IdeaDrop

Designed for business, enterprises, engineering companies

Pros: News feed, collaboration, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: Complex to navigate

Best features: Kanban, integrations

  • Idea cloaking – anonymous contribution
  • Intelligent duplicate check – pattern recognition to prevent duplication/plagiarism
  • Gamification – rewards, innovation scores, idea score (idea evaluation metrics)

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + Windows, Mac + iOS, Android

Pricing: Provided upon request

 
12. Sampleboard

Sampleboard screenshot

Whiteboarding in Sampleboard

Designed for agencies, studios, creatives, freelancers, designers

Pros: Collaboration, idea review

Cons: No progress status, workflow, uses Adobe Flash

Best features: Integrations

  • Web clipper
  • 50,000+ extensive library available
  • Image editing tools

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + Windows, Mac

Pricing: Starting at $12/user/mo

MIND-MAPPING

13. XMind

XMind screenshot

Mind-mapping in XMind

Designed for businesses, enterprises, managers, education:

Pros: News feed, collaboration, progress tracking, workflow

Cons: No idea review

Best features: Outlining, templates, diagramming, organization chart, logic charts

  • Combination of different ideational structures
  • User-generated mind-map gallery
  • Zen Mode for better focus

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux + iOS, Android

Pricing:

  • XMind 8 Pro: one-time purchase for 2 devices: $129.
  • XMind 2020 & Mobile: $59.99/year or $34.99 for academia

 
14. Mindomo

Mindomo screenshot

Mind-mapping in Mindomo

Designed for K-12 and universities, enterprises, NGOs, creative teams:

Pros: Collaboration, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: No news feed

Best features: Outliner, integrations, assignment feedback, templates

  • Collaborative Gantt charts
  • Good for educators: students can enroll without email or access code
  • Record and assessment of student work

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Cloud + Windows, Mac, Linux + iOS, Android

Pricing:

  • Starting at $6.5/user/mo
  • Free plan available

 
15. MindMeister

MindMeister screenshot

Mind-mapping in MindMeister

Designed for businesses, enterprises, universities, education, creatives:

Pros: News feed, collaboration, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: Web and mobile only

Best features: Outliner, planner, Kanban, integrations

  • Presentation creation
  • Meeting management
  • Knowledge management

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + iOS, Android

Pricing:

  • Starting at $5.92/user/mo
  • Education & NGO plans available
  • Free plan available

 
16. Ayoa

Ayoa screenshot

Mind-mapping in Ayoa

Designed for businesses, enterprises, NGOs, creative teams:

Pros: Collaboration, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: No offline use

Best features: Task management, Gantt timeline, calendar management, integrations

  • Real-time communication, video chat
  • Radial maps
  • Gantt charts

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + Windows, Mac + iOS, Android

Pricing:

  • Starting at $10.87/user/mo
  • Free plan available

 
17. Thortspace

Thortspace screenshot

Mind-mapping in Thortspace

Designed for businesses, individual use, education

Pros: News feed, collaboration, idea review

Cons: No progress status, no workflow

Best features:

  • 3D mind mapping
  • Crowd-thinking platform
  • User-generated content

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + Windows, Mac, Linux + iOS, Android

Pricing:

  • Starting at $9.17/user/mo
  • Free plan available

 
18. MindVector

MindVector screenshot

Mind-mapping in MindVector

Designed for businesses, managers, educators:

Pros: Idea ranking

Cons: Runs on Flash, no workflow, no progress tracking

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + Mac + iOS, Android

Pricing:

  • $9.99 one-time purchase/user
  • Free and business plan available

OUTLINERS

19. Nectir

Nectir screenshot

Outline management in Nectir

Designed for business, enterprises:

Pros: News feed, collaboration, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: Web only

Best features: Integrations

  • Employee engagement
  • Group challenges
  • Gamification & incentivization

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web

Pricing: Starting at $7/user/mo;

 
20. Retrium

Retrium screenshot

Outline management in Retrium

Designed for startups, businesses, enterprises, scrum teams:

Pros: Collaboration, idea review, workflow

Cons: Web only

Best features: Kanban, retrospectives, action plans

  • Team radars
  • Solutions by role/topic
  • Actions plans

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web only

Pricing:

  • Starting at $29/team
  • Enterprise plan available

 
21. Ideawake

Ideawake screenshot

Outline management in Ideawake

Designed for businesses, enterprises, managers:

Pros: News feed, collaboration, idea review, progress status, workflow

Cons: Less intuitive UX/UI

Best features: Idea selection, prototyping, piloting

  • Gamification – user points
  • Customizable workflow
  • Anonymous posting

Cloud: Yes

Platforms: Web + iOS, Android

Pricing: Provided upon request

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN USING IDEA BOARD SOFTWARE

There’s something romantic about movies often portraying police officers or genius inventors puzzling over their idea boards, setting colored pins on maps, photos, and newspaper articles. They keep staring at apparently disparate clues only to find a connection and finally have a break in their case. This movie trope is called “the detective’s crazy wall”. Every respectable procedural TV series uses it because it has become so deeply ingrained in our culture as we have been rewired to consume and process information visually.

Looking at a wall chock full of information put together in a somewhat organized mess is our way of peeping into someone’s mind and understanding one’s thinking patterns (oopsie, I’m guilty of having made one during college to better sort my fleeting thoughts and essay ideas). Yet there’s something peculiarly apt about an idea board that serves a different purpose for a team or business– be it designing a product or coming up with solutions. Suddenly, the crazy wall is not only impractical; it’s confusing and mind-cluttering. Handwritten sticky notes or doodles on the whiteboard take up a lot of time. You need technology to streamline your ideation process. Plus, it’s 2020, and pretty much everyone is working remotely. How would you get your team together to collaborate on your next big idea? The answer is you don’t really have to, thanks to online collaborative apps. Here are criteria worth considering when looking for idea board software:

#1 Time tracking module

There are contradictory accounts whether deadlines or time constraints stifle or boost creativity. Setting a deadline for coming up with the next big idea might put extra pressure on your team because they can’t deeply engage with the problem or think of new ideas.

But tracking the time you spend during the ideation process is actually beneficial. Brainstorming sessions themselves should consist of short creative bursts no longer than an hour – so you won’t wear out your collaborators’ creative efforts. Afterall, studies show that workers are productive for only about three hours of the eight they put in. All the more reason to log those creative bursts for future reference. It also allows you to switch your focus, so you don’t stay fixated on the problem for too long. Try using a Pomodoro app during your creative sessions.

#2 Collaboration

Debunk the lone creator myth, which hardly ever happens. The truth is that successful creative work is almost always collaborative. You need the tools to help your team collaborate on a project or the idea board in question. One that tracks people’s input, it allows tags, comments, etc. People need to be able to discuss and debate ideas, to speak their mind. Creativity needs an incubation period, so people can focus on some aspects while allowing other points to rest until the team is ready to re-engage with those ideas. How many people should collaborate? The smaller the team, the more focused the idea board since all the collaborators will feel engaged and responsible for coming up with good ideas.

#3 Synchronization

Your idea board will be constantly updated, so one crucial criterion for good idea board software is the sync feature. If the team is updated in real-time, they may contribute from the same office space or work remotely from across the globe. You won’t have to worry about updating the status to “final version”, “edited final version”, “real final version”, or whatnot.

#4 Shareability

This feature is beneficial when you want to share the digital idea board with anyone in the department or even send it as a presentation. Other people may join in, share their contributions, review it, and leave feedback. There are idea board services that allow sharing content with clients and external collaborators.

TIP: Creativity bursts come in waves: the first one consists of expected or clichéd solutions, then some more creative ideas follow shortly, and lastly, there are the fringe, unorthodox, radical, or out-of-the-box. Log those creative sessions and write notes and feedback on the process using a time tracker.

#5 Cloud

These days, cloud computing has such a competitive edge since it is so convenient, reliable, and cost saving, which is why most if not all idea board services now run on platforms. You wouldn’t have to worry about misplacing files or losing flash drives. Storing your documents, pictures, audio for your idea board not only makes it easier for you and your collaborators to have all the files in one ideation workspace, but they could be accessed on any device.

#6 Intuitive design

For sure, this is the heart of the software because it should be as intuitive as a physical board is: drag and drop items, group and link them, attach pictures, jot down ideas (granted, a digital idea board allows you to create legible content, so you won’t have to worry about anyone’s messy handwriting). As for the interface, you wouldn’t want your team members frustrated with the user experience, unnecessary complexity, or slow-loading and buggy software.

TIP: Consider using templates to ease your creative processes—no need to build everything from scratch.

IDEATION TECHNIQUES

Find the right idea board software for you and your team and give it a run. Then, try at least one of the following ideation techniques to get your team on board with the creative process:

#1 Brainstorming

This is perhaps the most popular ideation technique to generate as many ideas you can in a short period of time. Although the name “brainstorming” implies a chaotic brain dump, the system is orderly and clear. One needs some sort of constraints to come up with creative solutions. Online brainstorming is called “brain-netting”, which is not a surprise due to teleworking. You may have brain-netting sessions over a Zoom meeting, on Slack, or through a dedicated idea board app. You won’t even have to come together in person since it is a great method for remote teams nowadays.

TIP: Create a safe space for ideation. Make it clear to the team members that nobody can ridicule others’ suggestions or laugh at them. There are no bad ideas, just bad attitudes.

#2 Prototyping

Prototyping is a great ideation technique to make decisions and explore possible directions. It is especially useful during wireframing. Even the simplest sketching, diagramming, doodling can lead to great products. Use the idea board for the initial phases of the prototyping process.

#3 Mind mapping

Mind mapping is a visual ideation technique that focuses on idea relationships. You start with a topic or keyword and build it from there. It’s simple and extremely visual, which is why it is a preferred brainstorming tool. Similar techniques are spider mapping and clustering.

#4 Mood boarding

A type of idea boarding, mood boarding is a visual representation technique that focuses on sampling or collaging existing images and text to express or explain a particular feel or direction. It is best used in fashion and graphic design, cinematography, and other creative fields.

#5 Storyboarding

Storyboarding is a blend of idea boarding and narration, a graphic representation technique that focuses on telling a story through simple sketches. It is great for pre-production. It’s also a great exercise for the flow of your ideas as you develop a visual story.

#6 Freewriting

A great pre-writing technique, free writing involves writing continuously in a stream-of-consciousness style for a set amount of time, disregarding syntax, spelling, and punctuation. The goal is to break through the writer’s block and write something so you can edit later.

#7 Collaborative brainwriting

Brainwriting is a mix of brainstorming and freewriting, which involves writing down a topic, a statement, or a question and publishing it so that others contribute to your input. The team members can pass it along or work simultaneously on it.

Other useful exercises for lateral thinking

  • Worst Possible Idea. It is burdensome to think of the next big idea – the pressure to perform might be too much – especially for your extremely creative collaborators. This is a good warmup exercise that is both effective and fun as it forces people to come up with flops or terrible ideas consciously. Think of it as comic relief, as it reduces anxiety and job performance pressure. It will also brighten up the mood and allow people to relax.
  • Analogies and similes. An analogy is a literary device that compares two seemingly different concepts that share a core feature when providing the right context and explanations. A simile is a figure of speech that compares two stark concepts to highlight their commonality. These two are especially helpful for writers, artists, and storytellers.
  • Cheatstorming. This technique involves deliberately salvaging discarded ideas from previous brainstorming sessions and generating something based on them. Much like idea recycling, it is similar to not letting ideas go to waste.
  • Rephrasing. Take an idea or come up with words, metaphors, expressions, along with related words, synonyms, antonyms, and metonyms. Redefine basic meanings. For example, instead of saying “a restaurant is a place where customers consume food and drinks,” fill in the following “a restaurant is NOT a place where …”. Have your team be as wild as they can.
  • Empathy card. Using flashcards, write different scenarios, pass them around or send them to each of your collaborators online. For instance, “How would you feel if you were a 5-year old going to a sushi bar?”, “what if that 5-year old were a picky eater” etc. It doesn’t need to be accurate, just to make some plausible assumptions, so you understand different perspectives and think out-of-the-box.
  • Detective’s reasoning. Based on the topic or a statement, come up with answers to the following function words: why, who, which, what, where, when, and how. If you probe an interesting solution, keep digging deeper.

TIP: Ban ideas that are too cliché or that worked in the past. Have your team redesign or reinvent them.

All these techniques and exercises help your team to collaborate remotely. These are especially useful for you to turn ideas into actions – the possibilities are countless:

  • sprint retrospectives
  • postmortems
  • mock-ups
  • scrum boards
  • Kanban boards
  • wireframes
  • user flow
  • visual design
  • project strategy
  • plotlines

HOW TO START IDEA BOARDING

Before you start the idea board creative process, make sure you have a specific goal in mind and that your team understands the end goal/product. If it’s a meeting in real-time, make sure they are available and well-rested. If it’s an asynchronous endeavor, let them know a tentative deadline or a rough timeline.

Step 1. Idea collection

First, create a new project on your digital idea board. Invite team members to add sticky notes, ideas, and images to the idea board. If possible, try to have them contribute at the same time so that they feel engaged and connected. Some may write, others may attach files, a few might incorporate their visuals, and so on. At this stage, focus on quantity, not quality. Refinement will come later.

TIP: Paradoxically, it’s better not to look at the idea board all the time so you won’t get familiarized with it. You might miss some excellent ideas due to familiarity. Higher familiarity is worse with words – it is like presque vu, the frustrating feeling that the concept or word you are looking for is on the tip of the tongue.

If this approach is too hectic for everyone, assign a “scribe” to take notes on your team conversations and debates. The scribe can organize those ideas later and add them to the board. If you prefer the round table approach, make sure it is not a screaming contest involving obnoxious team members raising their voice while pleading their case. Also, beware that the convo doesn’t get too heated and that everyone gets to share their ideas. Have a strict time limit for these kinds of creative sessions.

Step 2. Idea refinement

After you have collected all the ideas, you may want to focus on their quality. Make a shortlist of feasible ideas. Discard the useless, set aside some intriguing ones, polish the potentially brilliant ideas. Keep updating the idea board to match the stage you are at. Switch angles and keep refining the idea. Revise it critically – if you won’t do it, your competitors or critics will.

Step 3. Idea review

Depending on your company’s organizational culture, your team members may comment upon or vote on the idea which works best. You might send it to your superiors for veto or post it on the company’s Slack channel to get some more feedback. Make sure you get as much unbiased analysis as possible. If you have more than one feasible idea, submit them anonymously for peer review. If your budget and scope allow it, do some market research.

Step 4. Idea implementation

Together with your team, you’ve come up with a potentially brilliant idea, you’ve polished it, put it on display for others to validate it, and now you must implement it. The idea board has been a successful endeavor, and you may archive it for future reference.

TIP: File the “leftover” ideas and set them aside in an idea trove. You may recycle them later for a similar project.

IDEAS FOR TAKEAWAY

What makes people brilliant is how they draw their inspiration from personal or collective experience, but how they bring together dissimilar concepts seen through the lens of their own subjective self. The ideation process will help your team grow in knowledge and technical skills. This, in return, will lead to greater enthusiasm for work and a strong, dedicated team.

Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells. – Teresa Amabile

Your creative breakthrough is the result of conscious and constant pursuit of ideation. Choose at least one of the idea board software mentioned above and get your team on board. Start connecting those dots. We’re all waiting for your creative input into the world. 🤗

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