Express Yourself Better – New Node Types

This blog entry is a run through of how to use some of the not-so-well-documented features of Vithanco.

There is a simple feature that helps me a lot. I adjust the standard domains for variations whenever it helps me to express myself better. A typical scenario for me is during Concept Mapping, when I want to show that I am unsure whether I understand a Concept well enough. I simply know that I need more input from someone and I want to show this in the diagram with a different Node Type.

The Node Type Editor

It’s simple. I start by viewing the Node Type of a Concept. For this you open the  normal Node Editor. Further down comes a button with “View Node Type”.

first button to click
View Node Type Button in Node Editor

Once clicked, the Node Type Editor for the Node Type is opened. In this case it is for the “Concept” Node Type.

Changing a Node Type
The Node Type Editor

This Editor is only useable in the full version of Vithanco. Let me explain a bit it’s design.

  1. Here are all Domains for the document listed. In this case there are two, with  the Basic Domain as the first one. The Basic Domain has AND, OR Node Types, but as well notes and problem Node Types.
  2. The 2nd Domain is Concept Mapping.
  3. Concept is a Node Type that belongs to the Concept Mapping domain. The remaining dialog shows details of the Concept Node Type.
  4. A few points are worth noting about this type. Firstly, there is a tickbox to indicate whether this node can be the first one on the canvas. This controls whether you start an empty diagram with this node or not.
  5. The starting node setting is in this diagram displayed via the Power On/Off symbol. From the symbol an arrow leads to the Node Type. This symbol wouldn’t be shown if the node wouldn’t be a starting node.
  6. The rest of this diagram shows the suggested predecessors and successors for this Node Type. The Concept Nodes are always alternating with Relationship Nodes. This is expressed on the Node Type level through predecessors and successor Node Types. Change the predecessors and/or successors and the suggestions (or recommendations) during modelling will change. The diagram here at 6 simply shows these relationships.
  7. You can change the predecessors and successors here in the editor. (Scroll down a bit).
  8. If you want to change the looks of the Node Type, select another Type. Concepts are simple rounded boxes with Text in the middle.
  9. Change Colors in this part. As you can see, the Concept Node Type uses the color with the RGB code 208,236,237. Click and change.

The New Node Type

I said I wanted to show that I am not sure about a concept. I am going to show this through a yellowish Node Type. Hence, I press the button in the lower part of the middle scroll box.

Create a Duplicate of this Node Type

What does this do? It creates a new Node Type with the same settings as the original. I can adjust only the parts that I would like.

The new Unconfirmed Node Type

What did Change?

  1. The new Node Type “Unconfirmed Concept” was added to the same Domain “Concept Maps”.
  2. I changed the name to “Unconfirmed Concept” here – which triggered the change under 1.
  3. I changed the background color here towards a light yellow.
  4. The Node Type diagram shows the new Node Type. It has duplicated the predecessors and successors of the Concept Node Type. I can therefore use the new type wherever I used the original.

The changed Domain

In case you wonder about what changed on the Domain level, have a look at the Domain Diagram.

The changed Concept Maps Domain Diagram

Please note that many arrows are bidirectional. You start (bottom symbol) with one of the three Concept Nodes, and from there there is only an arrow to Relation. From Relation you can access any of the (now) three Concept Node Types, after which I “return” to a Relation. Hence, I can use the new Node Type where I previously used the other Concepts Nodes.

I could as well create a new Relation Node Type in a similar fashion.

Other Domain Hacks

I use this feature regularly for Concept Maps. In fact, I might add the third Node Type to the standard in the future.

Other Domains can benefit similarly. For example the Benefit Breakdown Structure was extended by Disbenefits, HR Enablers, IT Enablers, etc.

Causal Loop diagrams can as well benefit from different colors if you want to show areas of different departments or similar.

Finally, the explanations above should encourage you to create a completely new Domain from scratch. Just try it out. Ask, if something is unclear.

How to use the new Node Type

Now, I can close the Node Type Editor and change the Node Type of the node that triggered my addition to the standard model.

The sign post lets you change the Node Type.

Press the button in middle, on the left side with the sign post to change the type. You will only get “valid” replacements according to the Domain model. As the help text says, you can override this behaviour by keep pressing CTRL before clicking on the button and you can choose any Node Type, even if that means that your Concept Map is no longer easy to read.

The outcome for this example diagram is like this:

Example Diagram with a new Node Type

Please note, that I am not sure whether Darth Vader is an evil character, which I make clear through the yellow background. No flame war, please.

Focus on a Concept – Keep the overview for big Concept Maps

This week a more technical post, dedicated to all users or Concept Maps. It is an addition to a previous post: Deriving Value from large Diagrams

If you work with Concept Maps then you will reach the point where key concepts are connected to so many other Concepts that the relationships are along long lines which makes it simply difficult to see the full set of relationships for the concept. If you want to review that concept then you suddenly need to scroll a lot and it will be hard for the reviewers to follow.

The lastest version of Vithanco has a shortcut to help.

Focus on Concept
Use the button highlighted in this screenshot.

With this Button, only the concept highlighted, the relationships with the concept and the related concepts will be displayed. All other concepts are no longer presented, which leads to a nice way to review that particular concept. Autolayout ensures that the map is nicely readable.

In the resulting focused view, just click the button in the top right corner to return to the full map.

Happy Reviewing!

Concept Mapping or “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”

There is a great quote regarding communications:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” (George Bernard Shaw

What did he mean by this? People misunderstand each other more often than we would like. Sometimes, these misunderstandings are trivial, e.g. a PO can stand for Product Owner (IT department) or for Purchase Order (finance department). These problems are found quickly.

But often, the misunderstandings are more difficult to catch: people can use the same terms in a similar way but with differences. To stay in the example, one person might think a Product Owner conducts the testing, the other doesn’t. These two people might have a completely normal conversation about the POs and both believe that the other  is aligned to their own views – that is until the testing starts.

Concept Mapping supports communication.

What is Concept Mapping?

Concept Mapping is a visual thinking method to reduce this issue. It brings people to “truly” communicate with each other. It does this through alignment on terminology.  It is therefore the perfect method to start any new initiative, whether it is a project/agile initiative, a new team setup, an interest group, etc.

Concept Mapping is basically the reoccurring shared review of one or more concept maps.

Concept Map on Concept Mapping
Key concepts relevant for Concept Mapping

A Concept Map is basically a way to define terminology. Each term (or concept) will be defined not through a dictionary entry but instead through its relation to other concepts. The map above is a simple Concept Map. During a shared review, two or more group members can conduct a shared review of the map.

What is a Shared Review?

In the shared review the group members validate each sentence on the map together. Which sentences? Each of the lines forms a simple sentence. “Concept Mapping results in a Concept Map” is one of them on the concept map above. If you have a sentence “Product Owner conducts the testing” on the map, the group members can agree (potentially after some discussions) or  improve the map in order to have a correct Concept Map. Any changes should then we validated with the rest of the group, which might trigger more changes.

New team/group member can be brought quickly up to speed as run-through through the map(s) can layout the field to them. They will become effective faster.

With any shared review the map normally improves. If there is a different understanding, the review brings it into the open. In my experience, only a few iterations are enough to reach general consensus. Subsequent discussions will shorten significantly as communication uses a shared terminology.

Is Concept Mapping a “Silver Bullet”?

Of course, Concept Mapping isn’t a magic silver bullet. If a relationship between two terms was never discussed then it will most likely not be on the Concept Map and hence differences in opinion can survive. But if you ever find something then add it to the map and spread the new meaning throughout the  whole group – or spark the discussion if the best relation is not obvious to all.

Personal Experience

I have so far made really good experience with Concept Maps. Projects that used them went generally a lot smoother than the others. You can start with a small team and later include new groups more easily. Imaging a project with external IT development (through a vendor) where the developers are simply not part of the initiating group. They join later and need to understand the documentation provided. For them the knowledge transfer of the map is really efficient.

But the biggest value from my point of view is that you simply have important discussions earlier. Just now it happened that we found a major difference in understanding within a fresh department. Key people responsible for a key deliverable had a substantial difference. The difference persisted already for a few months – in spite of regular meetings within the the team and in spite of road map discussions for the deliverable. The wording used was compatible in many ways and allowed both sides to keep two consistent pictures alive. I created a first map by extracting key concept from one member of the group and then conducted a shared review with 4 members. We didn’t even get half way through the map. Instead the scope discussion went off and will continue for a few more meetings. This important scope misalignment would have become obvious latest during go live – with potential severe delays. As we found it earlier, the impact on the roadmap is much smaller.

Concept Mapping is simply the best method I found so far to ensure that all members of any group are “on the same page” and can communicate efficiently.

Closing Thoughts

I created Vithanco for Visual Thinking methods like Concept Mapping. Try it yourself in the Mac App Store. Vithanco has a dedicated Domain for Concept Maps.


Use Templates to make the most of your own Domains

Vithanco comes with a set of Domains, spanning different areas like Benefit Mapping, Concept Mapping, Causal Loop Diagrams or Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes. However, new use cases regularly require a new “language”. New node types and the right recommendations for predecessors and successors create a new syntax for the next diagram. It happens often to me that I adjust existing domains for a specific needs or even create a completely new domain. And these changes are often needed for the next time I create a new diagram for the same area.
For example, I once created a simple graphical language for writing text. It had only a few elements like “Fact”, “Conclusion”, “Experience”. I used it for a while whenever I was writing and sometimes still come back to it.
Templates were created based on user request. They fulfill the need to save local Domains. They are basically diagrams saved for simplified retrieval. Hence, save some nodes in your template and these nodes will be reproduced when you start a diagram based on that template. If you want to create a structure for the use of the domain as with the Evaporating Cloud then you can now do so!
Vithanco makes it easy to find a specific template again by showing relevant template information, like a diagram screenshot, the meta model and a description. If you have improved a template simply override it.
Loading and Saving Templates
Loading and Saving Templates
Access templates saving and loading from the file menu.
Finally, if you believe that you have a useful Domain, please send it to the developer team. We will gladly add good domains so they are available out-of-the-box.

New User Interaction Approach for Vithanco

We have simplified the user interaction approach of Vithanco. It was already released with Vithanco 1.4. The new approach is reducing the numbers of popup windows and hence keeps the focus on the canvas/diagram.

The standard behaviour of clicks has changed. If you double click a node you can immediate start typing on the canvas. A text field is overlaying the node and awaits changes. Leaving the text field with the mouse or pressing [Return] will end the editing.

Vithanco 1.4
Please note the new editing box (highlighted in blue) on the canvas.

The previously for this used Node Editor dialog can be reached either by pressing [CMD] when clicking on the node, or via right click (two finger click on trackpad) or using the little wrench symbol on the top right.

These changes  felt so natural that the clusters and edges got the same behaviour.

Please let us know what you think!

Connect your Diagram

Vithanco allows to connect your diagram easily with other relevant resources as long as it can be referenced via a URL. 

How to add URLs?

Just add a URL to a Node in your diagram in the Node Editor.

How to use URLs?

Hoover over the node. Notice the new link icon in the middle on the top of the node? Just click that button and the system browser will be called with the URL provided.

What can I do with this?

Obviously, the use cases for this feature are as versatile as Vithanco itself.

  • Use URLs as an example in a Concept Map for additional information. Link to the corresponding Wiki page, or to a company internal page that is of relevance to the reader.
  • Create Decision Tree Diagrams with URLs for to each outcome. This way you not only document each decision point but you can trigger the next action.
  • Connect each Business Change in a Benefit Breakdown Structure with a link to details on the intended change. Connect each enabler with the link to the corresponding task or feature (or how ever you call it in your company / project).
  • Reference background articles etc. from within your IBIS diagram on a topic to make it simple for others to understand your thinking.

And so on.

What else should you know?

A URL doesn’t have to point only to a website (as indicated by an http: or https: at the beginning of a URL). Vithanco as an example has a URL schema allowing to create a new document with a specific domain.


On a Mac with Vithanco installed the URL above creates a new document with the IBIS domain. Many other applications have similar features.

Can I export these URLs and hence create a clickable Image?

Unfortunately, common picture formats don’t offer such a functionality. However, HTML does. Vithanco therefore allows to “Export Browsable” starting with version V1.3.0 which will be released soon. “Export Browsable” exports the diagram as a .jpg file and a corresponding .html page that overlays the exported diagrams with links. You can already store URLs today and navigate to them from the Vithanco application.

Special variants of Vithanco like Vithanco Concept Maps will gain the export feature as well soon. 

Changing Node Order in Vithanco

The Problem

Laying out a graph depends on node order. The nodes are created in an order and this is the first order used. By maintaining that order Vithanco ensures that the nodes are located where they are and that small changes in the input leads to only small changes in the output. That means that in most cases the leftmost node stays leftmost. The layout algorithms are stable in the sense that they produce the same outcome for the same input. And the order of nodes is part of the input.

And sometimes the original order is not the order you like. You would like the nodes presented in a different order, exchanging two nodes that are located next to each other, or similar.

The Solution

You can change the order of nodes and thus can influence the resulting diagram by using the [TAB] key. Simply select two nodes and press [TAB] and the two nodes exchange their place in the order of nodes. If you select more than 2 nodes and press [TAB] they are rotating their position in the order. Finally, press the [ALT] (or [OPTION]) key at the same time as [TAB] and the order is shuffled.

You can use [TAB] in all diagram types.


Sometimes the algorithm will not be influenced by a change of order.  ‘Good reasons’ might keep the layout algorithm from changing the diagram if the order of nodes changes.  Examples of these ‘good reasons’ may:

  • to avoid long edges (aka connection)
  • to avoid crossing edges, or
  • to place nodes within a cluster next to each other,
  • to balance a tree based on the next layer (layered view only),

or similar. The above list is not complete and the used algorithms are quite sophisticated.

There are more ways to influence a diagram but these will be captured in another post.

An Example

The following is an example from a domain that will be released during first half of 2019: the “Causal Loop Diagram” or “CLD” in short. Causal loop diagrams are used to analyse systems and their behaviour.

CLDs aren’t layered as they are normally full of cycles (“loops”), meaning they have a lot of connections that would point from the bottom to the top. Hence CLDs use a star layout.

The example is based on the “Shifting the Burden” archetype. The first version looked like this:

The structure of this CLD archetype is not very obvious. Edges are overlapping, making the understanding unnecessarily difficult.

Using the above, select the top and the right node:

Now press [TAB] and the order of the two selected nodes is exchanged, resulting in a different positioning of these nodes in the internal order. In this example they simply exchanged their location as well.

Now the structure becomes clear. The edges are no longer overlapping and the three loops become visible.


Draw more, together

For a long time do I believe in the value of visual thinking. Clearly, not all visual thinking would use graphs such as Vithanco is allowing to manipulate. In fact, graphs are a just one approach to visuals among many. Clearly, the author believes it is a powerful approach, not least because it allows structure whilst still using additional senses over text-only approaches.

Ole Qvist-Sørensen was presenting his view on visual thinking at the TEDx Copenhagen 2012. I think it’s a great presentation.

I have seen the works of Ole and his company. We used Bigger Picture quite often at the company the author works. I can only confirm the usefulness of his drawings. There is something that makes you contemplate a good (enough) drawing unlike a lengthy text. Book his company or simply draw yourself. It is worth it.

Dan Roam has a similar message as Ole in his “napkin” books or in the potentially even better “blah, blah, blah” book. The latter presents even some kind of “grammar” for visual drawings.

How does Vithanco fit in? Vithanco is clearly less flexible than pen and paper. It is “only” drawing graphs. However, I believe that there is a case for Vithanco. Vithanco is useful as an explorative tool. It can help you to “think things through”. Auto layout will prevent you from wasting your time on arranging drawing elements whenever a small change is happening. The domains enforce that you stick to the underlying structure of the diagram.

Vithanco is therefore useful in a changing environment. If you don’t know where your analysis will end and/or you need to add elements at any point of time, potentially even maintaining one diagram over a longer period (consider for example a Benefit Breakdown Structure that should reflect your project throughout the project lifetime) then Vithanco is the right tool.

Ole mentioned in his talk how powerful it can be to work together on a drawing. I challenge you to do the same with Vithanco. According to a German proverb, four eyes see more than two (and a quick online research shows that not only the Germans have this proverb). This is so true when we discuss visual thinking.



Diagram Logic

Vithanco diagrams can have an associated logic. They are guiding you to the right thinking. Vithanco has 3 different Logic Types. 

NoneNo logic associated
Sufficient CauseSufficient Cause means that from one statement the next statement follows. 
Necessary ConditionNecessary Condition means that each of the predecessor statements need to be fulfilled in order for a statement to be true. 

So, in a sufficient cause diagram, the following makes sense:

Sufficient Cause

Clearly, when I eat I am less hungry than before. Being less hungry is a direct consequence. Eating is sufficient to reduce hunger (ignoring some psychological effects). In comparison, preparing food is not sufficient. You can prepare food and not eat it. That leads to necessary conditions. 

Necessary Conditions

It is not sufficient to be 18 years old, you need as well in order to be registered in order to vote. Unfortunately, this diagram would not tell you if there is a 3 condition to be met in order to be able to vote, like living in a democracy. 

How to use this?

  • First and foremost, it should influence the way you think about the diagram. (Remember, Vithanco stands for “Visual Thinking and Communication”).
  • Choosing the right logic makes the model more comprehensive. You can use And/Or junctors in order to add more expressiveness to the diagram. 
  • Theory of Constraints (TOC) uses these two diagram types extensively. TOC is based on designing logically correct diagrams. 
  • If you drag from a node to a line in a sufficient cause diagram then Vithanco will create a AND junctor for you, do the same in a necessary condition diagram Vithanco will create a OR junctor. Both junctors are part of the Basics Domain. 
  • In the future Vithanco will use the logic type for diagram reviews. More on that at a later time. 

The diagram’s logic is shown in the upper right corner, in a non-obtrusive way. If you want to change it then need to go into the settings dialog and choose “Behaviour” in the settings dialog.

How to change the Diagram’s Logic

Then choose the intended logic.

Change the Logic here

In case you wonder, the Application is referencing this article.