Luma7: Your Personal Brainstorming Assistant

Ah…the joys of brainstorming. Who doesn’t love shouting out random words, and writing them in an equally random layout on a whiteboard, for no apparent reason? Okay, so on a more serious note, at times, the brainstorm technique can be useful. When you are seeking inspiration, anything that can free up the mind is surely a good thing.

If you work by yourself, though, brainstorming is nigh on impossible. There’s no-one to bounce ideas around with, meaning that the key element of the process, collaborative thought, is not present. Of course, you can encourage yourself to think differently, and come up with left-field concepts, but it will never quite work as well as the real, group-based thing.

This is a problem that new service Luma7 hopes to fix, or at least alleviate. This platform works as a cross between a search engine-derived brainstorm, and a mind map, using the power of the web to provide a network of related information to trigger your own free-thinking. It is an interesting, new genre of online assistance, but is it just a reskinned version of Google? I warmed up my creative grey matter, and gave Luma7 a try.

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The Visuals

The look of Luma7 can’t exactly be described as refined. I mean, the design team has clearly tried to create something sleek, minimal and flat, but the end result is somewhat incoherent and primitive.

The most prominent example of this is the colour scheme, which looks like it has been designed by a wasp, such is the favouritism shown towards yellow and black. The animalistic theme continues when you ask Luma7 for ideas. The loading screen has, at its centre, an animated GIF of a chimp dressed in a lumberjack shirt, playing the drums, and at the same time contorting its face into something approaching a smile. All a bit weird.

Black, yellow and drumming chimps. Weird.

Black, yellow and drumming chimps. Weird.

On the other hand, once the loading ceases, and the ideas are spread out in a mind map shape, everything becomes a bit more sophisticated. Luma7 illustrates all of the concepts it produces with images it collects from the web, providing a highly visual way of navigating the ideas. The mind map structure is also a flexible, malleable array of concepts, which is graphically intensive enough to put a noticeable strain on the browser, but pretty enough for me not to care.

Luma's looks improve when you complete a search.

Luma’s looks improve when you complete a search.

The benefit of the doubt must go to Luma7, though, given that this service is still in the earlier throes of beta stage development.

Idea Mapping

How do you create an automated brainstorm? It is a difficult question to answer. Software that produces random words has been around for many years, but it is completely unsuitable for coming up with ideas – receiving “Goldfish” as a suggestion for the naming of an anti-ageing cream isn’t helpful. A search engine-style approach, based completely on logic and algorithms and which takes notice only of popular opinion, is equally useless, however; the whole idea of a brainstorm is to remove oneself from mainstream thinking.

The balance between these two extremes is an incredibly hard one to strike, and considering its youthfulness, Luma7 does a reasonable job of landing in the middle.

Consulting Luma7 for connections is a simple process. All you need is a base subject and a different, related subject (Star Wars and Yoda are the default examples), which you enter into the two search bars provided. After some searching and thinking – this is where the drumming chimp appears – Luma7 comes up with a mind map-shaped web of connections.

You can drag the node suggestion wherever you want.

You can drag the node suggestion wherever you want.

The initial format always includes four nodes which are directly related to your main subject, and each of these has its own set of three off-shoots. This whole structure can be dragged so as to warp and rearrange the map of ideas. Additionally, should one of Luma7’s suggestions take your fancy, you can press the + button next to it to trigger the sprouting of three new off-shoots in that direction. You can also get rid of idea nodes with the trash icon. The other main option for interactivity is the search refresh, which can be used to shuffle the pack should the first set of Luma7’s propositions be unsuitable.

You can extend the map in the direction of your choosing with the + button.

You can extend the map in the direction of your choosing with the + button.

Storming

So, are Luma7’s proposals actually beneficial? It depends.

Luma7 tends to come across as a slightly wacky visualization of Wikipedia, not least because it only ever provides “things” as suggestions, rather than abstract thoughts. The usefulness of its suggestions is also heavily reliant on what you search for.

Enter the name of a tangible object – e.g. tree, boat, castle – and you are often presented with a mix of the blatantly obvious, and the ludicrously obscure. On the other hand, searching for a proper noun – like a person, name, or place – produces a far more incisive set of results. A search for David Beckham, for example, produces links with teams, teammates, rivals and non-footballing associations.

Another variable to consider is the purpose of your brainstorming. In my experience, this type of collaborative thinking is often used when trying to come up with some form of branding or naming. For this purpose, Luma7 is bordering on useless, not least because the process of coming up with ideas like this depends heavily on abstract concepts. If, however, you are a writer putting together an article, for instance, then I can see how the simplistic interlinking of “things,” rather than abstract thoughts, could be useful.

Conclusion

Given the technical soundness of Luma7, it is very hard to give it a bad review, as the degree to which it aids each user’s thinking is largely based on the searches it is required to perform, and what the user wants to get out of the experience.

That said, under all circumstances, Luma7 still needs some work. The design isn’t particularly attractive, and one feels that the suggestion engine needs a lot more human-based data to become more accurate and useful.

In summary, if you need creativity, you would probably be better off doing some brainstorming in the traditional way. If you are looking for interesting connections, however, then Luma7 certainly provides plenty of triggers for outside-the-box thought processing.


Summary

By default, one of the best online personal brainstorming aids available. Useless for some, but extremely useful for others.

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