The first thing I want to say about this resource is that it is a little out of the ordinary. Incredibly useful, but different in that its obvious target is students. I’m not pitching it as a resource for students, although it does satisfy that job very nicely. Instead, I think Exploratree is an incredibly useful tool for web working professionals, once you get past the student-oriented veneer and take a look at what’s underneath.
Exploratree bills itself as a resource for discovering, sharing, and creating “thinking guides.” A thinking guide is, essentially, an analytical tool you can use as an approach to problem solving. Admittedly, the thinking guides have lots of application in a school setting, but for professional consultants, who are often only as strong as the tool box they bring to bear on a client’s issues, the possibilities are endless.
For basic use, Exploratree requires no sign up, but if you want to save any changes you made or thinking guides you’ve created, you’ll have to set up an account and login. Registering also allows you to share your thinking guides with a group, which could come in handy if you’re working with a project team or collaborating with a partner.
Once you’ve signed, or if you’ve opted not to, you can either create a brand new thinking guide or use one of the built-in templates. The templates are what attracted me in the first place, so that’s where I started. First I loaded up a “Futures wheel” template set up by Futurelabs, the company behind Exploratree. The tool loads in a visual flash editor, so that you can make changes, or follow the steps already established by clicking through at the bottom of the screen.
The templates, as evidenced by the Futures wheel, are not terribly advanced or in-depth, but the customization allows you to add as much detail or specific problem-related information as possible. And even untouched, the tools offer great starting points and information gathering strategies when you’re stuck in terms of your own client solution design process.
Exploratree may offer only basic tools, but sometimes its the basic tools that get the job done, a fact which is easy to forget, especially for those who’ve been in the business a long time. This site provides a lightweight, free, and efficient reminder that the simplest, most elegant solution is often the best.