Visual creatives of all disciplines – graphic designers, interior designers, fashion designers, photographers – they all frequently use mood boards as a part of their design processes.
But what exactly is a mood board, and why take the time to make one?
Generally, mood boards are made before work begins on a visual design project to establish the project’s general direction. They’re a place where unrefined creative juices can flow freely – wells of inspiration where ideas can emerge and begin to coalesce.
Boards can be physical or digital, and typically consist of a collage of pictures, colours, fonts, phases, fabrics, textures and anything else deemed useful. The different aspects that make up the board all feed into a central theme: the theme of the project it’s created for.
Sometimes mood boards are an abstract mash of random elements with the sole purpose of creating a bedrock feeling to build upon further into the design process.
But, on the other hand, they can also be organised, methodical, and can be used to feature and compare elements that are intended for use in final designs.
Mood boards can also serve as a way of collating and presenting rough ideas to clients. When used in this way, they’re great for helping to nip potential aesthetic disagreements between designer and clients in their troublesome buds.
There are no steadfast rules for making mood boards, but there are some useful guidelines:
First, think about your theme
The overarching theme should guide everything that makes it’s way to your mood board.
So think carefully about your theme and the subthemes that it encompasses.
Once you’ve thoroughly defined your theme you can then start to think about how it might be represented visually.
Say, for example, your theme is spring. What’s typically associated with spring?
New life, new beginnings, blossom, longer days, hay fever…
So, after some brief thought, we’ve come up with a number of spring’s common associations. And straight away, these associations throw up all kinds of colours, shapes and textures to explore as useful starting points for potential design ideas.
If your project is branding for a company, think about that company’s industry and what makes their brand unique. What the company want people to think about their brand will be very important too.
Everything you choose to include on your board should represent or compliment your main theme in some way – after all, this theme ultimately is what your project is seeking to represent.
Ensure that the theme is easily identifiable
This point follows from the first. Your mood board should be a visual representation of your theme. Obscure links and indirect references can be good sources of creative inspiration, but try not to overdo them. If someone else were to look at your mood board, it shouldn’t be difficult for them to get what it’s about.
If it is, then it’s likely that the mood your board is giving off isn’t one that’s easily identifiable with your theme. If people can’t quickly understand the theme of your board, you should consider making alterations.
Include more than pictures
Never take the easy route by simply pulling pictures off Google images. It won’t lead you far. And try experimenting with more than pictures.
Photos, illustrations, cartoons and fine art are all great, but try including fonts, materials, patterns, textures, pieces of packaging and whatever else you fancy too.
Anything that ties in with your theme or stimulates your not-quite-formed design vision should be considered for inclusion.
Good inspiration often springs from the most obscure of places.
Words work too
A spattering of key words and choice phrases can really help define and give shape to a board’s mood. Carefully chosen words offer a good excuse to try out fonts too.
Less is more though. Include words sparingly for maximum impact.
Make a few and hone in
One project needn’t mean one board. Creating multiple boards can be a useful way to explore your theme from different angles, or to hone in on particular aspects of your design.
If you’re not quite sure how to approach your theme, make a few boards that focus on different aspects of your wider theme. Compare, contrast, take forward what you like, and discard what you don’t.
And if you’re struggling with some aspect of your design – maybe your colour palette or choice of fonts – why not make a separate mood board to play around with alternative ideas?
Mood boards vary greatly in style from designer to designer, project to project, and whether they’re created as a simple playground for ideas, or some other more specialised purpose.
No matter whether you’re a professional designer, hobbyist, or someone embarking on a one off visual project, taking a little time to make a mood board will provide a fun way of finding, forming and exploring ideas, and will make your design process a whole lot easier.