How to create a mood board

So what is a mood board & why bother?

Simply put: a mood board is a collection of images that communicates a particular design style or concept.

Images can vary from illustrations to photography, type, patterns and textures (and often combine all) but a strong mood board is one where all the images are curated to work towards a common goal, creating a balanced composition which then acts as a spring board to drive the design direction of the project.

I start every custom design project with a mood board because it helps me gather and refine inspiration which I can then present to the client and agree on a common design direction for the brand. It’s vital to get on the same page before too much work is done and a visual representation helps to avoid any misunderstandings that can result from trying to describe a idea verbally.

Whether you’re approaching this as a designer or simply have an idea you’d like to flesh out, a mood board is a great place to start. Use it as a preliminary way to focus your ideas or explore different design directions. If you are exploring ideas for a brand, it will help to visually represent your brand values, develop a marketing strategy and can come in really useful when briefing a designer or looking for investment.

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How to create one

1. Start with a strategy

If you simply pull together random images that you like, chances are these images will be a mix of colours, styles and will simply look nasty on the eye when put together on the same page. Rather start with a concept in mind or brand values, focusing on descriptive words e.g. feminine, modern, geometric, fashion. It’s also important to think about who the audience is as this should guide your choice of images too, make sure your choices resonate with your target market.

2. Build a visual library

With your keywords in mind start visualising how these words might be represented. Try not to be too literal and look for images that can act as visual metaphors, conveying a feeling or emotion. It helps to start thinking about the colour palette at this stage too - do the descriptive words call to mind bright dominant colours or is the feeling softer and more muted?

I usually dive on to Pinterest at this stage, create a secret board and start pinning away. Its a visual brain dump so go nuts and don’t worry about refining it at this point. Have fun exploring different images but before you pin, just ask yourself whether it fits with the concept or brand values as this will help keep it semi organised. I’d also set yourself a time limit as you might already know what a black hole Pinterest can be and sometimes people get stuck in the research phase never moving on to the refinement. However, don’t just search on Pinterest itself, as this can result in the same images being churned out time and time again. Go direct to source, for example pin font specimens from the font foundry itself, search Tumblr and Dribble for unexpected finds.

3. Refining

Next I open up Adobe Illustrator and start pulling images from the Pinterest board that best fit with the brand strategy or concept (use Word or Evernote if you don’t have Adobe Creative Suite). Pull in a nice mix of images from different categories such as design, illustration, type, fashion, interior, location shots, objects, nature, pattern and texture and keep the images grouped. That way it’s easier to pick ’n mix from the categories of images to create a varied final selection.

Sometimes I find it helpful to then print these images off and arrange on a wall to see how well elements sit next to each other. Otherwise I just drag and drop images together within Illustrator or Indesign until I feel like something is working. Start seeing how the images interact and what sort of colour palette is developing, grouping your images in to cohesive sets. It can help to start with a focal image, one that really sets the scene and sums up the creative concept, then choose 6-9 images that complement this image.

In the example above, I was gathering images for a interiors and lifestyle blog whose brand key words were - modern, feminine, minimalistic, natural, botanical, inspiring and honest. I felt that the image of the botanical statement wallpaper summed up the majority of the brand key words in one, as well as being relevant to the blog's content and audience. This provided a nice spring board for an interesting colour palette and a base from which I would choose other images to complement.

Creating a mood board is an organic process so don’t worry if you need to go back and pull more images from the research phase, all exercises help you work out the best way to represent a concept. I often end up with at least three mood boards, each one exploring a different design style or variation of a colour palette etc. As this is the exploratory phase of the design process it's important not to be too prescriptive and explore a few routes.

4. Finalising

Once you’ve got 6-12 images working as a set in terms of theme and colour scheme, you can now arrange it in to some kind of order and make the final selects. There are a few ways you can do this - by using a template or placing organically in Photoshop or use a free design tool such as Canva.

When deciding where to place each image, decide which are integral to the concept and these should be placed in the most promiment position and also occupy the most space on the board. Supporting elements such as texture or colours can take a quieter role in a smaller space (unless this is the focal point of the design). 

For this particular mood board I ended up moving the botanical image to the centre, given it's importance in the overall design concept and played around with the supporting images until I felt like I had a clean, refined, cohesive mood board that confidently expressed the client's brand aesthetic. Make sure you have a selection of subject matter e.g. here there is a selection of interior, beauty, portrait, plants, typography, packaging, pattern and texture images. Another tip is to balance your colour scheme by including images that show the entire palette as well as images that just show one or two colours within the palette. If you find the board is being too fussy then add images with white space or solid colour fills. 

Here's the final result:

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Check out #moodbaordmondays on Instagram for inspiration to explore different mood board styles, download a free mood board template here and get creating!