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Design process

Mood boards | What is a mood board, and why is it a great design tool

“You made the mood boards,” my client said as I laid them out for my design presentation. “I thought that we’d be making them together. I was searching for magazines.” Fortunately, she wasn’t upset that I’d done all the work, but I realized that I hadn’t been clear on how I work with mood boards. I list this as part of the service that I provide for cover design, website design and most importantly, designing branding and logos. Here, I’ll go into detail about mood boards and why I include them in my process.

What is a mood board?

There’s no mystery to mood boards. It’s simply a visual collection of research and inspiration for a particular project. Images can be cut from old magazines or other publications, photographed on an iPhone or found on the internet. I’m sure the home improvement stores love this, but color chips can be picked up from the paint department. Fonts can be found in real life, but most online font shops have a feature where you can type in a phrase or the title of a book, and it will be set in any font they sell. Both MyFonts.com and CreativeMarket.com have this feature, and it’s super for trying the font before you buy it. Do make sure that you purchase the font when you decide to use one though. Look for quotes or phrases to incorporate as well or tags that can serve as a theme for copy.

Where to start with a mood board?

Before I even start on a mood board, I sit down with my client and talk about what she’s looking for. I ask questions about her product or brand and what makes it special. I ask who her market and audience is. Then, I start looking into the visual space she’s going to inhabit. What are other book covers in her space? What are people posting on Pinterest or Instagram? Once I’ve researched images, fonts and any other visuals I’m looking for, I start to catagorize them by look and feel. When I create mood boards, I create sections for each element: products, photography, inspiration images, fonts, colors, snippets of copy, etc. Your final mood board can be a simple as all photos, or more complex, including samples of type and colors. I have a somewhat formal presentation, and I like to create mine in the computer, but a mood board can also be put together with some poster board and glue. Or you can go to social forums like Pinterest and pin a board for your project, or get a mood board template in an online program like Canva.

Why is a mood board useful?

A mood board is a design tool that sits at the intersection of research and conceptualization. As a compilation of visuals, it gives you and your client a physical representation of the initial client conversation. I like to sort my research into three or more different directions that can be discussed and then worked up into a more complete direction for the final product. A mood board is also an easy way to juxtapose elements without completely working up a mock up. In that way, it’s useful to designers as a quick way to brainstorm concept.

Mood boards in summary

Whether you are a designer working with a new client, or you’re working on your own project, creating a mood board first is great for pulling your research and concepts together in one place. You can create a mood board in real life or create on in Pinterest and share with others for comments. You can also go to online programs like Canva for templates. Whatever you do, a mood board is a great tool for inspiration and concepting and can take your design projects to the next level.

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