What is a Mood Board?

(Precursor: If you’re struggling to create a mood board, we would suggest a tool like https://milanote.com/)

Mood boards can serve many purposes, starting with organizing the inspiration around a project. They can be a valuable resource throughout the design project, to help keep the style and aesthetic consistent and on track with a client’s goals and expectations.

Mood boards are also an excellent way to refine a project’s style before diving into the actual design process. They’re a much lower investment than mockups and prototypes in terms of resources and time and can convey a lot about the look and feel of the final design.

Be clear what you’re trying to achieve #

Moodboards fall into several broad categories. They can either be literal and practical (i.e. featuring fonts, color schemes and images that you actually plan to use in a final piece of work) or they can be less literal and more about exploring tone and mood. You can tackle these two different types sequentially, or you can just do one or the other.

Choose a few high-level directions #

At this point, you probably have a few different directions you’d like to explore. This is good! It’s important to keep an open mind about what the right solution might be. Remember, a mood board is all about exploration, so don’t get too attached to a particular direction just yet.

Collect any written inspiration #

Before you start adding images, it’s a great idea to collect any written content you have. This might include brand values, positioning statements, taglines or any other parts of the brief that will inspire you or keep you on track.

Add any visual elements that already exist #

Now it’s time to start adding visual elements. Start with the easy stuff. If a logo already exists, drop it in. Same goes for any existing expressions of the brand like websites, design elements or photography. These might not make it into the final board, but they’re still a great place to start. Don’t worry about organizing the images just yet, that will come later.

Add some notes explaining your thinking #

Although a mood board is a piece of visual communication, it’s going to need some explanation before it will make sense to someone else. Adding short notes about why certain elements were chosen can really help communicate your ideas. Embedding these notes in a board keeps everything in context.

Collecting Mood Board Inspiration #

Inspiration for a mood board can come from virtually anywhere. Designers often keep swipe files of inspiration, which is a great place to start. Otherwise, look to places like stock photo sites, design galleries, color palette sites like Coolors.co or Design Seeds, the physical environment and physical objects, typography galleries like Typewolf, and even social media (Instagram and Pinterest can be particularly ripe grounds for finding design inspiration).

When collecting inspiration for a mood board, designers should keep the goals of the finished project in mind. They should also keep in mind things like brand values and who the target user will be. These all have a significant impact on the types of inspiration collected.

For example, website design for a corporate law firm will likely have a significantly different tone and style than one for a street fashion site aimed at teenagers. If designers don’t keep these differences in mind when they begin working on a mood board, the finished board likely won’t resonate with their client.

Not every element on the mood board has to relate directly or literally to the finished design. Finding images that evoke a feeling or general style are just as important as specific fonts, colors, and design elements.