The Value of a Mood Board in the Design Process

Sarah Porter
  • Senior Designer
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Creating a mood board can be one of those overlooked stages in the design process. When you’re working on a major rebrand or one of those rare projects where time seems abundant (…if they exist!), mood boards are a luxury we love to indulge in. However, for smaller projects, where time and budget are tight, we often tell ourselves a mood board is superfluous. This shouldn’t be the case. In reality, the time and money saved by defining the project’s visual style early on, makes this stage vital.

Invest in solid foundations

We often talk about the foundations being the most important part of any project. Cut corners at the start and this will come back to haunt you later on. This is why we place such emphasis on formulating a thorough brief and taking time to carry out meaningful research.

The foundation stages shouldn’t finish here though. Collating colours, type, imagery, styles, layout, textures and anything else you feel is appropriate – all on one board – provides you and most importantly your client, with a proposal for the project’s overall look and feel. This happens prior to investing too much design time in following a specific route. If you and your client have differing ideas on the visual style, this is the best time to find out. Think of it as a visual contract to confirm that you and your client are on the same page.

As a designer, a mood board is a good way to extract the various ideas from your head and collate them into a tangible form; be it through good old-fashioned cutting and sticking, or through digital means…

Things can be taken off and added at this stage, so it’s an easy way of making stylistic changes without racking up any design time, before you are too emotionally invested in a particular direction.

Get involved

As images inspire creativity, putting your mood board on the wall is a great way for you to absorb yourself in the project. It lets you share your ideas with the rest of your team and invites suggestions and input that could be valuable at this early stage. Letting the rest of your team test out your mood board also helps you check whether others derive the same emotions from it as you.

Being surrounded by visual inspiration tends to spark off ideas more than a written brief would. As well as getting all the vague fragments of ideas out of your head, it focuses your mind for the design stage. It also narrows down the elements you need to experiment with later on, saving precious time.

You’re the expert

In true collaborative style, we love to get our clients involved at every stage. We are experts in helping businesses communicate their brand message, however, as the client is the expert in their business, they should be fully involved in defining what that message should be. By locking down the brand messages with your client in the briefing stages, everyone is clear on the aims of the project. Defining the visual style at the mood board stage goes one step further, helping you to avoid changes in design direction further down the track.

Remember that referring back to the brief and the mood board throughout the project gives you a focus during any tricky periods!

Can’t see the wood for the trees?

The other bonus of a mood board is that it is purely visual style with no content. Often, when you are submitting a design proposal to a client, the final content is unavailable so placeholder content has to be used. Sometimes clients can find it hard not to get distracted by a piece of copy they realise they need to write, an asset they need to source, or to look past the placeholders and imagine their own content there. This can sometimes detract from the important design decisions that you need to get their feedback on. The beauty of a mood board is that, with no content included, they are free to concentrate solely on visual style, eliminating any potential distractions or confusion.

Take a look at some of my favourite mood board examples below, and get inspired…

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