Some people consider mood boards to be “fluff”—pretty collages that are fun and all, but devoid of meaning. More than once, when a potential client wants to negotiate the project deliverables, I have heard, “I don’t need that.” But believe me, you do!

I will admit, creating the mood board is one of my favorite parts of the process—they are just so much fun to make. But I don’t force them on clients just because they’re fun. Mood boards are an essential part of my design process—a step that, even if the client wanted no part in (which I would definitely discourage), I would still take. They serve a specific, meaningful purpose in my process that benefits both of us.

Before I explain why let me first give you a little introduction to what a mood board is.

What is a mood board?

At its most basic level, a mood board is a collage of images. There is no arguing with that. But, it is a collage of images that helps to shape and determine the visual direction your brand will take. It is a set of images that are deliberately chosen as pieces of a bigger puzzle to convey a certain feeling. There is a purpose to every image and a purpose to the board as a whole.

Mood Board – Black and Red

When you look at a mood board, you should feel something. What you feel depends entirely on the brand (and the individual viewer, really), but looking at the board should elicit some sort of emotional response. And that response should be completely aligned with the tonal direction of the brand. If you’ve already determined that your brand is energetic, powerful and bold, your mood board should not conjure up feelings of serenity, contentment and inspiration. Those are two completely different moods.

We determine the direction yours should take by building your board directly from your brand’s tone, which we develop as part of my initial brand strategy process. I’ll share more on tone in another post, but for now what you need to know is that the tone is a set of (5 or so) descriptive words that encompass the personality your brand should project to its audience.

Why are mood boards essential?

The mood board comes up at a stage in the process when we’re about to move from strategy to design. Before now, we’ve been spending a lot of time looking at words. We’ve been discussing the nuances of tone of voice and debating how to tell the story of your brand. We’ve come to a point where we both agree and embrace the decisions we’ve made in their written form, but the leap from language to visuals is a big one.

Because we are all uniquely different humans, and we have completely individualized experiences, one word may evoke something entirely different to you than it does to me. I may hear “warm” and immediately think of a sunny day at the beach, but you may hear “warm” and think of a crackling fire. Both evoke warmth, but they are very different images.

Mood Board – Purple and Orange

The mood board gives us a chance to get on the same page visually. Its first important function is to bridge the gap between language and image, so that we can move into the design phase with the confidence that we are headed in the right direction.

When it comes to the details of the images we choose, building the provides an opportunity to work out some of the specific design direction for the brand. For example, maybe your tone points to typography that is clean and minimal. We can make the choice at this stage to include some bits of typographic inspiration that adhere to that tone, which helps to set the stage for the design that’s to come. It doesn’t mean that the type you see on the board will be exactly what your brand will include, but it does mean that if your tone calls for clean, minimal type, and it’s reflected on your board, your design will include something in that realm.

Overall, the mood board drives the design the comes next. Through its creation, we’re building the visual world that your brand will live in. Working through this part of the process together ensures that any design that evolves from the final board will be aligned with the tone of your brand. It doesn’t mean a process doesn’t follow—the first pass is not always the final one—but it does mean that we won’t waste time spinning our wheels in a direction that doesn’t actually make sense.

Mood Board – Black and Blue

So to sum things up…

I consider a mood board to be an essential part of the design process for both client and designer—one that has a significant impact on the ease, flow and outcome of a project. A mood board helps to bridge the gap between language and visuals, ensuring everyone is fully on the same page before moving into the design phase. It establishes the visual world for your brand to live within, and it drives the design that’s to come.

P.S. I always include a mood board as part of the brand strategy process with my clients, but if you’re interested in getting a bird’s eye view of how I actually make them, you can check out my recent Skillshare class which outlines the whole process. (Hint: If you use this link you can get 2 months of unlimited Skillshare classes—literally as many classes you can take on any topic—for FREE.)

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