When trying to convey a design idea, moods, feelings and fluffy stuff like that are hard to communicate. So professional designers will often use a mood board: a collection of textures, images and text related to a design theme as a reference point.
Telepathy would save a lot of time but sadly for most of us it’s not an option. What I’m thinking and feeling about a creative idea, my intended vision for a piece of work, is limited to how good my verbal communication skills are at expressing this to project stakeholders. A mood board helps others to 'get inside our heads' in order to convey a thematic setting for a design or to explain function in piece of work.
That said, mood boards can be a pain to create, with many hours spent trawling image galleries, websites, books and magazines looking for that perfect image to sum up your intended feel for the work at hand. So here are a collection of tips to help make your mood board making more effective - and double your chances of winning that pitch!
01. Choose the right format
Find out at the outset whether your mood board is going to be presented in person or emailed to the client. The answer will decide whether you produce an offline or online mood board. The distinction is not trivial: the two formats demand very different approaches.
An offline mood board will generally be looser in style and require the extra kick and emotive spark that comes from it being presented to a client. An online mood board should be tighter and will generally need to work harder to convey a theme or style.
If your mood board is being presented to the client, try to be involved yourself. It makes no sense to have something which originated in your head being communicated by someone else, because that way meaning can become muddled in a Chinese whispers-type mess.
Save the surprise
It's also important to make sure that a well-meaning project manager doesn't email an offline mood board ahead of the presentation 'so they know what we're presenting'.
For an offline mood board it's far better to let it all sink in to the client's mind as you showcase it, rather than come armed with lots of questions before you even start.
02. Keep things loose
Locking an idea or a style down in a mood board can be detrimental, as the client will feel shoehorned into going with a particular style. Keep everything a little loose and don't make everything look too finalised.
If you're using preview images from image libraries don't worry about the watermarking on them – it all adds up to a 'hey look, we can change this – these are ideas' feel to the board.
03. Show your mood board early
Generally mood boards are considered to be separate to pitch or presentation work; they stand alone to show mood and tone. This is standard practice, but consider instead making them part of your pitch or presentation. Remember, you're trying to use subliminal visual tricks to make a client 'get it'.
In this example Luke Prowse and I used mood images (such as shots of2001: A Space Odyssey and a builder's hard hat) to show the kind of grandeur and style we wanted to associate with a pitch for a Daft Punk packaging design.
Mixing these in with the presentation - rather than bolting them on at the end - proved more effective in communicating this to the client.
04. Watch the audience's faces
When you're presenting an offline mood board, watch the faces of those you're showing it to. Ignore any verbal client 'oohs and ahhs' but instead watch their facial and emotive reactions as they look around the board.
This will give you a much more honest take on whether the board is doing its job and if they're reacting well or badly to what you're showing them. You have to put these people 'in your mood' so ignore their mutterings and watch their emotive reactions.
05. Mood boards aren't just for pitches
Mood boards shouldn't just be for pitches. Consider preparing mood boards to show other similarly themed projects, websites or functions before creating polished visuals.
'I'll know it when I see it' is a phrase most of us are familiar with. But to hear this when finished artwork comes back from a client is gutting, signifying that it's back to square one. Using mood boards at different stages of the process can help you avoid this happening.
06. Briefing with mood boards
Following on from the previous point, mood boards are a good way to brief a creative. Don’t be afraid to go into detail. This mood board was compiled for animator Tom Baker as a mood and style guide for creating cartoon versions of The Avengers TV series characters.
Instead of relying on one example of character, several types were found in many different poses which helped Tom a clear take on the style and direction of the piece.
07. Curation is an art in itself
Have you ever had the misfortune of going to a gallery exhibition and it just not doing anything for you? You weren’t 'touched' by the exhibition or 'moved' by what was on show – and other similar emotive profusions. It’s very easy to shove a load of stuff together and call it an exhibition; it’s an absolute talent to curate threads and synergies between works and call it an exhibition.
When putting together a mood board, think of yourself as a curator rather than a collector, and try to have meaning and threads from one image to the next. It makes for easier interpretation.
Whether it's being electronic or physical, the layout of your mood board needs to give prominence to key theme images, then surround these with smaller supporting images that enhance the theme.
Again, it’s a subliminal trick. When someone looks at a large image on your board in their heads they’ll have questions about it - which they’ll quickly scan the rest of the board to find answers for. If you place smaller supporting images around the larger image they should do this job for you by clarifying the messaging given in the larger one.
09. Find 'real world' inspirations
When working on a digital product, don't just look for digital-based inspiration. For example, whilst working on the ITV news website, digital innovators Made by Many looked at copies of Picture Post magazine in order to express how powerful and effective an image plus a caption can be for telling a news story.
Real world inspiration such as this can be a very powerful 'convincer' when putting together a board for a client.
10. Get tactile
When making a physical mood board, don't be afraid to get, well, physical. Traditionally mood boards are made from foam board and cutting this stuff up with a scalpel and spray mounting cut-out images onto it can be a pain, especially if you’re not dexterous with a blade. But it's extremely effective as a presentation tool. The tactile nature of cut-out images glued onto boards enhances the emotiveness of what’s being explained.
It may seem like a ridiculously old fashioned thing to do, but perception-wise it's a real ace up your sleeve as a designer. Just be careful with your fingers on that blade...