The Mood Board

Take pictures when you’re out

Real-world inspirations are all around us. So use the camera on your phone to take pictures of everything you see that inspires you. That can be a bird in flight, great use of typography on a sign, or the brickwork on a building. They do not have to be great photos in the traditional sense. It is all about capturing thoughts, impressions, themes and feelings.
Mood-board? What it is?

Mood board is an arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc. intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept. Mood boards can be a great way to convey a design idea. It is a visual piece of work which is expressing non-verbal way what a designer is thinking and feeling about a creative idea.

Designers add images and videos to their mood board to visually communicate aspects of their style preferences.

For example, you might love the angle or composition, a specific pose, the type of lighting, the style of post-production or any other component of the photograph or video highlight. Your board allows our entire team, from the photographers and cinematographers all the way to the post producers, album designers, and video editors to get on the same page and clearly understand your preferences.

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.
Build things up around a large image

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.

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…

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’.
Save the surprise

It’s 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 into the client’s mind as you showcase it, rather than come armed with lots of questions before you even start.

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 finished.
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.
Get involved in the pitch

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.

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.
Text it up

Don’t ignore the power of a few isolated words on the board. They’re fantastic show-stoppers and give your viewer pause for thought as they have to mentally read what’s in front of them. Big, bold words juxtaposed together work very well at creating drama, tone and meaning for any project.

Make the theme obvious

Obscure references can be fun but try to have a number of related items or ‘touchpoints’ featured in your mood board. You want to let others in, so being deliberately obtuse will earn you no points at all. It’s much harder to be clear and use imagery to sell your vision than hiding behind a pile of incomprehensible references just to fill the board out with. But it’s worth the effort to do so.

Aim to spark an emotional response

Think a little bit left of centre if you’re presenting a mood board to a client. What would give them a genuine emotive response to? Real word objects are good for this. If you were inspired by the beach, bring in a shell. If your eureka moment happened on the bus, bring in the ticket. This type of thing intrigues people’s brains and gains that all-important emotive reaction.

Moodboard vs Shot List

A mood board is NOT a “shot list.” A “shot list” is a detailed list of must-have shots for the photographer to follow and check off throughout the wedding day. This type of checklist is discouraged, as it inhibits a photographer’s creativity and focuses his or her attention on duplicating and recreating, rather than innovating and originating.
Don’t make presumptions

Presumption making can be the difference between a successful mood board and one that’s dismissed as being too cerebral. There’s a danger of expecting too much of the audience – that they’ll ‘know what you mean’. Chances are they won’t. So if it takes a few more references, images or textures to get what’s inside your head into a client’s then add them in.

Test your mood board

Finally, don’t forget to test out your boards before you send them off. Remember, if your testing audience has to ask too many times what an image means or why it’s there, then it probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Have fun!

The whole process of creating mood boards should be fun – a refreshing break from the often tedious tasks of the jobbing designer. If you are not having fun then it is a sure sign you are going about things the wrong way…

Use mood boards to speed up client sign off

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.

Characteristics of an Ideal Moodboard

Here are a few characteristics of an ideal Moodboard:
  • It does not have too many images (20-30 is just fine)
  • It is NOT a shot
  • List It has detailed descriptions
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