What Are Mood Boards and Do They Really Matter?

jsalvador / Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mood What?

Mood Boards are often used in a variety of creative disciplines such as Fashion, Interior Design and Visual Design just to name a few. In Fashion, the Fashion Designer often compiles various inspirational elements used to highlight trends and styles while in Interior Design, fabric swatches and paint chip samples are grouped together to show a homeowner the type of atmosphere the new decor will create. Similarly, Visual Designers gather a collage of inspirational elements such as photos, illustrations and the like to help translate the attributes as defined by the client into color palettes, typography and overall look and feel of the site or software application.

Usually fitting in the design process after wireframes and before mockups, mood boards are often intentionally casual, letting the designer start with broad strokes and get feedback before too much time is invested in the wrong direction. There is no simple recipe to creating a Mood Board although usually, taking the client's list of experience attributes, ideal features or even the client's personality (uncommon but it happens) into consideration, helps in evaluating the mood board that will work best.

Benefits + Worth + Caveat

Some clients may decide that it's a wasteful way to spend both time and money and jump straight to mockups, a decision which I've seen a lot (and who can blame them given the economic climate etal.) However, that is not to say that there are no advantages or benefits to creating Mood Boards. First of all, although they may not consciously realize it, clients more often than not, love participating in the design process and I feel that Mood Boards are one way to engage them right off the bat. From a Visual Design perspective, the time spent up front on Mood Boards can help save countless hours down the line. In the same vein, I've found it a bit easier to start with a visual guide and jump right in to the visual design or prototyping process. The blank-canvas syndrome and the probability of having big surprises or a complete makeover are minimized (if not totally eliminated).

Nevetheless, the idea of using Mood Boards in Graphic, Web and/or Software Application Design is not very popular nor is it employed by many. Personally, I've created them at only two other companies I've worked at outside of Infragistics and although I don't necessarily need them to fly with a creative idea, I find that creating them can be a good exercise similar to sketching or painting when I usually regain some artistic innocence. When all the available colors are filtered leaving me with only a few to effectively communicate what the client wants is one of those rubber meets the road moments. Right or wrong, what I'm suggesting here are simply my opinions as they currently stand. Whether you think I'm smoking something or not is for you to completely decide. Overall, whether Mood Boards are necessary depends on a few things such as the client's willingness to explore various ideas (considering the cost) and the scale and complexity of the project.

Show Me

Below are examples of some Mood Boards I did for one of our clients.