How to Use a Moodboard

The most sensible way to present a client with all of the ideas floating around in my head is to use visual references. It helps them (and me) picture the website, print and/or branding concept that I am about to create.

I’ve been around the block a few times, and have joined some very creative teams. However, it wasn’t until I reached my present position that the creative director said, “Hey! What do you think about this mood board process?” As I started to research other design agencies, I began noticing something… all the cool kids are doing it! Where has it been all my life!?

“Collecting design pieces and parts is extremely important in the collaborative creative process.”

Let’s start out with the definition of a mood board.


noun: mood board; plural noun: mood boards; noun: moodboard; plural noun: moodboards

  1. an arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc., intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept.
  2. “we put together a mood board with key images and words that best convey the essence of the brand”A mood board is a collection of like-minded design examples, organized and presented to accomplish a task, and I use them for just about everything. Mood boards can set the tone of a project, guide a team during the design process, and assist the developer, digital manager and other designers.

Here is my process of putting a mood board together (there are no rules!)

Meet with the client

Ask questions! What is the business about? What are the company’s goals, successes or branded collateral? Gage the client’s personality… I swear this helps! Are they laid back, a little conservative or open to new ideas? I take all of these factors into consideration before I even fire up Photoshop.

Before design kicks off

I honestly spend hours researching; I scour the web for inspiration. Based on the client brief, my own interpretation of the goals and tone of the project, I start collecting anything and everything that evokes the mood I’d like to see in my design.

I collect photos, snaps of design, color swatches, and typefaces (everything is fair game). By the end of my collecting spree, I will have a folder full of images.

As you begin to collect bits and pieces for your mood board, take time to study each example. Figure out what works, and why you think it works. Is there a reason that the background image you plan to use is so effective?

Amid the design process…

With a awesome, spot-on (and agreed-upon) mood board in place, you’ve got a handy tool available for constant use during the design process. It’s like a style map you can go back to and study any time if you get lost along the way.

A mood board helps direct my creativity with imagery, color and reference, and using it to drive design decisions is a low-resistance way to keep all people involved and on the same page. So the next time you stop to think, “Does that new landing page fit well within our product’s running theme/mood?” – The mood board will tell you.

After launch, in public – the “brand board”

Over time, your product and its design system might take on a mood of it’s own. That’s a good thing, but it means it might be time to make a new mood board – one made up of your brand’s design, style and underlying principles.

Unlike a pre-launch mood board, which is filled with photos and design inspiration from others, a “brand board” can be used to share logos, source files and original photography. While this is super handy for an internal team, it is even more important when the public is thrown into the mix.

“Mood boards can help avoid surprises surrounding the design process.”

When in doubt, turn to the board

Ask any creative person: a totally blank page can be overwhelming. Being dropped into an assignment with zero framing and big expectations is a recipe for disaster.

Mood boards and collecting pieces of inspiration are the perfect way to put a project’s goals and expectations into perspective. They can help avoid surprises surrounding the design process, which are very rarely a good thing, and always provide a frame of reference for everyone involved.

Check out our 10 Steps to a Powerful Portfolio