Mood boards are a key milestone in the design process. If crafted well they can be a great way of drawing your client into the design... engendering a sense of collaboration with your clients is always a good idea.
Here's my approach:
Begin with a thorough read of the brief and a review of brand and visual identity guidelines (if they exist). Plan some quality time where you can focus on developing your visual direction without interruption. Find a space where it's OK to make a mess. If you decide to include other people keep the group small.
Name and date your board properly, quoting client reference. Make sure you include your contact details. Print out your brief, and the relevant parts of the guidelines. Get them onto your mood board quickly.
This is the expansive part of the process: Your aim is to assemble a mosaic of source material that you find inspiring and is relevant to your brief. Don't limit yourself initially, explore as much as you feel you need to. Source your visuals and collage them together; print out, photocopy, flatten out and pin up. Consider printed materials, search the internet, assemble and photograph objects or products... it's only natural to cast the net wide.
Tip: set a time limit. I suggest a maximum of four hours for this phase. Go back and do more if you need to but don't slog at it.
Expect to cover the wall, the desk, your desktop. It's important that you can step back from your mosaic so as to spot bigger trends. Keep zooming in and out. Move images around and create clusters. Name your clusters thereby creating themes. Use Post-its to capture thoughts as they occur to you. It's a good sign if you start to develop your own short-hand terminology. Submerge in the visual universe you're creating. The skill here is the ability to interpret the brand and express the big idea through words and pictures.
Tip: move quickly at this point, there's plenty of time to reflect in the next phase.
There's no need to feel guilty about being influenced by others. Take the best of everything that's relevant: We share a common visual language that's constantly evolving and the truth is, everything is inspired by something. It's important to understand and acknowledge your influences and to add something to the movement, rather than blindly following the latest trend. In short, the look of your work should be the natural by-product of your intellectual process.
Midway through the process sit back and review what you've got and begin to make decisions about what to keep and what to reject. It may seem hard to reject anything but you must focus your art/design direction. It is your job to consolidate and refine. You should be thinking 'how little do I need to clearly get this across'.
You may discover that some of your colleagues don't understand the importance of the mood board. The risk being the process is seen as self-indulgent. It is true, it's all too easy for mood boards to spiral out of control, if this happens they cease to be useful or directional, becoming nebulous clouds of 'stuff you like'... Beware, this kind of mood board is likely to be off-brief and totally ineffective as a briefing tool. It's important that good design is understood, that it is seen to be born of a quantifiable approach, not a magic rabbit jumping out of a hat. Design is a comodity and it should be valued. All inspiration is born of context.
Tip: one of the most useful things about writing out your thoughts is it becomes easier to spot where you're being repetitive.
You should end up with a pile of rejected material, and a set of key visuals each with corresponding rational. You're nearly there.
Now you should consider the overall structure of your mood board. Imagine your rationale is a story, it should have a logical flow; a beginning, middle and end. Always begin with the brief, then the relevant parts of the guidelines. Always end with a summary statement. If necessary rewrite and refine your rational as you layout.
Tip: getting others to sense check your rationale is a good idea. Remain open minded about rewording, but don't lose the point. By the end of the process the direction should jump off the page, and remember 'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication'.
If done right, pretty much anyone should be able to read the mood board and quickly understand your proposed direction for the project. The board should make it possible for designers to start exploring, to tune into the right design vocabulary, to start creating example designs. Mood boards are also a useful way of capturing the correct tone of voice or personality for brand expressive coms and interactions. Ultimately it is this combination of design mechanics and brand personality in one place that makes a good mood board such a powerful creative tool.
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