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Leveraging Mood Boards in Graphic Design

So much of great graphic design work boils down to communication and understanding how to meet the needs of a client while refining their vision. Creating effective mood boards can help by providing a visual base of images, colors, and patterns. Here’s how to get the most out of mood boards.

1. Take a step back from your computer

There are plenty of online tools designers can turn to when sourcing images for their mood boards, but as with so many things in life, being too online can make you miss out on the bigger picture, and could leave you with a static, uninspired mood board. Ideally, your mood board should feel like it’s the result of a considered, gradual thought process.

Look outside, take pictures on your phone and find inspiration in the physical world — or turn to archival materials, like old magazines, to make a retro statement. Is there a restaurant in your neighborhood whose interior design you’ve been digging lately? Or a wild art show at a nearby gallery you haven’t been able to get out of your head? The bottom line is that you shouldn’t be afraid to get diverse and colorful in your sourcing.

2. Know your formatting

On the more technical side of things, it’s a good idea to be aware from the start of what your presentation and mood board formatting will be. Are you going to be presenting online, or in person? Or in other words, will you be making a digital mood board or a physical mood board?

Generally speaking, you’ll have more room to play around on a physical mood board, and can present something with a slightly looser feel. Digital mood boards will often be simpler, since they’ll need to be visually scalable to different screen sizes, with a tighter approach to presentation and layout.

3. Keep design principles in mind

Even though your mood board constitutes an early stage in the design process, that doesn’t mean you can throw all your hard-earned design experience out the window. Keep an eye on symmetry and balance, including where you place key images and how they relate to smaller, supporting images. Consider how your client’s eye will roam about the mood board, and use your skills to help direct it. Take advantage of textual elements to clarify themes or make a big statement.

4. Relax and let loose

This might be our most important tip. A strictly planned mood board can leave a client feeling that they haven’t had enough input and that a finalized design or idea is already locked in, which is the opposite of what you want to happen. Don’t forget that a mood board is fundamentally an associative tool, meant to help both the client and you figure out where you and the design process stand, and where you’re headed.


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