What is a Mood Board?

What is a mood board and why do you need one?

What is a Mood Board?

The mood board is a collage that creates a visual presentation of style, feeling, and color. It is the starting point for a design project, whether it be a fashion collection, interior design, or a doll line. It acts as a outline to the designer’s story, and helps the designer stay focused throughout the project.  The terms mood board, concept board, and theme board are used interchangeably, though I would say a concept board is more specific than a mood board.

Mood Board Ingredients

Let Them Eat Cake, a mood boardMood boards are composed of images and colors that convey a cohesive look. My concept boards usually show the color palette in squares along one side of the board, as well as specific outfit details, print ideas and fabric textures that I want to use in my doll design. In addition to fashion photos I will often include other images that help tell the story, like the photo of the elaborate cake in the concept board above. Other designers may include sketches, vintage photosfabric swatches, textile designs, motivational slogans and words in their theme boards.

Is there a specific way Mood Boards must be done?

Gypsy mood board

In a word, no. As a creative you make the mood board that works for you and your project. I like creating my boards in landscape orientation, however I’ve made many in the past in a vertical direction like “Gypsy Chic” above. I tend to like a clean, organized, layout, but there are some fabulous concept boards that are much more free form, like this one.

How do you use a Mood Board?

Winter Birds - A Mood Board for a Toddler DollI almost always have a million ideas when I start a project, which is way too many for one doll. By finding images that work together to create a story it forces me to focus on one or two ideas that work best for the design direction. It’s also the best way to show clients my ideas without spending a ton of time on sketches. The client looking at one of my concept boards will understand the overall feel and look of the doll that I envision. Take, for instance “Winter Birds” above. In this toddler-doll concept board I’ve explained the colors, textures, print, main motif and general look of the doll I will design. Yep, it’s going to have a red bird motif and include some sort of knit hat. From research to editing to composing the images this board only took about an hour to create. It’s an efficient use of time and it helps narrow the focus.

(For more advice on the steps to designing a fashion doll, check out my blog post How to Design a Fashion Doll, Part 1 Find your inspiration.)

When I worked at Mattel the yearly design cycle started with a massive brainstorming session. We would collect a dozens of themes and ideas, and then the designers would start making a slew of large concept boards to go with the ideas. Later we presented them to marketing for approval. This was the first step in creating a year’s worth of doll designs.

How do you make a Mood Board?

You're Too Sweet - A Fashion Doll Mood BoardOnce upon a time making a concept board required hours of searching through magazines, cutting out photos by hand and pasting them on a large foam core board. (Certainly many people still work this way, and its tactile and fun, especially if you have some time set aside to work on the project.) With the magic of the Google Search and Pinterest creating a mood board is fast, easy and fun.

I start by farming images online, often creating pinboards specific to themes I use repeatedly so they’re ready when I need them. (Some of my favorite boards are Princesses, Brides, and Doll Design Inspiration.)  Once I find enough images, usually around twenty for one mood board, I plop them into an 11″ x 8.5″ landscape board in Photoshop and start composing the collage. A look will start to emerge and I’ll delete the images that don’t seem to fit. Once I like what I see I’ll create square color swatches. Using the dropper I’ll pick up colors directly from the images on the board and use the bucket tool to fill the square. Then I’ll give the board a title and fine tune the composition. I like to save both a PSD file for later editing and a jpeg for printing.

Other designers might make their boards differently, or take more time researching and editing the images. However you create your mood boards, they are always useful.

Are Mood Boards Fun to Make?

Street Sparkle Mood Board

It’s just my opinion, but I love making mood boards.  They’re fast so putting one together gives me a sense of instant satisfaction. In fact sometimes I just make them for fun.

If like me you like looking at other designer’s mood boards for inspiration check out my Pinterest Board on the subject.

Do you have any other advice on making mood boards? Do you agree that they’re a necessary step in the design process? Do you make them yourself? How do you make them? Let me know in the comments!

Comments (2)

  1. October 31, 2015 - 6:38 AM

    At Otis Fashion, mood boards are also used for portfolio presentations, as a starter page for a design collection. As you know, I teach the process using Photoshop, though I’ve had students use Illustrator.
    Pinterest can now function as a massive inspiration board, which is pretty cool. The bonus is that images link back to the source (if pinned correctly).