As I have grown in this business, at least in the realm of design, one of the things that has surprised me most is not only how much I enjoy creating mood boards, but how truly valuable they end up being as a tool to set the scene for each project.
One of the interesting things about branding is that the ultimate goal is to create a “feeling” (or a MOOD, am I right?) around your company. Do you want to be known for your user-friendly, inviting approach to accounting? Or your ready-made, gourmet approach to dinner? Maybe your luxury approach to fitness wear?
The thing about all three of these? All three of these have already been done and in a wildly successful way. Quickbooks Online communicates a message about their user-friendly platform for small business owners to make bookkeeping easy. Blue Apron regularly reminds you that it is easy to make a homemade, nutritious, healthy meal, weekdays included. Nike makes you want to spend $150 on your newest pair of tennis shoes. All because they are have managed to successfully harness a feeling around the product or service they provide and can clearly paint a picture of the lifestyle around what they're selling.
When I explain mood boards to clients, I explain it as a way to make sure we are on the same page and ensure we're on the right track before I ever begin sketches and logo development. The thing I don’t explain and probably never quite comes across is how much time goes into this initial piece.
This is the first chance to figure out how to convey the feeling you want to express with your brand. This is the first step in creating a message. It is funny to think about because more often than not, the clients or customers will never see your mood board, but it can be such a helpful piece to use internally.
Maybe you aren’t starting a new company and you aren’t in the market to rebrand, but this can still be a helpful tool for your company to ensure a clear direction that aligns with your vision and goals.
I always start with by gathering as much information about the client and project that I can. I have each client fill out a questionnaire before we begin their project. I don’t start anything until I receive that completed piece.
Having this information to reference that you provide in your words is my best insight into what your goals are for your brand. It gives me the chance to develop a well-rounded picture of you, your company, and your clients.
Evaluation & Adjectives
At this point, maybe you may be taking stock of your company.
Maybe you want to change directions. Maybe you want to expand. Maybe you are just getting started. Either way, creating a mood board is a great way to prioritize finding some answers to these questions. This is a good time to ask yourself (or your clients!):
- How would you describe our brand?
- Why do you choose us over competitors?
- What are our long term goals?
One question I ask clients is, “Using 5-7 adjectives, describe the personality of your company. Yours and your staff’s personality?” Also, “How do you want your company to be perceived/described?” These answers generally provide the words that I base the mood board on.
Start by asking yourself these questions. If you aren't sure yet, another tactic you could try is to think of companies you admire and start by thinking of what words you would use to describe them. After this warm up, turn the focus to yourself. Sometimes it can be easier to start by focusing on an example, then yourself.
If you are feeling stuck, or uncertain where to being, use this spectrum to get started. Choose where you would land between the two descriptors placed at the opposite ends. The line in the middle means you feel neutral between the two. You will be surprised how much it helps!
Now on to the fun part! This is a good time to clarify, that a mood board isn’t the same as a goal board or vision board. It isn’t necessarily about where you want to see your company go. In case I haven’t beaten this point to death, it’s about identifying the feeling you want to surround your company and your brand.
This is the time to be picky and get specific. It's hard to explain how to convey the “right way” to approach this. Technically there isn’t one, but a good starting point is to ask yourself WHY with each image. What is it about an image that feels right? If it doesn't come back to one of your keywords, don’t keep it.
If you keep coming back to something but aren’t sure why, you may have discovered a new adjective for yourself - one of the fun possibilities of this process. I have encountered plenty of times when I search for images and keep coming back to a theme that ends up being a key part of the end result.
For example, for the mood board below, I based everything on the words: Whimsical, feminine, bohemian, honest, minimalist, positive, & hard working. This was created for an event planner who primarily works in the wedding industry. It was important to showcase couples and romanticism, but it was equally important to focus on the kind of lifestyle these couples lead in order for them to be a perfect fit which ultimately came back to the words she used to describe herself.
In general, maintain the mindset that if it doesn’t fit the feeling you are going for, don’t include it. In the end, it’s about so much more than the color scheme or the photo of the killer pair of heels that you waaaaant to include but don’t know why.
Now is the time to ask yourself “Why?”
To keep things focused, a good formula is to aim for is :
- 1 Broad Focus Element
- 1-3 Details
- 1 Texture
- 1 Design Element; i.e. a pattern, icon, etc.
- 1 Brand Example; i.e. a logo or font example
- 1 Lifestyle Detail - Simply to showcase the kind of individual you imagine buying your service
From there you can search, save, create, collage. This should be fun BUT it should be a challenge. It should be introspective. It should be space be to take an honest look at what you want for your company.
If you are going through a branding/rebranding process, I clearly support the idea of a mood board being a part of the process. However, I also think there is a lot to be gained by implementing this practice into your business strategy.
Do you feel like mood boards could be helpful in your business?
I would love to hear your thoughts and how it has worked for you.