How To Use Mood Boards to Collaborate Effectively with Your Designer

Alisha Sackett
July 31 | 7 min read

The phrase, “I’ll know it when I see it,” is a death knell for many design projects. And yet, clients use it often, and sometimes without providing any further feedback. This can leave the design team spinning, unsure what step to take next or how to satisfy such an abstract thought. Being involved with the design, and getting to the best design as quickly as possible, can make all the difference in the outcome of the product. It also saves on the budget, boosts confidence in the freelance design team, and gets the design into your hands quicker.

Words often do design an injustice. “Clean” could be misinterpreted as “neutral”; “edgy” as “chaotic”; “minimalist” as “mostly nothingness.” Instead of relying on words to convey your needs, you can use visuals—particularly digital mood boards (also known as inspiration boards).

Mood boards are frequently used for interior and fashion design, but they can be useful for graphic design too. You use a mood board to compile inspiring elements to explain what emotion you want the design to evoke as well as what colors, patterns, typography, and photography style you prefer.

Follow these tips to nail your mood board so your freelance designer can deliver the best results with the least iterations.

1. Take pictures.

Scrolling through images online for hours can be exhausting. Eventually, they blend together. Worst of all, the endless scrolling can be a real inspiration killer. So go for a walk. And take pictures. Do the clean lines of a newly-built, modern building appeal to you? Or perhaps you like that retro coffee house down the street from the office. Then you see a bright pop of yellow on a building, and it makes you think about your brand.

Take pictures of it all for your mood board. These small elements will provide your designer with deep insight into the direction of the project.

2. Become a curator.

When you’ve put together a bunch of ideas for your designer, it’s time to tell a story with the board.

When you walk into an exhibition, the curator has meticulously picked out and arranged what you will view so that it evokes a particular emotional response. What response do you want your audience to have to your ad, presentation, logo, etc?

Take a look at some famous brands and the elements that they use to evoke feeling—like the condensation bubbles that indicate “feeling refreshed” from a cold Coca-Cola drink. What might be evocative elements for your brand?

Try not to overwhelm your designer with 100 different photos. Instead, curate the collection so there is meaning that can be interpreted by the designer.

3. Build around one or two primary images.

If you find an image and it speaks to your entire idea all at once, save it right away. Then build around it.

When you put your mood board together, make your primary images larger than the others. This is a subliminal trick of the mind that encourages the brain to ask questions about the larger image and find answers in the smaller ones.

Mood board examples

Not only will this method help your freelance design team answer their own questions about your aesthetic, it will also make it easier for you to optimize your own preferences.

4. Be obvious with your theme.

While it should be obvious that you should be obvious, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes there is an inclination to leave room for the designer to work or a concern that the designer will fixate on what you’ve supplied and not bring anything new to the table.

To combat that, and to help your designer narrow down your design desires, make it clear with your mood board what you’re looking for. A contemporary presentation mood board should not have minimalist elements. If you want blue and white as your only colors, make sure that is explicit in your color choices (don’t add an image of a purple couch, no matter how clean the lines are!).

5. Don’t forget the typography.

All these images can help your freelance designer determine color, theme, and style, but without a hint about typography, they are left to guess.

And like any good accessory, typography can often make or break the design. Look up fonts on websites like dafont.com or through a Google search and screenshot your favorites to add to your mood board. Make sure you’re paying attention to the theme or style you want though. Choosing a Medieval serif font for a minimalist product may not be ideal. If you’re using Google Chrome, consider the WhatFont Chrome Extension which tells you what font you’re looking at while you’re on a specific webpage.

This is an area where you can lean on the designer for ideas. Their experience choosing stylish fonts to match your inspirations will come in handy. So put your favorites on the mood board, but be open-minded to what the designer may have to offer.

Online tools to create your mood board

In mid-July, Behance, an Adobe design showcase platform, announced it would begin supporting mood boards for designers. Behance and other tools like it ease the transition of delivering ideas. They can also provide a collaborative environment for you and the designer to work with others on your team.

Pinterest

The very popular option for personal use can also work for businesses. You’ll need to set up an account, but you can share a mood board with other users to add to. The great thing about using Pinterest is that, in many cases, you can share directly from the website without needing to screenshot. So when you see something you like, click the familiar red circle with a P, and your designer can see it.

The Matboard

Described as Pinterest for designers, The Matboard is a bookmarking site that lets you pull inspiration from the internet. You can install the “Mat button” so you can “mat” anywhere on the web. The Matboard has a ton of features that are designer-specific such as connecting with other creatives, organizing by theme, and creating a living feed for engagement with your team.

Behance

The newly announced Behance Boards is a place for collaboration, save images from other projects, plan projects, and add co-owners of boards for further inspiration. Behance Boards is already activated and users have created some stunning, motivating collections like this one on gradients or this one on branding.

Canva

Canva offers a drag and drop tool for creation of inspiration boards. You can create the emotions you want to convey quickly and easily with this program that doesn’t require you to screenshot or upload files from your computer (though you can do that too). They also have an extensive media library where you can get ideas which saves you the hassle of Googling terms and hoping to find something you can use.

Moodboard

Use a blank board or a template provided by Moodboard, an easy-to-use tool named after the very thing you’re creating. What you create on this site is private, but each board has a unique URL that can be shared with your team and your designer so they can see your vision. It is free to use, and quick to start up.

Evernote Web Clipper

With this Google Chrome extension, you can save things you see while browsing the internet on your Evernote account. The description says, “CLIP any webpage, HIGHLIGHT what matters most, ANNOTATE, take SCREENSHOTS, and have access to that information whenever and wherever you need it.” You have easy access to your clippings from any device by logging into your Evernote account.

Adobe Spark Mood Boards

Choose from several preset sizes, shapes, and themes to get started with Adobe Spark Mood Boards. Once set up, you can use the thousands of license-free images they have in their library or upload your own. Adobe Spark also lets you add modifiable text to the board, and when done, you can download, print, or share it across social media channels.

Sample Board

Sample Board offers over 30,000 images in their media library. You can create from anywhere and share with clients, colleagues, and designers. The program requires Adobe Flash to use, and you can take advantage of their free trials, or sign up for the premium, pro, or small business versions right away.

Invision Boards

Supported across devices including mobile and tablets, Invision Boards is a free collaborative environment that lets you get feedback from a global audience on your ideas. Collaborate your thoughts in a central place, share with your team, and then deliver it to the designer when it is exactly what you want.

Once you have your inspiration organized, it’s time to share it with your freelance design team.

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Written by
Alisha Sackett
Alisha Sackett is a veteran writer and editor based in Kansas City, Missouri, where she freelances for an advertising firm, does voiceover work, crafts her novels and homeschools her two badass daughters.

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