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How to Use a Mood Board to Reach Your Goals

A wire grid mood board hanging above a desk.
Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

Creative thinking isn’t just for people in traditionally “creative” industries. Here’s how you can incorporate mood board planning into your workflow and get a creative boost.

Even the most stuffy and traditional industries sometimes require a moment of creative vision. But when you don’t usually get creative at work, it can be hard to tap into that side of yourself when the moment calls for it. Even if you work as a creative all day, every day, you might sometimes find yourself hitting a brick wall your inspiration just can’t seem to punch through.

That’s where mood boards come in. Though they might sound like a middle school craft project, mood boards are a time-tested way to get things done. From fashion designers to tech CEOs, countless professionals can benefit from making a mood board.

Wondering how mood boards work, and how you can use them to achieve your own goals? Let’s break it down.

What Is a Mood Board?

A mood board is a collage created with a specific purpose in mind. It’s a gathering of words, photos, fonts, drawings, textures, and colors, collected and presented either physically or digitally. The name “mood board” comes from the tradition of using foam board as the medium. But today, websites like Instagram and Pinterest make it easy to create online mood boards.

The goal of a mood board is to pull together a concept visually. For example, a party planner might make a few mood boards to show clients some potential party themes. An entrepreneur might create one to get a clear idea of how to represent her brand. A traveler might use a mood board to plan what he wants to do on an upcoming vacation.

Mood boards are used most often by photographers, interior designers, graphic designers, and fashion designers. But they can be useful for many other purposes. If you’re not a creative type, the idea of making a mood board might sound silly. But successful individuals in many industries have used them, so don’t dismiss the power of mood boarding.

Why Should You Make One?

What are the benefits of representing an idea, concept, or plan in this way? Here are some of the top reasons to give mood boarding a try:

  • To get your brain unstuck: Most of us have been there: we have a project to start, but just can’t seem to get the ideas flowing. The process of making a mood board can help you get your brain into that relaxed, creative state where your best work comes from. Instead of staring at a blank screen or page, you can spark the inspiration you need to move forward.
  • To communicate better with clients: If you need to present your work to clients, a mood board can help ensure they’re on board with the idea before you move forward. For example, if you design websites, you can use a mood board to show your client the concept before you design the website. If they don’t like it, you haven’t lost much time and energy, and you can easily make a few more mood boards until you hit the right concept.
  • To communicate better with coworkers: When you work with a team, there are often painful “lost in translation” moments when you try to explain your ideas. If you and your coworkers share your ideas with mood boards, though, it ensures you all see the same vision.
  • To refine your vision: If you think you have some good ideas for a project but aren’t quite sure how to pull them together, a mood board can help. Placing the different elements next to each other can help you see more clearly what works and what doesn’t. Plus, as you work through all the little challenges of pulling a big project together, a mood board can help you stay focused on the final goal.
  • To save time: At first, when you make a mood board, you might feel like you’re wasting precious “project” time. But if you collect and refine your thoughts in this way, and then share them with everyone else involved, it saves time by reducing mistakes and miscommunications.
  • To help you enjoy your work: When you work on a big project, it’s often exhausting. With a mood board, you can inject an element of creative fun into the process. It can remind you to take joy in what you do, and keep you moving forward, even when it gets hard.

How to Make a Mood Board

A series of cork mood boards hanging on a wall.
Marie Linner/Shutterstock

Now, let’s look at how to harness this focus and create a mood board.

First, keep in mind that many projects might require a series of mood boards, not just one. When you set out to make each one, decide what its purpose is.

Is this your chance to pull together some initial ideas and see how they work together? In that case, you can use a relaxed, open-minded approach. Do you want to show a final concept to a client before you move forward with your project? In that case, you can more carefully refine your board, so it only shows elements of the final design.

You can start with a list of words that describe your concept as this can help drive your mood board design. However, if you’re starting a project, you might want to design the mood board first, and then think about which words describe it to refine your idea.

You also need to decide whether a physical or digital mood board is best for your purposes. Here’s how to approach each.

Physical Mood Boards

Physical mood boards typically work best for individual projects. Lugging a big poster board to client or coworker meetings can be tricky (though, not impossible). But if you’re a tactile person who works best with your hands, a physical mood board might become your default.

One great thing about physical boards is you can display them in your office or workspace for a handy source of focus and inspiration. They also make great mementos of past projects.

Ready to make a physical mood board? Give yourself a block of uninterrupted, free time, and enough space to work comfortably. Gather some poster board, foam board, or a bulletin board to hold your work. You might want to have a few different boards on hand, as the first one you make might not be perfect.

Collect your scissors, glue, tape, or any other adhesive you need to stick things to your board. Next, collect plenty of inspiring supplies to work with. Here are a few things you might want to try:

  • Old calendars
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Color swatches
  • Fabric scraps
  • Greenery
  • Photographs

Get creative and try to repurpose things you have around the house for this task. If it can stick to a board, you can use it! With time, you can build a mood board kit that’s ready to go whenever you are.

Digital Mood Boards

A Pinterest board with multiple pictures of different bathrooms.

Digital mood boards are great when you need to work fast, have limited space, or must share the concept with people in different locations. Although the process of making a digital board feels very different from making a physical one, the results can be just as beneficial.

Just like a physical mood board, digital versions can range from loose to refined, or from personal to professional. The platform you choose to host your board affects what you can do with it.

And just like when you make a physical board, give yourself an uninterrupted block of time to make your digital mood board. Try to limit tempting distractions from your smartphone or social media sites.

Here are a few of our favorite digital mood board platforms, and what you can do with each:

  • Instagram: While it doesn’t have to function as a mood board, if you commit to an Instagram theme, it easily can. You can use Instagram as a mood board by uniting all your posts with a specific concept or color scheme. You can also make a private Instagram to use as an image-driven digital mood board for your creative projects.
  • Pinterest: An awesome way to make quick, simple mood boards. You can tap into a wide database of images, photos, and quotes, and then pull them together in as many different boards as you like. You can also set them to public or private.
  • Milanote: This app replicates the physical mood board experience digitally. It also has built-in mechanisms to keep team notes and ideas in one place, which makes it great for collaborative projects.
  • Sampleboard: This image-driven site isn’t free, but it offers sleek results ideal for sharing with clients. If you need to make an image-heavy presentation to share with clients or your team, this might be a good choice.
  • The Matboard: This site is similar to Pinterest, but it’s specifically intended for creative professionals. It provides clean, attractive layouts, and has a social-media-like community aspect, as well. However, the overall idea isn’t much different from Pinterest, so you might find it redundant.

Is a Mood Board Right for You?

Everyone works differently, so a mood board might or might not be the best solution for your creative struggles. However, we highly recommend you give one a try. Creating a mood board is a great way to inject some creativity into any project. And, unlike many work-related tasks, it’s fun!

Need more creativity in your personal life, too? Check out our guide to travel journaling next.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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