You have a vision. In your mind’s eye, you see glimmers of what you want to create — but the color palette, typography, and overall ethos aren’t crystal clear. To bring them into focus, you may need a little help.

Have you tried a mood board?

For as long as creatives can remember, mood boards have held a place of honor in branding, advertising, and various branches of design. Whether they’re used to define a brand identity, to provide clients and collaborators with a preview of a final product, to inspire a marketing project, or simply to help a designer stay on track, mood boards are an integral part of the design process and an invaluable creative tool.

There a number of ways to go about creating a mood board, and no two outcomes are ever alike. Here’s what you need to know, and how to develop a mood board that works for you.

What is a Mood Board?

In essence, a mood board is a collection of images or objects that inspire a design. That design can take the form of a brand’s corporate identity, website, product packaging, a clothing collection, an interior design, an ad campaign, and more. It can include anything from photographs to swatches of fabric and colored beads — whatever you feel you need to use to illustrate your optimal aesthetic.

Remember, you’re trying to capture a “mood.” When it comes to communicating that elusive feeling, anything goes.

Physical Mood Boards

Historically, mood boards have been created using bulletin boards or foamcore as their base. With these materials as a backing, users can pin or staple photographs, yarn, sprigs of herbs or other plants, and anything else they feel illustrates their desired mood. This approach is still popular today — but you don’t have to confine yourself to a single space, and the options for what to include on your board are boundless.

When retailer Anthropologie was preparing to design a line of dinnerware, it used its blog to share several of the mood boards created by its design director to tell the products’ stories. She paired her own original paintings with found objects, paint swatches, a plant, and a book that were consistent with the mood she was hoping to convey.

These were arranged against a wall using a shelf, rustic painted board, and some masking tape. Take a similar approach and voilà, you’ve got yourself a physical mood board.

Image via Anthropologie Blog.

Digital Mood Boards

As technology has evolved, the ease and convenience of creating digital and web-based mood boards has led to mass adoption of this approach. Digital boards are easy to save and share with others, and social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram are a treasure trove of imagery.

Pinterest is also a go-to platform for creating mood boards, along with the aptly named Moodboard and whiteboard app Mural. Mural offers a 30-day free trial, while Moodboard has a “lite” version that can be accessed free of charge.

This mood board created by designer Angela Van Winkle for a resort management company in The Hamptons features photographs, paintings, textures, blocks of color, and sample fonts to illustrates the look she’s going for. Because it’s entirely digital it can easily be emailed to the client, edited based on their feedback, and enhanced as needed.

Image via Dribbble.

Collage Mood Boards

Designers have loads of experience creating impressive mood boards, but you don’t need professional training or a background in the arts to develop one that’s exciting and effective. Similar to a physical mood board, a collage mood board is easy to assemble and can be just as effective at capturing an aura, spirit, or atmosphere.

Source your images from print materials like magazines, newspapers, and catalogues. Dig through piles of old postcards at antique shops. Search for photographs and illustrations that really hit on the feeling you’re hoping to reproduce. If you’re artistically inclined, or know someone who is, including custom sketches and drawings can be useful as well.

Even the pros turn to collage mood boards when they’re in need of inspiration. Such was the case with luxury eyewear brand Warby Parker, which a few years ago shared the mood board it created for a Winter Collection. A wood pile, snowshoes, cinnamon buns, buffalo plaid, and a number of vintage photographs came together to show customers what kind of mood they can expect from the new line of products.

Image via Warby Parker Blog.

Why Do you Need a Mood Board?

We’ve already touched on the value of a mood board, and there are multiple reasons for leveraging that for the benefit of your brand.

Brainstorming and Refining

When you’re just embarking on a new project, a mood board can become the difference between effectively zeroing in on your mission and wandering aimlessly in a sea of possibilities. The brainstorming phase of any project has a tendency to get chaotic, so why not compile all of your ideas in one place?

With a mood board you can identify a promising concept more quickly, and will have a plan in place for moving forward on your product packaging or branding identity design. London-based agency Purple developed this comprehensive mood board for Scotch whisky maker Glenfiddich while designing the brand’s updated logo and new global visual identity.

Image via Creative Bloq.


A mood board can also help you organize your thoughts, make sure you haven’t overlooked a key design component, and identify elements that aren’t harmonizing with the overall design. It represents an opportunity to hit the reset button and resume your process with renewed enthusiasm and fresh eyes. “Taking a step away from whatever I’m working on for at least a couple of hours can help get me out of that creative block,” branding and visual identity designer Syd Rein told Format magazine. “After that, if I’m still stuck, I’ll take the night off and sleep on the idea, and then make a mood board or gather inspiration the next morning.”

Pitching a Product

Graphic designers, interior designers, and web development agencies use mood boards when their objective is to successfully pitch things like a business card design, kitchen renovation, or website redesign. The idea is to sell your audience on your concept.

A mood board can provide a project with direction, and confirm that every stakeholder is on the same page. It can save designers and marketers valuable time and money by mitigating the risk of creating something that doesn’t meet the client’s expectations. Claire Turner Creative, based in British Columbia, Canada, routinely pulls together mood boards for her clients. “Once things have fallen into place and I feel I have a solid concept, I send you the completed mood board to get your input,” web designer Claire Turner tells brands on her site.

Image via

A mood board isn’t limited to visual elements, though. As demonstrated, it can feature key words or sample language related to your design vision as well.

Van Winkle uses her boards to describe her vision and inspiration. Including a description like this can serve two purposes: it reminds the designer what she’s trying to achieve, and reassures the client that she understands the brand. If you’re creating a mood board for a branding identity design, or even a collection of products, language in the form of a text description is a must. Take advantage of tools like Shutterstock Editor, which allows you to easily overlay type on your design.

How to Create Your Mood Board

Ready to create a mood board of your own? Follow these four simple steps.

Get to Know the Brand

Start by asking yourself questions about the brand or project you’re tasked with representing. How would someone describe it? Who is your audience or customer base? Jot down the words that best describe both what the brand’s about and what sets it apart. These will prove important when it comes time to select images that accurately reflect the brand’s identity.

When Angela Van Winkle created a mood board for hotel chain Celebration Suites, she focused on three aspects of the brand: kids, families, and fun. The colorful outcome does a great job of capturing a cheerful, family-friendly atmosphere.

Image via Dribbble.

Pick Your Format

Next, you’ll want to select your mood board format. Will it be digital or physical? A collage works well for non-creative types, but digital mood boards are the easiest to edit and share.

Let the ultimate purpose of your mood board project determine which platform is best for you. A DIY-craft tutorial service named For the Makers developed this physical mood board to express its do-it-yourself project theme of the month. It then posted a photograph of the physical board to its website.

Image via

Define Your Style

Determining the aesthetic you’re going for is a big part of creating an effective mood board. Does the brand or project have an edgy vibe, or is it charming and sweet? Is it feminine or masculine? Contemporary or traditional? If this hasn’t yet been determined, it’s up to you to feel out the evolving brand for cues that will lead to an accurate visual representation. Experiment with different styles and design aesthetics until you find the one that makes sense.

You may discover it takes more than one style to get the feeling right. Minneapolis, MN-based graphic designer and art director Breanna Rose wanted to mix modern and vintage styles for a new business venture. The resulting mood board  combinescolors with patterns and typography styles, and conveys a strong sense of brand — but keep in mind that too many styles may muddy your mood.

Image via

Collect Your Materials

When you’re ready to start crafting your mood board, remember that it can feature any number of elements. These include:

  • Color
  • Patterns
  • Textures
  • Typography
  • Brand-related keywords
  • Descriptive language
  • Photographs
  • Sketches and Illustrations
  • Textiles
  • Found objects

If you’re going for a physical mood board, venture out into the world to look for objects and material. Anthropologie’s design director wrote on the company’s blog, “I take photos wherever I go, whether it’s an exhibit or a museum or a library. The tiniest thing can spark an idea.”

Get in the Mood

The beauty of mood boards is that they can be fully customized for your needs. There’s no limit to what you can include, or how you include it — so get those creative juices flowing! Shutterstock Editor can help you organize your ideas, source images, and create useful and impactful digital mood boards that are perfectly suited to helping you define and refine your brand.


Top Image by Diana Hlevnjak