How To Create A Mood Board
I think inspiration boards can be so much fun, but also really useful for developing a style, theme, or aesthetic. Some people use them as pure inspiration, others use them as vision boards: as a way of looking at their hopes, dreams, and goals for the year. I mostly use them for mood boards with branding clients, to help set the tone for the overall look and aesthetic and help keep us on the same page. No matter why you might use one, though, I think it's good to know how to build one, and what to do with it once you've got one!
Curating from Pinterest
The first step towards creating an awesome mood board, no matter it's purpose, is to curate a visual inventory of things that inspire you and that you love. Pinterest is pretty much made for just this. And a lot of people don't realize that Pinterest is effectively just another search engine - like Google, but visual based. That means that to get started, you just have to search for something you love, and then follow it down the rabbit hole. One of my favorite aspects of Pinterest is how it gives you suggestions based on what you're looking at. I've found some of my very favorite visual inspirations this way.
Finding A Common Theme
Once you have a Pin board with a good number of Pins, take a look at the bigger picture. I like to make my browser window as big as possible, and have the pins as small as possible, so that I can get a quick look at the over all feel. And sometimes I even squint at it, just to make the details fall away so I can focus on color and shape. Almost always a pallet or theme emerges - circular shapes or cool tones, for example. Once I have those in mind, I scroll through the individual pins looking for more patterns and things that provide contrast for a complimentary effect. Really, though, most of this step simply involves going with your gut.
I save about twice as many images as I need for the mood board I'm filling out, and then I get to work and just play. I place the different images into the slots in different ways until it just feels right. This is another place where you really have to trust your gut, but it does help to have a bit of a theme in mind.
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Creating a Sense of Balance
When you're placing images, it really helps to look at the mood board as a whole, and think about the same principals of composition that make for a strong photograph. That means balancing elements - thinking about tones, shape, and themes within the overall theme you are going for. You want each image within the board to have meaning, but you also want the board as a whole to feel finished and whole. Sometimes that means grouping like things together, other times it means separating them out and creating a bit of contrast. Don't be afraid to play and re-arrange until you get just the right look. And if you find that you have an element you just have to have, but it isn't working well in the board, try searching for a similar image that has the same theme, but that fits better.
Developing a Color Palette
If I'm working on a project where I need a color scheme to go with the mood board, like I do for all my branding clients, I save the mood board as a jpg, and then turn it into a mosaic using Photoshop. That allows me to really see the tones I'm working with rather than getting caught up in the individual nuances or details. To do this, after you've saved the board as a jpg, open that jpeg in Photoshop, and then go to Filter > Crystallize > Mosaic. Then I usually set the cell size to 50, but it will show you a preview so you can get a sense of what you'll end up with.
Then I use that mosaic to choose color samples with the eye dropper, and those are the tones that I start with as inspiration. I tweak each tone as I go so that it works well with the other tones I'm creating, and I try and balance out deeper colors with lighter colors, and any color pops or accents with plenty of neutrals.
Using The Mood Board
Once you have the inspiration or mood board to your liking, export it and print it out! It's such an awesome visual reminder of whatever project you are working on, or working towards. If you are working on a project with that mood board - a styled shoot, a brand refresh, or a client guide, for example - use that board as the basis of every decision you make. The color palette is the most obvious, and easiest, thing to implement, but also let it help inspire your font and design choices. For example, if you notice a repeating pattern of circles, use that shape as an inspiration or accent.
To help you get started creating your own mood or inspiration boards, feel free to grab a free moodboard template here. It's a layered Photoshop file so after you've downloaded it, you can manipulate it to work for exactly what you need it for. Enjoy!