Stuff and Nonsense

Malarkey is Andy Clarke, a UK based designer, author and speaker who has a passion for design, CSS and web accessibility.

Andy has been working on the web for almost ten years. He is a visual web designer and author and he founded Stuff and Nonsense in 1998. Andy regularly writes about creating beautiful, accessible web sites and he speaks at events worldwide. Andy is the author of Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design, published by New Riders in 2006.

Design mood-boards

For an up-and-coming site design project, I started to explore using mood-boards. Have you tried anything similar?

A while ago (when I couldn't sleep), I sat up late watching re-runs of home decorating shows on UK TVStyle, a channel wall-to-wall with house make-overs. From the completely dire House Invaders (a show which decorates a whole house in a day with left-over paint from the shed) to the classier Home Front, fronted by the (flamboyant) Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen.

Anyhoo, Home Front seemed not just to be yer usual paint-slapping show, but took you through the process of designing the room. Starting with the brief, visiting inspirational locations, design decisions and through to the 'reveal'.

Mood-boards

One of the things that interested me was when Mr. LLB asked his client to make a mood-board containing cuttings from magazines, photographs and fabric samples to give him an idea of what they liked and didn't. I've been meaning to try this idea with a web design client, but haven't quite got around to to it yet.

So for an up-and-coming site for (Ed: Say no more. Nudge, nudge... wink, wink), I made up my own mood board from 'cuttings' from various places. Here it is,

Does anyone else work this way?
Has anyone tried it with clients?
Have you tried anything similar?

I'd be interested to know.

Replies

  1. #1 On March 3, 2005 10:56 PM YoungHistorians said:

    I've never heard of/used one, but they really seem to make sense. This is basically a bigger kind of way to say, "I like these site's designs:", is it not?

  2. #2 On March 3, 2005 10:57 PM Kate said:

    I used to work in a large game design company, and the boards they'd come up with were pretty damn amazing, so when I had to come up with something for a miniatures painter, I kept on throwing images at her as the sort of mood and style she wanted. And it was a great way to explain things to people without getting techie.

    I'm gonna suggest this to the graphic designer at work, too...

  3. #3 On March 3, 2005 10:58 PM Tim Parkin said:

    We've just done that very thing with a client developing a lingerie brand. We asked them to develop personas for typical customers and also to supply brands/websites/textures/images that they liked. We've also done the reverse and taken a selection of mood boards to a client to act as a catalyst to get things going (collections of photos from stock libraries). We also give them a selection of websites to choose hot and cold 'aspects' from (so that when they say they like a website, we know they mean 'we like the glowing red button' not the loveley pastel colours). All I need now are frilly cuffs :-)

  4. #4 On March 3, 2005 11:26 PM Llawrence said:

    I think that you have a cheek, ripping off my cutting edge, mood inspired design concepts. How can you compare the art of interior decor design with nasty Webby stuff; after all you're just a bunch of glorified typists, aren't you. Find your own inspiration, having Diarmuid ripp off my ideas is quite enough, thank you. Scum Bags.

  5. #5 On March 3, 2005 11:32 PM nikki said:

    As an art student I've had moodboards/design sheets drummed into me as an essential first step for any project be it product design or sculpture.

    I waver between finding them a) very useful and b) very contrived. [although to be honest the latter probably comes from the last-minute mood boards slapped together the night before an assessment...]

    The closest I've come to using it with a client for a website is to sit down with them and surf frantically for half an hour. I made a note of the sites they liked and then, later, collated screenshots of them and added notes of which bits they liked/didn't like.

    I did wonder if it might be worthwhile compiling a range of websites in advance and using pairs of sites to illustrate oppposite extremes for some quality or other.

    hmmmm, then it all goes a bit yin and yang... what qualities would you want to illustrate? how would you illustrate them? etc etc

    [meanwhile, back to moodboards...]

    yes, any method of getting ideas (however vague) out of the client's mind's eye and pinning them onto paper/screen has to be good. Even if it's just a case of eliminating options, better to find out now rather than later!

    Will you be using your moodboard to elicit design preferences from the client or as a starting point for your own creativity a la brainstorming ?

    btw it looks scarily like you might be working on some election compaign posters for a prominent UK political party ;)

  6. #6 On March 3, 2005 11:35 PM Malarkey said:

    @ Lawrence (or should I call you Neil? ;)) That's the last time I lend you my collection of Linda Barker exercise videos!

  7. #7 On March 3, 2005 11:37 PM Malarkey said:

    @ Nikki: No, I only work for left wing political parties, so New Labour is definately out!

  8. #8 On March 4, 2005 12:04 AM Linda said:

    Please don't mention my range of beneficial exercise videos in a Laurence Llllllllewelllllyn-Bowen context. I have never had an adult relationship with Mr Llewellyn-Bowen or Mr Gavin for that matter. I'm disappointed to hear that you have been lending my beneficial exercise videos to Mr Llllewellyn-Bowen as they are available at a very reasonable rate at most branches of W H Smith and larger Woolworth stores. Don't forget that Morphy Richards toasters cost less at Comet, you've been warned!

  9. #9 On March 4, 2005 01:33 AM clint said:

    At school, we're used these for several product design projects. I think they're especially useful when designing for an audience that you are not entirely familiar with.

    For example, we did a project around furniture for teenagers. To prep, we all created mood boards to help get into the mindset of teenagers and get a feel for what appeals to them. It was helpful for establishing a look or feel that might be outside of your normal design thinking.

  10. #10 On March 4, 2005 01:48 AM John Oxton said:

    Hmmm, interesting idea indeed. Your mood board has a distinctly BRITish feel about it...

  11. #11 On March 4, 2005 07:24 AM Jonathan Fenocchi said:

    I haven't tried this, but it's most certainly an excellent idea, especially for personal sites! I'm probably going to try this out pretty soon, thanks! :)

  12. #12 On March 4, 2005 09:35 AM Phil Baines said:

    I'm sure I can see the logo for "That 70's Show" in there somewhere! Look forward to seeing the site that comes out of that. ;)

  13. #13 On March 4, 2005 09:45 AM Grant Broome said:

    I reckon that orange flower wallpaper would look good in your new office. Mix it up with some of that wavey orange and brown with daisies and a faux oil painting of Donny Osmond in a white plastic frame and your onto a winner.

  14. #14 On March 4, 2005 11:16 AM Sander said:

    Moodboards were part of the design process in almost every project when I was still at Uni, as a deliverable to clients.

    It really helps to communicate suggestions of branding or layout/shapes as part of a creation process and as a method of elimination. I am suprised it's not in common use.

  15. #15 On March 4, 2005 04:45 PM Marcus said:

    I've always wanted to try Mood Boards with a client, ever since I first saw Mr LLB demonstrating them. Does anyone have any suggestions as to the best way of putting them together -- should they have any sort of structure or zoning, or should everything be random?

    My right-brained mind wants to organise things -- perhaps with horizontal and vertical axes, colour on the horizontal, mood or something along the vertical?

    Oh, and thank you sooo much for the mental image of Lawrence and Linda, as it is I have nightmares about Linda Barker and her Giant Pair of Scissors. Snip Snip.

  16. #16 On March 4, 2005 05:15 PM monooso said:

    I did a furniture design degree more years ago than I care to remember, and mood boards were a common part of the initial design work.

    After graduating and doing a bit of interior design / glorified space planning, the same practise continued for a while, but I can't say I ever really saw a great deal of benefit from it. Maybe it was my youthful inexperience, but the much-hoped-for flurry of ideas / feedback never materialised.

    Since moving into web design I've never really considered using them, mostly because I usually work within very clearly defined brands - do you think there's a viable place for such things when dealing with very "on-brand" clients?

  17. #17 On March 5, 2005 06:37 AM soosixty said:

    Mood boards are used extensively in Textile Design - where theme and abstraction work almost as strongly as Fine Art!

  18. #18 On March 5, 2005 10:27 AM Malarkey said:

    Mmmm, interesting... it looks like this approach might be common in other areas of design, but not so common on the web.

    <brain cogs groaning>I wonder why that might be? </brain cogs groaning>

  19. #19 On March 5, 2005 12:07 PM pixeldiva said:

    I might be talking nonsense, but when I thought about it, it struck me that part of the reason it might not be such a common approach on the web is that way back in the mists of time, creating websites was more of a technical thing than a design thing.

    It took a fair bit of time for the designers to catch up with the techies, and by that point a reasonable amount of the techniques were crystallised, and up to that point, designers didn't have the technical knowledge. They had to hand their designs off to other folk to get the thing built.

    Add in to this the fact that for a while, what was possible in a design sense was constrained by the technology.

    Picture the scenario:

    Designer: I want it to look like this.

    Techie: [sucks teeth] Ooooh... I don't know about that.. it's going to be really complicted. The hoojicaflip will need to work with the thingamajig and I just cannae make the server go any faster, Captain. etc. etc. etc...

    Getting away from all this theoretical wibbling, I can't say I've ever pulled the stuff together into a proper mood board, but again, thinking about it, I've always used a kind of mental mood board when doing any kind of web design. I'll surf around various places, thinking about the purpose of the site and see what kind of layout elements seem to stick to that. Then I'll think about font (very, very important - it's usually the first thing I choose and if it's not right, the whole design dies) then lastly colour.

    Crikey. Thinking on a saturday morning. It's just not right.

  20. #20 On March 5, 2005 12:24 PM Tom said:

    I've started to do it recently, it's good if you looking for idea's or inspiration. For example, a client wanted a Japanese feel so i've been looking on flickr for idea, reading blogs and magazines. I now have this "mood board" in photoshop that I can draw upton for ideas.

  21. #21 On March 5, 2005 09:36 PM charlotte said:

    hi
    im 15 years old an im currently studying textiles in school we get asked to do moodboards all the time an this week we were asked to create one about indians an include sketches this will be very helpful as im taking my gcse soon an i have to design an outfit that is suitable to indians, so yes i do think they are very helpful. even for people who are fashion designers to kids of my age

  22. #22 On March 7, 2005 11:43 AM dik said:

    firstly, the biggest issues are constraints/budgets - a lot of the time you'll find visualisation gets overlooked as it not instantly beneficial from the clients perspective.

    However - mood boards are, and should be an integral part of a designer's theoretical process no matter how quickly they're comped together.

    Mood Boards allow the 'designer' to quickly explore and position high-level concepts, feel, tone of voice, colour, typography etc. without the expense of creating physical entities.

    It also develops a communication platform between you and your client so they have the opportunity for either early 'buy-in' to your proposal or to raise any concerns they may have.

    How many times have you put forward a design to hear the fateful words:
    'I don't like [insert colour/typeface/shape here]'

    You can cover any of these issues (and more) in your mood board and have your client agree the route to follow, before you even open Illustrator.

    Ultimately showing your client a well-defined though process built on an agreed foundation takes the ambiguousness out of the perceived subjectiveness of design.

  23. #23 On March 7, 2005 05:32 PM Dan said:

    I think mood boards could be used to in probes or other methods to help understand user values. Humans are homo-ludens that engage in ludic activities and mood boards may be one way of tapping into such values. I also wonder if they could help identify cultural preferences????

This article was originally published by Andy Clarke on his personal web site And All That Malarkey and is reproduced here for archive purposes. This article is published under a Creative Commons By Attribution License 2.0.

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