Essential guide to mood boards

Mood boards are frequently used in the fashion industry as a visual way to develop and present an idea. A well-curated mood board can prove invaluable for creative teams and for the success of a shoot or concept. Our essential guide to mood boards shows you how to produce a strong and effective board. 

What is a moodboard?

A moodboard is a collection of images (or objects) which portray an idea, a concept or a design.

What is its purpose?

Moodboards are a visual way to help others “get inside your head” and understand both your vision and direction for a creative idea. They are used to inspire and guide a project, and serve as a point of reference. Moodboards are frequently used within the fashion industry for shoots briefs and brand or design concepts.

How do I create a moodboard?

They can take any form; a video, scrapbook, folder of images, a few minimal images laid out on a white background or lots of images arranged on a board with no white space. No matter what it looks like, if it's evoking a mood or style, then it’s a moodboard. You can also moodboard for specific things – for example, a board for the lighting on set or a board for the clothing that the stylist is going to pull.

Case study: an unsuccessful  mood board

Despite looking aesthetically pleasing at first glance, the mood board on the left is not curated enough. The theme is not obvious, as it includes images which vary from a glamorous blonde woman in a suggestive pose, to a goth singer, skull and kitch kitty. Whilst the producer of the mood board will understand why each image is included, its not clear enough for a team to understand or work from. 

The middle board again, displays lots of different makeup and hair styles. The overall theme is not clear. If you are creating a mood board and do not have a specific preference for how the hair and makeup look, it is more effective to create a theme and mood for the character, which hair and makeup can be inspired and work by to create their own looks. Providing lots of different, yet specific looks will only dilute your idea and confuse the team. 

The mood board on the right is also not curated enough in it's image choices. There are also captions such as "style" and "trend". Avoid using such generic and subjective words. If you have a particular style or trend in mind, make it precise and clear, e.g "1950's British Teddy Boy style".

Case study: A successful mood board

The four images above are all examples of a successful mood board. They each portray a strong theme which is clear to understand and to work from. They are curated and consistent in their image choices and each portray a different, but equally as clear mood and theme. They have all been inspired by lots of different sources, for example the left hand mood board, which has incorporated nature, fashion and hair in one consistent theme. A hair or makeup artist could be inspired by this mood board, able to understand the direction intended, whilst still having creative freedom to bring their own ideas to the project. 

What to remember when creating a mood board:

Be curated

When creating a mood board, think of yourself as a curator rather than a collector. It can be tempting to include every image that inspires you into your mood board, but each image should work together on the board and have synergy and relevance, otherwise it’s just confusing to other people. Too many visuals can dilute your idea. If you can get your message across in just a few images, do it. Don’t overwhelm with too much information or too many unnecessary visuals. At first glance, your concept should be obvious from your mood board; this makes it far easier for someone else to interpret your vision.

Be obvious

You might have chosen one image because you like the eye makeup but don't assume that others will know what you mean – is it the colour of the makeup, the texture, the lighting of the shot or model? Be very particular with your image choices. Each one should fit in with the theme, and if you really must include that eye makeup, crop out any other elements of the image which do not fit with your concept, as they may just distract and confuse the viewer.

Be mindful that you're creating a mood

A successful mood board is one which allows a client or creative team to instantly understand your vision/ concept. Anyone should be able to look at your mood board and instantly know that it represents, for example, 70s punk in London. 

A mood board doesn't need to be rigid and dictate the specific end result of the hair, makeup or styling. There should always be room for collaborators to contribute ideas, while still being able to refer back to the mood board to stay focused on the theme and overall creative direction.

Think outside the box

Use imagery that inspires the idea of a look rather than being literal. For example, a hairstylist creating a moodboard shouldn't just use hair images in their board. In fact, it gives more depth and originality to your moodboard, and helps other creatives (who may not be a hair expert), understand the theme/ concept.

Test your moodboard

Running your mood board past others to test it can be a great indicator as to whether you’re on the right track. As a rule of thumb, if too many people have to ask too many times what an image means, or why it’s there, then it probably shouldn’t be in there.Consider layout

How you order and display your images speaks just as strongly about the mood as the images themselves. You may choose to create a moodboard with more of a freeform, “collage” effect, or you may prefer a more linear, ordered layout. Both give different effects and your theme may make you sway towards one or the other – whichever you decide, commit to it.

As well as positioning, consider the size of the images. If an element on your mood board is particularly important, make it stand out. A rule of thumb is the size and position should reflect how important that thing is. It’ll make it easier for you and your client/ creative team to focus on the key themes.


Still need help? Contact Us Contact Us