How to build a mood board for your next project

mood board image example

The first class I took in college that was design-related was an Intro to Communications class. Luckily for me, learning how to use Adobe Suite programs like Illustrator was a piece of cake— I already learned how to use them in high school. The hard part? The mood board.

A mood board is a visual presentation that consists of images, textures, colors, and other design materials that helps to communicate concepts and visual ideas. I like to think of them as collages of little elements that create a bigger picture.

My high school graphic design class wasn’t the greatest when it came to design concepts and formal design education. I just remember sitting at my computer, getting an assignment, and fussing around with the pen tool until I felt satisfied with the end result. But having a mood board is an essential tool and practice, whether it’s to establish branding, conceptualize an oil painting, or figuring out how to design your kitchen.

why do i need a mood board?

A mood board is great because it makes it easy to visualize the creative direction of any project. This is especially true if you are working on a project with multiple people, which is what makes it a great communication tool.

Some examples for when you would need a mood board include:

  • Maybe you are having a hard time figuring out a color scheme for your brand. You can select colors from the images in your mood board to curate the perfect palette.
  • Is your client giving you mixed signals on a design style? A mood board would be useful to see which design elements are consistent or not.
  • You are just starting off as a wedding photographer and are needing posing/lighting ideas. Create a mood board of poses, wedding imagery, and other photography inspiration.
  • Your bathroom needs a renovation but you’re not sure whether you want gold or silver fixtures. Gather some photos of already completed bathrooms that you already like to better visualize how these fixtures will look.

types of mood boards

To begin, there are two types of mood boards: physical and digital. (Yes, they are exactly what they sound like)

physical mood boards

These types of mood boards are fun because it requires a little more work and dedication to do. I like to recycle old Amazon boxes as the “board” part, but you can also use a presentation board to pin all of your inspirations onto. This option is great if your are a tactile learner and prefer to use textures in your mood board.

digital mood boards

If you don’t have access to a printer or need to share your mood board with other clients, then the digital version is the best option for you. There are many different free and premium options online.

  • Pinterest — Yes. Absolutely yes. Pinterest, to me, is not really a social media platform but a visual discovery search engine. Not only is it free to start, but you can create hundreds of mood boards for literally anything. Even outside of creative projects, Pinterest was the place for me to find out what kind of haircut I wanted, and yes, I would share my Pinterest mood board with my stylist.
  • Canva or Adobe Express — Both of these online programs have free mood board templates for you to utilize. I personally use Adobe products for a lot of my projects so I’m more familiar with their platform than Canva. But both are really similar when it comes to mood boards, and are recognized as industry-standard programs. They also make it easy to export or share with other partners/clients.
  • Milanote — They describe themselves as “the ultimate mood board maker.” Milanote has a fun and open UI that makes it easy to customize your mood board layout with more than just images. This program allows you to add videos, GIFs, color swatches, fonts, design files, and more to your mood board. There is a free option which allow up to 10 file uploads, but for unlimited uploads you are looking at paying $9.99/month.

how to make and use your mood board

When I started making mood boards for projects in college, I would often make the mistake of being too literal. For example, let’s say you are making a mood board for a coffee brand in Peru called “Camino del Puma”. Some obvious things to add would be images of pumas, coffee, and coffee beans. But how does this help with selecting brand colors, deciding on logo variations, creating menus, and more?


If you already have some colors in mind, add photos that include those colors or create a color palette and add them to the mood board. With a physical mood board, you can add real swatches of paint or other physical objects with colors that you like (shopping bags, birthday cards, paint swatch samples from Home Depot, restaurant drink coasters, and more).

photography, designs, illustrations

This is obvious, but get a little creative when it comes to the photos you add to your mood board. Choose images and illustrations that you can connect back to other elements you’ve already added. Going back to the Cafe del Puma example, I decided to add some photos of Machu Picchu, llamas, and incan iconography. They don’t directly relate to the coffee itself but it connects with the local culture and popular symbols in the area. Now we have a mood board that is specific to this brand alone that we can pull inspiration from.


Maybe a book cover as a style of font you like. Or you like the way Chobani’s typeface looks on their new products. Take note of what catches your eye and what you feel when you see that typeface.

descriptive words

Deep breath, peace, space, tranquility.

Bold, bitter, strong, energy.

Funky, bright, playful, rhythm.

Each of these lines convey a different mood and feeling than the other. Incorporating descriptive words can help to emphasize the way you want your brand to feel.


Don’t be afraid to add some fun textures. These can include images or drawings of water or foam, distressed fabric, nail polish, paper mache, sand, crumpled up paper, newspaper, anything.

final words

Whether you love them or hate them, a mood board is a great tool to visually organize your thoughts for a project/idea. There are no rules. You can make them fun by mixing mediums and collaborating with others. One last big suggestion, have a moodboard ready to give to your independent contractor or designer prior to a project (i.e. home remodeling, custom bridal dress, business logo, etc.). I promise you your designer/contractor will be impressed that you have one ready to go.

I hope this article helped to inspire you in some way and motivate you through your next project!

(Image by Freepik)


Jasmyn Swangel

Jasmyn Swangel

Jasmyn is a web (UI/UX) and brand designer based in the Pacific Northwest. She specializes in helping small businesses to establish their brand identity.

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