The Mood Board: A designer's best friend

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In a recent episode of Bravo TV’s The Fashion Show, fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi instructed contestants on the importance of the mood board, a collection of images that will inspire a particular project. For Mizrahi it was various sketches, fabric samples, color swatches and photographs that indicated the direction of his upcoming collection.

For web and graphic designers, a mood board can play an equally important role in the design of an upcoming project. Sometimes inspiration comes naturally, but other times designers are just left to stare at the wall until an idea materializes. To help facilitate the idea process, every designer should keep a digital mood board. Instead of fabric swatches tacked to a wall, a digital mood board can be a computer folder filled with images saved from the web, scans from magazines, or photos taken by the designer. Whenever you are in search of inspiration, simply scroll through the collection images, pulling a few aside until you have an idea of what your project will look like.

For example, for the Flash project A is for Audio: The ABCs of Multimedia, I wanted an antique look but wasn’t sure how to bring it to life. So I pulled aside the following images and invoked the spirit of Sesame Street and the Golden Books series.

And here is the result:

“A is for Audio: The ABCs of Multimedia”. Click image to view video.

For a previous iteration of my personal website, I looked to my digital mood board for inspiration…

And here is the final result:

Inspiration does not always have to be a collection of images. For example, a Flash animation created for Entertainment Weekly on Kanye West was inspired by a flat infographic scanned a year earlier.

To start your own digital mood board, grab a camera and take photos of anything that interests you, rip out and scan pages from magazines, or use screengrab software to save your favorite web images. Start at sites like FFFFOUND! and Smashing Magazine which feature incredible design.

Another designer’s work should never be copied in whole (that is plagiarism and a sign of a bad designer). Instead, look to your mood board for inspiration and remember originality trumps a copy any day.

Also on 10,000 Words:

How to select the right font every time
How to design for a computer other than your own
Multimedia Picker: Choose the right medium for your message