How is it a facilitator of the creative process and not a hassle? Is there an easy way to design an inspiration board?

Mood boards sound abstract, look abstract and feel abstract too.

Yet it’s like a translation tool that turns ideas, concepts, ambiance, notions, designs into a concrete tangible replicable menu of emotions.

What exactly is a Mood Board? Who needs them and why on earth would you spend your time compiling one? How do you put it together and what tools are there to facilitate the process?

If you ended up here, chances are, you are dealing with some form of a visual project: you may belong to art, fashion, design, filmmaking, photography, or advertising.

Whatever brings you here, we hope you find this piece insightful and such, that brings clarity to this rather ethereal matter.

While conceptualizing the mood board tool we call Boards, we’ve conducted in-depth interviews with creative industry pros to better understand what is a Mood Board and why every creative industry should use it. Here's what we learned.

What’s a mood board?

Mood board (AKA inspiration board) is a collection of mostly visual assets that are combined on a physical or digital board to help define and render the art direction of a project as seen by a client or a project member. Most commonly such boards will include textures, photos, logos, typography, color palettes, models, location references, and other visual assets that complete the feel and look of the upcoming project.
built with Heroshot Boards

Which industries need a mood board in their creative process?

The tool is extremely helpful in several industries, but specifically the ones where the visual component plays the first violin. It is also widely used in agencies where the aesthetics of the project needs to be approved by the client.

These are just some of the niches where this is an everyday term and a tool frequently used as part of the routine working process:

  • Cinematography
  • Photography
  • Fashion
  • Creative & advertising agencies
  • Web design
  • Interior design
  • Landscape design
  • Graphic design
  • Art
  • Concert & event agencies

Most interesting, that both a customer and an agency may address this technique to communicate their vision better to the other side, team, or potential hires.

Mood board types

Yep, we appreciate it’s a bit sick to categorize them, but then it kinda falls into the rhythmic order that they are supposed to bring. So depending on their orderliness, form, or purpose we distinguish the following categories:

1. By the order

  • Strict
    This means an almost academic display of all cards on the board, that are categorized and neatly arranged, ready to be presented to the client, team, or shareholders.
  • Messy
    This is quick on the fly board, which may be used to sort your own logic out and give shape to your own feelings. Messy boards are quick, informal yet hugely effective.

2. By the form

  • Physical
    If you take a canvas – be it a blackboard, a whiteboard, or a dark background and pin a few images on it – you are creating a physical mood board. It can be hanging there on the wall for all teams to come and check.
  • Digital
    It’s easy to collect visual assets online nowadays and it’s even easier to combine them on a digital canvas, share, edit, store. With mood board creation tools like Boards made by Heroshot, digital boards are probably the easiest, most efficient, and cheapest way to use the technique.

3. By the author

  • Client-facing
    Photographers, filmmakers, creative directors, stylists, retouchers, makeup artists, and art directors may use this tool to get a client to give their first initial OK on the output with the help of an inspiration board.
  • Executor-facing
    Clients, on the other hand, also may use this method of visual communication as part of their project brief.

4. By the purpose

  • Finite
    Most of the boards will be used to present a project and serve as a visual direction for your upcoming project.
  • WIP
    Sometimes an agency may create a mood board that’s a working tool and will change as the client grants approval and as the project takes on shapes in the process of idea elaboration.

Why do you need an inspiration board?

To give shape to your ideas

College dropouts are so popular for a few reasons with one of the heftiest arguments being that no theoretical preparation can compare with the skills gained in the heat of the practical field.

When you create a mood board, you go from theory and fantasies into practice, you give shape and form to your ideas.

To communicate your vision

When you say retro, most people will have different images in their minds. Minimalistic also sounds different tunes to different people.

Ascetic, flamboyant, 90-s, saturated, pastel, timid, screaming, understated, in-the-face, faded, sun-lit, underground, flashy, hipster-ish, disco all have a million interpretations depending on who you are talking to. Images define words in a manner that allows for no double interpretation.

To pitch a project to shareholders/potential hires

When pitching your idea, one usually needs to persuade potential investors or a team in the shortest time.

This is when inspiration boards have never produced such a high ROI.

They speak loudest and clearest. About the idea as well as about the team.

To fine tune and adjust the idea in the process

As teams work on mood boards they may come across some interpretations that are not accepted by some party – which allows us to bring in amendments and clarify misunderstandings right then.

To save budget

If you make a mood board as a preparation for a photo shoot, you will have crystallized all the props, models, studio, and even poses.

Such preparation will save you money on buying unnecessary things or overpaying for extra hours for expensive studio rental.

To save time

If you take up a project that involves client approval and engagement on many stages, there are lots of back-and-forths guaranteed for you. A savvy agency will spend as much time as possible interviewing a client and then talking them through a specifically-created branding mood board. This simple stage saves a lot of going back and forth later in the project.

To have a reference point & a compass

If a client wants to change their opinion of you, no force in the world could possibly divert this action from happening. If there is a technique, that could minimize the risks, though, this is to keep stock of your thoroughly-pre-approved mood board.

Once you managed to get those color palettes, photos and notes all discussed and approved, it's easy to point to that fact, when you have it all in one place.

How To Create A Mood board

Designing a Mood Board is a creative process that has a transformative value for yourself, a project, and the outcome. These are the steps that creatives from different industries go through.

Make an inventory of words, research, and documents

First, try and put the idea in your mind into words. If you are working on a client's project, go ahead and review all the documentation, like a project brief and any relevant input from the client's side.

Create a list of keywords describing the essence and emotional core of the idea. This is the anchor knowledge you may find yourself and your team coming back to.

Define the categories

It’s time to define the categories that you are going to find references for. For example, when preparing for a photoshoot, you may have categories, like:

  • Models
  • Lighting
  • Poses
  • Angles
  • Props
  • Colors
  • Textures
  • Shapes
  • Mood
  • Makeup
  • Hair
  • Accessories
  • Clothing
  • Filters & post-production
  • Locations

Add more images by the category

Now that you have all the categories, pick a few images that represent your vision in each. Start from the most important elements and move to the finest details. Don’t forget to add notes.

Most of our respondents will have picked 5-8 images to start with to leave 3-5 for the main categories and no more than 3 for minor ones, like background.

Add color pallet

Getting your color pallet right is a science in itself, that can virtually have a direct impact on the sales figures of a fashion collection. But just make sure to add your 3-7 color samples with respective hex numbers of choice to the inspiration board.

Go to sleep and come back in the morning

This is a PRO tip, so pay attention.
It’s good for any decision-making process, specifically the one, that you will use to make this world a better place. So listen and abide, Creative soul.

Always leave enough space for a morning review before you have to present your masterpiece to the eyes of the public, especially a potential client.

Go back to the board in the morning as if you never saw it before and take a critical look. If you don't feel like only a loser could have come up with what you see – go ahead and proceed with step 7. If you feel something is lacking, try and search for more images, that will click under each category.

Seek amateur and professional feedback

Before you share this visual map with your colleagues so that they can do their part of the job, try and seek some advice from friends and team members. Once you have gone through and collected all of the comments, it's fine to get back to the drawing board.

Share with your team

You have created an inspiration board and it’s time to share it with the team: now MUA can pick the right palette for the shoot, the hair artist will bring the right wig and props are going to be just what they should be.

Insights from veteran mood board creators

We’ve gathered some best practices from practicing art directors, photographers, and advertising agency gurus that may come in handy.

Capture inspiration in real world

You carry that smartphone all the time with you, right? It’s OK to stop and take a snapshot of reality that impresses you once in a while. You never know what can be used to frame your next creative project.

Be selective about visual assets you use

The more compact your resulting mood board, the more precise and better stated is your vision and aesthetics.

It’s OK to go through 200 to only pick one, it’s OK to eliminate 7 out of the shortlisted 10 if the remaining 3 best render what’s inside your head.

Keep diversity of sources

Don’t be stuck in one channel, like Pinterest, Google images, Unsplash, Or Shutterstock, for example. Keep switching between channels until you find the visuals that echo your mental image best. We’re actively building a tool for it. We call it Feed.

Categorize files to ease teamwork

In the heat of the process, you remember where things are.
But as time passes and more colleagues cooperate on the project, things get confusing. Agency work suggests projects can be passed from one person to the other one. The more organized your files are, the better it is for all at the end of the day.

Choose right tools

When designing a mood board, especially a digital one, tools matter a lot!

Even though you can keep it simple and use PPT, there are specialized mood board design tools, like Milanote, and Boards that we’re about to release. Reserve your spot on the waitlist below.

Create a visual direction for your next shoot.
Collect and organize links, files, images, and notes into shareable visual boards.

Share your experience

While we are in the final stage of the development of the Boards, we would love to hear your feedback on the concept.

  1. What features would you like to see in such a tool?
  2. What’s your favorite tool in the league at the moment?
  3. What are your biggest frustrations in building mood boards?

Drop me an email with your comments at or Twitter.