UI Mood Boards - Designer's Guide for Project Alignment
Get started with UI mood boards, collections of visual ideas that serve as the foundation for your project, and how to use them to communicate your vision and create alignment.
July 9, 2021
If you're a designer, you know the importance of finding methods and best practices for how to communicate your vision for a project and create alignment.
Whether you're working directly with clients, on internal design teams, or ensuring that the brand or business is communicated to the world effectively, communicating your initial vision will set up your project for success.
But how do you accomplish this?
We believe it's through mood boards.
A design mood board is a great starting point for any design project and can serve as a visual reference as well as provide a space for spring-boarding additional ideas throughout the project.
To put it simply, it conveys the look and "feel" you are going for.
In this article, we'll cover:
What a mood board is
Why they are important
Why you shouldn't skip out on making them
Best practices for mood boards
Popular apps & tools
Tips for creating mood boards
Video format available
Want to learn about the benefits UI mood boards while you work? This article is also covered in the video below.
What is a mood board?
A design mood board is a collection of visual ideas that serve as the foundation for your project.
Here are few other defining characteristics:
Provides a holistic visual landscape
By providing the big picture, it gives the opportunity for collaboration among team members and stakeholders.
Visualizes look and feel
Having a mood board adds visual clarity to verbal communication. Sometimes there is more clarity in showing than telling.
Speaking of clarity, the mood board sets direction and vision for your project, ensuring everyone is on the same page from the beginning.
“Mood boards serve as a fundamental transition between an initial thought and a first draft.”
Why mood boards are important
Establishes alignment early
Providing this holistic landscape opens the door for collaboration among team members. When everyone can see the direction visually, and provide input, it lays the groundwork for cohesion going forward. Plus, seeking feedback early and often during the mood board process will ensure that everyone is on the same page with the vision for the project.
This helps both parties to achieve alignment early on, which eliminates the potential for the designer to present solutions that are off-target.
“Mood boards are the first visualisation of a client’s vision.”
- Hollie Arnett
Use your mood board as an opportunity to explore a variety of directions that could work within the guidelines outlined in your project brief. Experimenting with different combinations of shapes, textures, colors, typography, and interactions can help to differentiate your solution from the competition.
Fleshing out possibilities now will allow you to streamline your workflow and tackle your tasks with a clear direction as you transition from the ideation phase to the design phase of your project.
As you create your mood board, keep track of the sources you've used and any passing ideas that come to mind. These tidbits of information may be useful as you collaborate with your client/stakeholder to establish a clear look and feel.
This will also help well later on in the Ideation and Design phases of your project when you're creating features.
Consequences of skipping out
Do you need to go through all this trouble? We say yes - here are the risks if you don't:
Lack of clear direction
Clarity on direction is key. When it's lacking, it can create frustrations for both the designer and the client resulting in a negative project experience.
When the visions are not aligned, opportunities for confusion arise between the designer and the client, which may result in discrepancies - and extra work.
When time and energy are wasted rehashing vision and trying to get realigned, it presents a lot of unnecessary challenges - which could result in increased time and budget.
“The mood board is able to maintain plurality and autonomy while also directing and aligning. It thus balances the seemingly contradictory challenges of organizing creative people.”
-Endrissat, Islam, Noppeney
Best practices for mood boards
Make the process interactive
Many popular tools for mood boards integrate features like comments and sharing. Be sure to utilize these in your process often as a way to gauge how your client or stakeholder feels about the elements as the vision comes together.
Additionally, encourage participation from your clients or stakeholders - ask them to provide visual examples of likes and dislikes.
If you want to take things to the next level, choose a collaborative tool with a low barrier entry to create your mood board. This will allow even the least tech-savvy to participate in this process.
Gather ideas from multiple sources
While we all love Dribbble and Behance, there's plenty of places both online and in real life to diversify your inspiration sources. Follow creatives on social media and save their work for later.
Be aware of your surroundings - design is everywhere.
Use your mobile device to capture inspiring packaging or end-cap displays while out shopping. These can spark ideas for texture, hierarchy, color, and typography. Incorporating these moments can be a way to add some personal flair to that curated collection of Dribbble shots.
Popular mood board apps and tools
Below is a list of some of our favorite tools for creating mood boards -