16 pro tips for creating and using mood boards

Mood boards are a great way to convey your design idea, explain your product and feature vision and get early feedback. Here are 16 pro tips on how to use mood boards in product management, research, marketing and design (and why not elsewhere, too).

Mood boards are a great way to convey your design idea, explain your product and feature vision and get early feedback. Mood boards are often used by designers to brainstorm designs, but also when researching, doing market analysis or simply planning your product.

I’m one of the crazy folks who constantly has some vision-idea in my head that is badly trying to get out and reach other people. Boy, do I dream of having the telepathic skills to pass along those visions. But today, we need to live with workarounds still. I also collect inspirational images and photos on designs and art on one side. And you’ll find me amongst the first users of most cool new apps and products. I keep ideas and thoughts on them on another side.

I’ve found that creating mood boards helps me to take a vision and explain it with examples what I’ve already collected. I keep doing the same when researching and doing an analysis. I often prefer to draw along with the examples as this helps to explain better, too. Mood boards are not only a design thing but can be a great resource for product management and marketing for example.

Here are 16 pro tips on how to use mood boards in product management, research, marketing or design (and why not elsewhere, too).

Find your inspiration.

Whether you are brainstorming about a new product, feature or design, it is always good to do research what others have already done, what is good out there and what’s done not so well.

1. Search around the web.

The web is an endless place for inspiration and examples. Few things to consider:

  • Google search
  • Pinterest
  • Browse different apps (ProductHunt can be your biggest friend here)
  • Behance is not only good for designers to share their work. It can be an amazing source of inspiration when working with your product.

2. Browse traditional media

Searching the web sounds always the easiest but sometimes the best details can come from traditional media, too. When figuring out the right features and requirements for an online media site, browse other online options but don’t forget to look at existing ones like newspapers, magazines and other.

3. The World around you

Everything around you is probably the best source of data and inspiration. Working on a tool to help companies to interact with their customers better – get out to meet teams and see how they do it today. Watch people reaching out to companies, see what they do (or want to do), how they feel, how they communicate. Explore behind the scenes things, too. The environment these people are in. Record the world and interactions around. Photos, videos, notes.

4. Look for emotions

We do many things in our lives that is based on emotions. We use video calling because it brings us closer and removes the feeling of being alone. Many buy apple headset, not because of the quality or the fact that they are comfortable. But because it speaks emotions and our belonging. Capture how people feel and how your product should make them feel.

Create your mood board

5. Choose the right medium

Historically mood boards have been created physically on foam boards for example. In a distributed and remote world, this might not be the best medium. I personally prefer online because it is so much easier to share with others.

6. Think about the story

Equally important is to think about the story you want to tell. Is it a simple product feature reflection, is it the feature user flow or something completely different. For example, when planning to integrate your product with Slack, you would map on your mood board what integration should be best for your product. You would map the best examples out there, and probably the worst ones. You would show the basic interactions of your users to show the use-case, why your users need this integration and so on.

Jocko Chan showcases one of his approaches to research, doing market analysis and designing car audio setup using mood boards. Read more.

7. Think about the format

Sometimes you’ll know from the start what the format should be. Maybe mindmap, maybe storyboard or perhaps something completely different. Don’t push yourself too hard in the beginning as you can move things around and change things as you go.

Using formal templates

When you need to capture all smaller details, a template might be your best option. Templates are great to keep you focused. For designs, you can create or go for a pre-created set that allows you to capture color palettes, fonts, buttons and everything that goes into creating a design. Same goes for product development where you can create a template asking all important questions.

Creating loose collages

For the visionary big picture thinkers, templates just don’t work as they create too many rules and boundaries. A loose collage enables you to capture the overall details in the completely free form.

Storyboard

Storyboards are great to explain your style and ideas for example in fashion. Storyboards typically require you to be out of the initial “I have no idea what I’m about to do” phase. Meaning you should have quite a clear picture of what, in which order and how you want to show it.

8. Choose the right tool

Knowing the medium you want to use and the story you want to tell, you can choose the best tools for you to create your mood board.

If it’s physical:

  • a foam board
  • a whiteboard
  • a wall

When going for digital, consider:

I personally have always preferred online whiteboards and today we dog food out own product for all this. Why? Many tools have a predefined format – different lists and so on. I like whiteboards because they allow free form and I can choose my own format as I progress. Sometimes ending up creating a mind map, sometimes a table, sometimes something completely different. With Deekit, we’ve made sure also that you can add all the needed types of data to support the process (read more below). And obviously sharing and being able to collaborate in real-time for feedback is important here.

9. Think about emotions

Products as mentioned above, are all about emotions. Think how your mood board can convey the emotions you want to achieve. It is important when choosing the right inspiration examples, colors and sometimes even font might be important.

10. Build around one core element

Typically you have one core idea you are working with. Be it image upload feature, some other core feature in your product, the basics of your product or else. Build around that idea and it’s always better to bring that one out larger than other supporting materials.

11. Add supporting materials

Include notes, why you like a particular product, feature, the design. What is good about it that you want to learn from. It’s always good to bring out also the opposite examples -> things that you never want to do with your product and why.

If there is a good reference on the web, blogs or in Wikipedia that explains your particular example, add that as reference note to your mood board. This way others looking at your mood board can also see the context and understand better what you mean and why.

12. Keep things “loose”

Probably the worst feeling of all is to polish something to ultimate beauty and then having to change it later. Mood boards are to collect ideas and feedback and are profound to change. Build your mood boards while keeping that in mind – simple, movable and changeable. It will change anyways.

Get feedback

13. Show often and early

Mood board can be great to gather your own thoughts but the biggest benefit of them is to get feedback from others. As lean methodology says: build, release, get feedback and learn with small and fast iterations. The same can be easily applied to mood boards. Get your first ideas in, share with others to get feedback. And continue with such iterations.

14. Include your designers and engineers in the feedback loop

You are building a product in the end and the best results come when the team is involved from the beginning. Include your engineers and designers in the conversations early on so that they understand what you are aiming for and get their feedback.

Additional resources to get you going

15. Mood boards for your inspiration

16. Other resources

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