The ultimate guide to mood boards

When you’re beginning to work on a big project, it can be difficult to imagine what it will look like or how to get started. Setting the tone with an array of imagery, graphics, and ideas can help stimulate creativity and get you in the mood to pursue your project. Enter mood boards.

It’s said that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and that’s partly why mood boards remain popular and effective tools for creatives. In this guide, you’ll learn all about mood boards, including the tools and tips you’ll need to create your own mood board with some expert guidance from content creator and influencer Allison Bickerstaff.



What is a mood board?

A mood board is a collection of imagery, text, and other elements that evoke emotions, drive concepts, and help create themes visually. Individuals and teams can use them to gather inspiration for decorating a space, planning an event, sparking ideas for a logo, and much more.

Mood boards are an excellent starting point for the creative process as they are not yet a full commitment to an idea. While they started as paper creations, people can now create mood boards digitally to cut down on costs, share easily with others, and even integrate interactivity, leaving behind the days of stagnant posters and allowing for more engaging, immersive designs.

Mood boards help form brand identity and personality before diving into the design process. As a collection of concepts and thoughts, this collage can inspire your whole team to come forward with ideas and inspiration. Creating a visually appealing collage of goals and dreams can pave the way for inspiration and the next steps to achieve your goals.

Mood boards emerged decades ago as actual boards and are still relevant today because they encourage a visual, tactile connection at a time when many people — especially younger generations — are seeking more physical spaces and experiences in a hyper-digital world. Mood boards can function as fun, interactive, useful first drafts of a project. They can often scratch our aspirational itch and allow us to dive into something despite our perfectionist tendencies.

How do I make a mood board?

Making the magic happen in your personal and professional endeavors doesn’t occur overnight — through the trial-and-error process of creation and collaboration, plenty of ideas will come and go. A mood board can help you nail down basic concepts that bring your project to life.

Your mood board is a great way to focus on current goals and address goals you may have pushed to the side. The following basic steps will walk you through the initial process of mood board creation — no paper or glue required.

Start with a solid foundation

Once you have the green light for project kickoff, your mood board sets the, well, mood for your project. You may even want to create multiple mood boards for more complex projects to highlight different stages or elements of the project.

Create a crystal clear vision

A mood board is a collection of various ideas that encourages exploration, but it should also make clear what the end goal of the project will look like. If you or anyone else working on a project feels lost, you can always refer back to the mood board to remind yourself and others of the original intent of the project.

Make space for collaboration

Putting your ideas into words is an important part of the creative process, but some concepts are difficult to describe. Visually conveying ideas is an inclusive form of project collaboration that provides fewer limitations than writing down or verbalizing them.

Involve everyone in the ideation process

Whether working with clients or on your own, sharing the project layout early on can keep everyone on the same page. Creating one or a few different mood board options can prevent you from redoing work later on because you had a different idea of what the client’s intentions were for a project.

Source: Adobe Express

10 tips to make an effective mood board

It’s one thing to know how to make a mood board, but it’s another to strategize what will be most effective for you. And, if you’re working with others, think about what imagery they can understand and relate to so they can execute the project using any imagery available.

Allison Bickerstaff is a content creator and influencer who shares her daily errands, DIY crafts, baking creations, travel vlogs, and digital templates in sunny videos that brighten her followers’ social media feeds. She started off her content creation career at The Walt Disney Company and later became a lifestyle YouTuber and content creator, showcasing her everyday life for her hundreds of thousands of fans. Bickerstaff is constantly trying new things, sharing fresh ideas, and reminding others to find joy in the little things. She loves creating mood boards for the parties she hosts, places she travels, and lifestyle she wants to share.

Bickerstaff has been making mood boards for as long as she can remember. She recalls creating them with her mom in school on large poster boards. The classic poster mood board has evolved over the years, but the goal of collecting photos, visions, and dreams has remained the same.

Today, Bickerstaff’s mood boards focus less on specific goals and instead highlight overall lifestyle, habits, and rituals.

“This year [I’m] focusing on staying rooted in inspiration and just establishing a really healthy life in all aspects,” she says. “So of course, with physical health, but also mental health and just creating a pace of life that is joy-filled and slower paced, not go, go, go frantic, just very peaceful.”

The following tips can help you make the most of the mood board ideation process.

1. Work ahead

Rather than relying on other people’s designs, you can set the pace and save yourself some work down the road by using your own original designs and color palettes. While outside inspiration can be helpful, it may not be necessary for your current project.

Maybe you’re creating new branding materials for yourself or a client. You can create a mood board using different elements you have designed yourself to showcase the overall style and theme of the branding without having to rush to make the final product because you will already have some of the materials completed.

2. Make multiple mood boards

Creating a few mood boards can be helpful for larger projects that have multiple elements with different aesthetics. For example, if you’re creating a business with a restaurant connected to a speakeasy, perhaps the speakeasy has an entirely different aesthetic than the restaurant. While they’re owned by the same company and share similar elements, the two will provide different experiences.

It’s also a good idea to create more than one mood board if you’re not certain what the client’s expectations are, giving them plenty of options that increase the likelihood of finding something they like.

Bickerstaff creates a variety of mood boards, including a general one for the whole year, boards for different events, and some for travel adventures. Having the visual aspect of the mood board helps her to think about what she wants the feeling of the event to be — for example, is this vacation going to be more adventure-focused or laid back?

3. Assemble the aesthetic based on attributes

Mood boards aren’t limited to graphics and illustrations of things that will actually be included in the final project. Use them as a chance to consider certain words, phrases, or colors that come to mind when thinking of a brand. A mood board lets you think of qualities a brand has — Bickerstaff’s personal brand, for example, is calming, peaceful, soft, and warm.

“Something I pretty much always have on my mood board is some sort of ocean or beach scene,” Bickerstaff says. “To me that just automatically calms me and represents peace, which I feel like is always something I’m reaching for.”

4. Seek the source

Looking at original pieces that come from the place, time period, and aesthetic you’re trying to create with a project are the best sources of inspiration for creating a relevant, accurate, and consistent design. Say you’re in the process of creating a Y2K-nostalgic clothing and accessory brand. Bringing in butterfly hair clips, old university photos, and glossy, metallic materials can help you stay true to the trends of the generation while creating a cohesive brand.

Bickerstaff’s first mood boards used old-school magazine cutouts, and she will still use clippings from fun catalogs, postcards from her travels, or other souvenirs she picks up along the way. But she also likes to make large digital collections of inspiration, and Pinterest and Tumblr are her go-to platforms.

“Pinterest is our best friend, right?” Allison says. “It’s just so helpful to have that resource with thousands and thousands of images, and you have that searchability aspect, so it makes it seamless and efficient.”

5. Ignite your imagination

The elements in your mood board don’t have to relate to the project at hand. Their inspirational approach lets you pull from a variety of resources — from monumental mountain ranges to marvelous makeup brands. The visionary elements you choose can steer the direction of your design without remaining in the same category.

Mood boards are evolving designs that will likely change throughout the project process. Inspiration may strike when you least expect it, so be sure to have a quick method for yourself and your team to easily add ideas whenever and wherever they happen.

As a visual person, Bickerstaff gravitates toward imagery to gather inspiration and finds that looking on picture-heavy social media platforms like Pinterest is more “life-giving.”

6. Organize the chaos

Once you have all the pieces in one place, it’s time to tinker. You can arrange your mood board ideas into a hierarchy that shows the importance of each item, play with the shapes and sizes of the imagery you’ve used, or overlap items as you see fit. Take your time to experiment with different arrangements to create a mood board that clearly states your artistic vision.

7. Take notes

While your mood board is a collage of visual arrangements, your presentation of the mood board shouldn’t be lost for words. If you’re presenting the mood board to others, you may want to include some notes about the thought process behind the different elements in your board.

8. Collaborate with colleagues

Sharing your ideas and gathering other perspectives from friends or colleagues can help bring ideas to the table that you may not have come up with otherwise. Digital mood boards are especially great for multi-person collaboration as they’re easy to share across devices, locations, and time zones. Having multiple sets of eyes and ears for your project gives you a better shot at impressing your co-workers and clients with a consistent, cohesive collage of ideas.

To keep the ideas and projects growing, say yes to constructive criticism. Remaining open to suggestions will ensure an end product that meets your client’s or your own expectations. It’s better to have help catching an issue early on than scrambling to fix the final product.

A project’s needs can change, or maybe your vision doesn’t line up with that of a colleague or client. When a pivot is required, Bickerstaff recommends doing everything you can on your end to adjust goals as needed, let go of aspects out of your control, and be flexible in the process.

9. Ask questions and pause for reflection

For Bickerstaff, mood boards have given her an opportunity to reflect on her goals and plans. In looking at past and present mood boards, she can think about what she wants her future to look like.

“You’re just able to take that moment to pause and really ask yourself, What am I working towards? What am I hoping for?” Bickerstaff says. “In our society and day-to-day life, it’s so easy to just live each day — do the same old, same old.”

Bickstaff suggests considering questions like “Why do I have these goals?” and “Is there anything that I could improve or work on that I want to incorporate in my life?” Asking these simple questions and exploring the answers — whether on a personal or professional level — is crucial to developing a great mood board.

Mood boards can spark lively, engaging conversations between colleagues and invite valuable perspectives. At the same time, Bickerstaff feels that not every element in a mood board needs to be deeply discussed or examined.

“It doesn’t have to be letting out your heart’s desire, you know — [it can] be more surface level, too,” Bickerstaff says. “I think it’s just freeing for someone entering into the space, even if they’re not sure how deep they want to go.”

10. Keep your goals in sight

Keeping your mood board in a place where you can easily access it will serve as a constant reminder of your goals. Bickerstaff suggests keeping your mood board in a location where you will see it often, as it’s easy to get distracted and lost in day-to-day activities. If it’s a digital mood board, you could set it as your desktop wallpaper.

Bickerstaff gathered with friends for a Dream Planning Party at the beginning of 2024 to set goals for the year, and they created mood boards in the form of paper bookmarks. Each morning, when she has her journal time, she can easily refer back to them and reflect on her 2024 intentions.

Mood boards then and now

Mood boards were first popularized by fashion designers like Coco Chanel and Dorothy Draper, who publicized the interior design mood board in the 20th century. These designers, like their predecessors, used a variety of elements to showcase their artistic vision. Now, designers, advertisers, business owners, and other creators implement mood board production as part of their ideation process.

From immobile to immersive

While physical mood boards are still alive and well, digital boards provide an easy, efficient option for individuals and teams to present ideas. And, with the rise of AI technology, a simple prompt can spark a spur of concepts that leads to endless possibilities for creativity.

With a smarter and more useful toolset available than ever before, what once was a paper collage glued together can now be ideas brought to life in an immersive digital experience, quickly turning a little idea into a large reality.

Say you’re a business owner trying to come up with ideas for how to paint your walls and what decorations and furniture to add to your retro-themed clothing store. A quick search for “retro-themed colorful wall with a retro couch in front” in Adobe Firefly could give you an idea of the patterns and colors you may want to consider.

No longer limited to magazine cutouts, fabrics, and a glue stick, the virtual world is at your fingertips, and the elements you imagined are able to quickly become a reality.

Opportunities for meaningful collaboration

Collaboration has always been an essential part of project advancement, but in a largely digital age, many of the spaces for groups to share ideas have changed. For Gen Z and Generation Alpha specifically, some of these collaborative opportunities are becoming less common.

Even with digital convenience becoming the norm, younger generations are still frequently choosing in-person experiences over digital ones. One survey found that 70% of respondents preferred a hybrid work model over being fully remote. Younger generations are looking for mentorship and collaboration opportunities to learn and grow, and mood boards can satisfy the need for teamwork and relationship building.

Humans survive and thrive in communities, making social connection essential for our well-being. Research shows that social connection remains necessary for positive cognitive, mental, and physical health outcomes. A mood board brings together people and ideas, whether digitally or in person. It satisfies our biological need for community and connectivity and leaves room for people of different ages and stages of life to contribute.

Mood board magic with Adobe Express

In Bickerstaff’s mind, trying to make a mood board “realistic” is counterintuitive because the exercise of creating one should move you out of your comfort zone to “reach for the stars.” Even if you fall short, it’s a chance to learn and grow.

“I think that’s just a byproduct of life and the human experience,” Bickerstaff says. “Of course, you can have all the dreams in the world, but life has curveballs.”

Similarly, even with great ideas and expert tips, your mood board won’t be flawless or final at first. And with the best digital tools, it doesn’t have to be. You can create, re-create, iterate, and improve as much as you want — until you’ve got a collage of creativity that’s unique to you and perfect for your project.

Finding a platform that can provide the backdrop for inspiration and functionality makes the process of mood boarding much easier and more enjoyable. With a wide selection of templates, fonts, and imagery, Adobe Express makes your first steps simple. Express offers a free mood board maker with all the tools and templates you and your team need to create a polished, professional, and personalized place for ideas. It even includes generative AI features that can amplify your search for designs and images, change text effects, and more.

You can also enter a prompt on the Adobe Firefly website and gather inspiration from high-quality images, text, and color palettes. Simply type an idea using more than 100 available languages to generate images, transform text, add or remove objects, and more. Firefly offers multiple variations of the prompt you use, giving you plenty of inspiration to add to your mood board.

From small concepts to big ideas, the mood board you had in mind can become a beautiful reality in minutes when you harness the power of Firefly generative AI. Go from stagnant to stunning in just a few clicks. Explore all that you can do with the Express free mood board maker tool and Firefly today.

Try Adobe Express today