Original Post at Design Packaging

At Design Packaging we use mood boards to define a visual language with each client and streamline our communication.

Because everyone envisions the terms used to define design goals differently, it’s our job to create an efficient language to avoid miscommunication. By partnering with our clients to develop a clear direction by visually defining these terms through mood boards, we are able to set the appropriate expectations for the client, and deliverables for our team.

For example if a client is looking for a “Modern Aesthetic” to branding and packaging design, several mood boards are created showcasing various interpretations of how “modern” looks and feels. This approach allows both designer and client to collaboratively eliminate anything that does not align with the vision. It also allows the client to be presented with alternatives to their original vision of what modern means. This process is then further refined by adding swipe and swatches of the approved visual language to create the final mood board which becomes the foundation for a successful collaboration.

We’ve compiled 5 simple guidelines to help you create your own rock-star mood board:


“Modern” may conjure images of apple packaging in your client, while their boss envisions concrete and steel, and images of Japanese minimalism are spiraling in your head. Create two or three mood boards with different interpretations that may extend beyond the traditional meanings of the terms to allow you the space to edit and get on the same page with your client. Not using mood boards to define terms runs you the risk of creating something polar opposite of what they had in mind. Establishing a meaningful vision, will help both of you focus on the long term outcome of the project.


It’s easy to make up a persona to fit your ideas, but in reality, they don’t exist. Dan Formosa, SVA of Masters in Branding and Speaker at HOW Design Live, says “Why invent personas for design when there are over 7 billion people in the world? Go out and meet someone!” We couldn’t agree more. Find a living breathing muse to guide you. Try to understand that person’s day-to-day life, their likes, dislikes, what inspires them, what turns them off, and their ideologies and passions. Don’t base something off your fictionalized, made-up character; reach out and touch someone.


Placing a few key words throughout your boards will not only force you to make judgment calls when adding items, but it will also help show the client what direction that mood board is taking. In addition, calling out key words or phrases under swipes and swatches can help the client understand what part of it you’re referencing.


Swiping images online is fine as a starting point, but always incorporate physical elements in your mood board as well. Yes, it’s easier to just browse Pinterest, but what you’re inevitably left with are flat images. Flat images can’t convey elements such as textures of waxed cotton rope handles, the way light reflects off metallics and foils, or paper thicknesses. Packaging is tactile – the way it feels in your hand is as important as how it looks!


Take Coco Chanel’s advice on this and “…remove one accessory”, or two, or three. Throwing pieces on a mood board just to fill it up not only looks messy, but it’s also counterproductive. Collect as many references as you can, and edit with your muse in mind while focusing on the key words you’ve set in place. Take a look at them as a whole and decide if they flow harmoniously and feel like a unit. If there’s one element that doesn’t quite fit, take it out.

Putting together a mood board is only the beginning. How you present the board is just as critical as the board itself. Guide the client and explain why you chose each element and how that swipe or swatch plays into the keywords that frame their brand. Here is where you collaboratively edit, reveal new understandings, and define your visual language. Yes, you had a creative brief or notes from the kick-off meeting, but when you share tangible items with concrete definitions, your direction and target becomes clear. Once you’ve defined the direction and edited the boards, you are able to create your final mood board against which everything can be measured.

Mood boards aren’t just to keep you on track during the design process, but also to define terms and work efficiently towards long term goals. Creating mood boards requires strategic insight, and can be a lot of work. But they are also a lot of fun to do. There are different ways to create a mood board. Find your own way by understanding the need, defining a language, choosing a muse, gathering swipe, editing, and collaborating to refine your board. This will help you create better mood boards that will avoid any miscommunication with your client.


Images Via: Neiman Marcus, Burberry, SilkScarvesTakuyo on Etsy.