Proven Need

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Kickstart your branding using mood boards

Felicity Morse

Digital Designer, do-er and maker of things

As a startup one of the most important things you’ll need to do is to build a strong brand. There will be an array of people interacting and influencing your brand such as interns, designers, developers and marketers. This is why it's important that everyone understands the general brand tone. By going through a mood board session early on - before any designs have been created, you can ensure that everyone has a better grasp on the brand vision. This prevents disappointment and lofty invoices arising from miscommunication.

Key takeaways

  • A mood board will save time (and money) in the long run;
  • These sessions ensure everyone’s understanding is aligned, leading to a strong, consistent brand that everyone supports;
  • Provides focus on the question: “is my brand right for my customers?”;
  • It will be useful to all stakeholders, from intern to front-end developer.

What goes into a mood board?

A mood board is a tool that begins to outline the direction that the brand and style of the brand will take. It’s usually a combination of colours, typography, images and treatments. It’s the best way to initiate conversations around the brand with the startup. Things that are usually included:

  • Colours
  • Typography
  • Layout
  • Imagery
  • Photography
  • Styles/treatments
  • Icons
  • Patterns
  • Textures
  • Buzzwords

moodboard PF

Why is a mood board important?

Inconsistency in a startup is a given, it’s the nature of the beast. There are early mornings, late nights, random dogs in the office, lots of trainer/shirt combinations and an abundance of coffee/sriracha. Mixed throughout all of this, just like that wheatgrass and kale smoothie you’re about to ingest, there will be endless explaining as to what your startup is about to A LOT of new people. Exciting stuff.

Your brand however, needs to be the anchor for all of this. Being able to identify with and be true to who you are as a brand is essential. This is why it’s so important that in these early stages there’s a focus on collaboration between your startup team. Everyone involved in the startup is encouraged to share their voices and visions and this is best captured with the use of a mood board. When it’s the designer that decides who you are as a brand, it doesn’t resonate as truly as when the startup has more involvement. Collaborating in this way leads to them understanding any decisions made. This is what keeps the brand strong, proud and undiluted.

Whilst the mood board is by no means the finished product, it begins to mark out what your brand has the potential to look and feel like. It also allows us to quickly visualise and explore multiple tones to see whether it aligns with what the customer would want from the brand. The mood board is just the beginning of developing that powerful brand consistency we all desire. Though it doesn’t set any certain rules, it’s a necessary step you need to take to create brand guidelines that everyone agrees on.

moodboard 3  

It prevents any miscommunication.

A mood board session opens up discussion early on, before any design has been created. Vocabulary describing design direction can be the downfall in building a brand if it hasn’t been discussed and thoroughly understood beforehand. One person's interpretation of a word can vastly differ from another's take on it. To get a better understanding of the startups’ design and brand preferences, we collaborate with them to collect an array of images, graphics and styles that they may like. This will help to explain their vocabulary choices. Then when it comes to the mood boarding session we are quickly able to filter through what fits and what clashes - sparking the conversations that need to happen before any significant time has been spent on design.

Another added benefit of mood boarding at an early stage is we are able to understand whether the decisions are being informed by the startup’s personal preference. Really, any decision needs to be based off evidence rooted in target customer expectations from the brand. We discover these wants and needs by conducting user research and building personas earlier on, yet another invaluable step. At the heart of it all, a fulfilled customer is one that will become a repeat customer. That’s the dream.  

moodboard 2

How do you create a mood board?

You can create a mood board digitally or using the good ole’ fashioned cut and stick method, whichever you prefer. It also makes it easier to vote on whether something should be included if it’s on paper. So the first stage is to gather inspiration. This can be from websites and magazines, through to photos that you’ve taken when you’re seen something inspiring. At this stage it is very fluid and more about discussion, so don’t hold back - even if you’re unsure bring it along. If anything this helps the process as you can all understand why that wouldn’t quite fit in. This is NOT a final design, more of an indication of how the brand and design direction may evolve We then all collate what we’ve found and launch into a filtering technique. We go through the stages of:

  1. Gut reaction to what everyone thinks the brand should be,
  2. Toned down,
  3. An extreme,
  4. A middle ground - to see what would be best for the customer.

Through discussing this, everyone involved gets a voice and also builds a common, shared understanding of the brand that they will be championing.

  edge - moodboard (1)  

Everyone should be there.

We encourage everyone involved in the startup to be there for the session. This should be as collaborative as possible, so we invite anyone that wants to have a say. So if you’re a startup with a growing team and building your brand, this mood boarding session can save you a lot of time and frustration. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking of it as a random cutting and sticking exercise, the benefits of having the discussion and debate and the shared understand that results from it are invaluable.

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