January 11, 2022

A step-by-step guide to moodboarding

Theren Moodley
Theren Moodley
A decade's worth of fashion experience across; product design, development, sourcing & logistics

This guide will use our 10+ of industry experience and research toexplain the topic of moodboarding, along with some tools and tips to help you create the perfect moodboard for your next design project.

A quick rundown of the guide:

  • Physical & digital moodboards - Designers use both physical and digital moodboards while gathering their concepts and ideas, with the different medium representing a different use case at the time
  • Why do designers use moodboards - For brands and designers the moodboard represents the first stage of inspiration and start of the design journey, with it being a place to collect their content, concepts and ideas
  • The importance of moodboards - The moodboard ends up being used by other functions further downstream in the value chain, such as; product development, production, sales, marketing and becomes the visual reference for all things surrounding the brand DNA
  • What a moodboard should contain - Outfit inspiration, color palettes, themes, fabric swatches and style guides are all common items added by designers while moodboarding

Collina Strada FW23 #NYFW Moodboard
Collina Strada FW23 #NYFW Moodboard

What is moodboarding?

A moodboard is a collage of images and objects that highlights a specific visual style and feel in physical or digital form.

In 2023 a moodboard in physical form is typically made from cork, on which you can pin on your materials, while moodboard apps are created using photo-editing software or sometimes free websites that allows you to build interactive online boards.

In fashion, moodboarding is the beginning of a design process that will eventually lead to a piece of clothing being designed, manufactured, and sold to a consumer, and can include magazine snippets, photographs, color and fabric swatches and more.

For brands and designers the moodboard represents the first stage of inspiration, the visual operating procedure and the reference to all things surrounding the brand DNA.

🖼 Physical moodboarding or online moodboard maker?

There is no either or solution for physical or digital moodboards, or more accurately there shouldn't be.

When in the office or at home designers prefer large physical cork boards to add their ideas and sources of inspiration, as it's visualisation, flexibility and intuitiveness can't be matched by a moodboard app. In our 400+ interviews with fashion designers, and creatives of brands of all shapes and sizes, the physical moodboard was still the the preferred method of creation.

However, in our modern hybrid world, relying on one physical cork board is no longer viable.

Hence why an additional moodboard app, that has all the best aspects of a physical board, with some additional features is required.

Designers never know when inspiration might strike. Be it when they're walking in the park, sitting on a beach or listening to their favourite song.

Having a moodboard app that can capture that moment of inspiration is crucial to the moodboarding process.

And having somewhere to store, sort and filter through it after the event is even more important.

A folk folly fashion mooboard built with Make the Dot
A moodboard built with Make the Dot

⚙️ The moodboarding process - how moodboards are created

Now we know a little more about what is a moodboard, why designers use them, and the difference between a physical and digital board, let’s understand the moodboarding process.

Step 1: Where to look for inspiration

Inspiration comes in many forms and may strike at any moment. However, most creatives use a number of offline and online sources to find inspiration and align their design direction, from Tagwalk for catwalk images, Gem for vintage outfits, or Unspash for more a more general image library. Art, nature, music and travel are also known sources of inspiration in the moodboarding process.

Step 2: How to organize content

Ok this is the tricky part. Currently there are multiple siloed tools that allow designers to capture and store content. Phone cameras and web downloads to capture inspiration, g drive and other cloud storage options to store it and Adobe, Miro and other moodboard generators to organize it. However, non of these moodboarding tools are connected or design specific.

Step 3: How to present your ideas and themes

Now the fun part. Presenting a moodboard can come in many forms, from adding content to a physical cork board, to presenting digitally using a moodboard app. What’s crucial is that all content tells a story and explains how the collection was created. What inspired key design elements? How do they fit into the final product? What story does the collection tell? These are all key factors that need considering.

A fashion moodboard template created with Make the Dot
A moodboard template created with Make the Dot

🎨 The moodboard maker- what should a moodboard contain

Content type 1: Outfit inspiration

The board for should feature moodboarding content that inspires, and sparks imagination. Photos of professional models, social media friends, lookbooks of favourite brands, streetwear, and your own outfits and more. The moodboard is the canvas to express your creativity.

Content type 2: Separate items

If you love a particular item, add it to your mood board—even if you’re unsure what to wear with it. As you collect more content, you might notice a surprising pairing or come up with a new idea based on that top.

Content type 3: Color palettes

From fashion to wedding planning, color palettes are a common part of any mood board because they help establish a mood and allow creativity to flow. When moodboarding, save color schemes and colour codes, which will help later down the line when shopping for those specific colours or sharing them with suppliers and vendors to create the final product.

Wedding moodboard inspiration on Make the Dot
Wedding moodboard inspiration on Make the Dot

👇Why designers use moodboards

Now we know more about what is a moodboard, the moodboarding process and what it should include, let’s understand its importance in the product creation process.

More than simply a place for pulling together inspiration and using that content to create a collection, the  moodboard has become the key component in the end to end design and creation process.

A short story about a designers workflow will explain this better.

A designer spends a few weeks moodboarding and pulling together inspiration from various places into one moodboard. Text, pictures, images, and fabrics may all form part of this content. The designer then structures, organises and clusters that content, and may also add other components such as, sketches to the board.

After a little more structuring, tweaking, deleting content, and finally, the moodboard just might be ready to share with an external department.

In fashion brands this means bringing in merchandising and sourcing. Next onto the moodboard goes tech packs, pricing, point of measure information and a bill of materials. What began as a humble moodboard is now ready to be sent to a vendor for manufacturing a physical product.

Further downstream the moodboarding process continues.

This moodboard can now be shared with sales and marketing functions to influence campaigns, and the designs and themes used to create them. What colours to use (remember those colour palettes and codes we mentioned earlier) ? What materials to use? What style of text?

Finally, the stylists and interior designers join the moodboarding process. Make-up, sets, dresses and models for shops, shows and pop-ups are all influenced by the content on the mood board.

Design, Sourcing, Merchandising, Sales, Marketing and Retail. All part of the moodboarding process, using the one humble moodboard.

🌪 In Conclusion

Moodboarding and the moodboard in particular is the the glue that drives the creative critical path and workflow, with its importance to designers and brands clear to see.

The best way to better understand why designers use mooboards is to try moodboarding out first hand and give some off the tips and tricks we’ve outlined a go.

The process of finding inspiration, adding that to a moodboard, and sorting that content into themes helps participants understand the moodboarding process, as well as it's importance to designers.

Check out the other blogs linked in this article to learn more about other specific parts of the moodboarding process.

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