Using Mood Boards when designing a brand identity

Here today I don’t use Mood Boards as part of my usual logo design process.

I have however, seen other designers use them successfully, and it’s made me curious… am I missing a trick?

As always I like connecting with other designers who have been successful with different tools and approaches. This time, I reached out to super talented graphic designer, Mariah Althoff, who uses Mood Boards frequently and states that they are an integral part of her logo design process.

After chatting with Mariah, she’s kindly shared her thoughts and wisdom on Mood Boards with the Logo Geek community! Enjoy.


Why and How I use Mood Boards in my Logo Design Process


For a long time, I believed mood boards were just a trendy, unnecessary, time suck.

I thought they made Pinterest pins look extra nice and added a fun element to your portfolio pieces, but other than that, I thought what’s the point?

To me, it seemed like just a lot of extra work for something pretty to show off. I had no idea how they could actually influence the logo design process or what they were even really used for.

Fast forward a couple years later and as it turns out, mood boards are now an integral part of my logo design process! Because of this, I want to demystify the misconception that they are a useless time-suck, and instead let you all in on what makes mood boards a useful tool for me while working with clients.


Why design mood boards for logo and branding projects?


I had been designing logos for a few years before I ever started implementing mood boards. However, I also was never formally taught an actual logo design process – not in school, not at my job, not ever. Therefore, for a long time, my logo design process was essentially to meet with the client, start sketching and then make some logos – that’s it.

However, as I think back to those times, I realize now how many more clients weren’t fully satisfied with their logo designs right off the bat and needed several more rounds of revisions, in comparison to my clients now since implementing my current design process.

These extra revisions were typically needed because either the client didn’t fully know what they wanted or what to expect, we never set a clear vision for the final outcome, or I didn’t fully understand what they were initially envisioning or vice versa. However, I found that utilizing a mood board clears up any and all of these differences.

It wasn’t until I started freelancing and decided to create a logo design package instead of charging hourly, that I thought maybe this mood board thing was worth a shot. Turns out, it’s worked wonders for my logo design process. Although it does take extra time, I ended up with fewer revisions and happier clients – a win-win for everyone! Here’s why it works:


1. Shows clients my ideas visually instead of just verbally

From the last few years of working with clients, I’ve realized that phrases like “modern” or “sleek” can mean something entirely different to me than it does to a client.

Sometimes as designers, we forget that our clients don’t notice the visual world like we do. Therefore, just talking things through doesn’t mean they will understand what we are envisioning (or that you even understand what they’re envisioning).

Designing a mood board has been a great way for my clients to visually comprehend what we previously talked about and show them an overall mood and visual concept of what I’m envisioning for their brand.

Mood Board Example 1

Mood Board Example 2

Mood Board Example 3

2. It acts as a great check-in point for my clients

I’ve found that a key way to reduce the number of logo revisions needed (or even forgo them altogether), is by building in multiple check-in points with the client throughout the design process – a mood board being the biggest. It’s one-hundred times easier and faster to change the mood board concept than it is to change finished logo designs.

By having this key check-in point, your clients are able to give you feedback on the direction you plan on going with their logo before you even start sketching. Alternatively, if they love the mood board, you’ll be that much more confident while presenting your final logo designs in the end!


3. Helps develop a colour palette

Not only does the mood board allow for a general, overall design aesthetic, but for me, it’s also a great way to choose a colour palette.

By choosing colours that already appear in your mood board to act as a color palette, you’ll ensure that your final palette matches the overall mood of the brand. Plus, you can also now double check these colors with your client before designing a logo around them.


4. Gives an overall direction for the rest of their brand

Although initially, it serves as inspiration for a logo design, a mood board is also a great reference tool for any other branded pieces that follow. Whether that’s a website, social media graphics, brochures and flyers, etc., all of these can and should be based on the aesthetic of the brand’s original mood board.

A logo design itself can only say and do so much for the direction of the overall visual brand. Having a mood board to reference is a great way to develop matching designs and further strengthen the brand identity.


How I use mood boards in my design process


1. Talk to the client

First and foremost, you need to talk to your client and get an idea of what they’re looking for, as well as gain a basic understanding of their business, brand, and audience. I personally use a brand questionnaire that I’ve developed in order to go through these key talking points and ensure that we cover everything I’ll need to begin designing.


2. Gather inspiration

Most of you probably already have this as a key step in your design process – I know I always have! However, this is also conveniently the first step in putting together a mood board as well.

I personally gather design inspiration by putting together a secret Pinterest board with all of my inspiration ideas and images. If you would rather save all of these images in a folder on your computer, that works too! The point is, you need to be finding inspiration and saving it all in once place.

I suggest finding anywhere from 30-50 images, ranging from relevant photos, fonts, patterns, textures, and other designs.

Here’s where I find most of these images:

  1. Pinterest
  2. Free Stock Photo Sites
  3. Portfolio sites like Behance or Dribbble


3. Identify key trends and moods

Once you’ve gathered enough inspiration, it’s time to identify any key trends among the group of images you’ve selected. Maybe a specific color palette shows up several times or everything you’ve pinned has been super sleek, clean and all include tons of white space. Whatever these trends are, identify them and use them for step four.


4. Choose the strongest images and put them into a mood board

Once you’ve identified these key trends, it’s time to choose the strongest images to use for your mood board. I suggest choosing the following:

  • A few relevant photos that depict the overall mood and feeling that you want the to portray
  • A font example
  • One or two patterns or textures
  • One or two images of other relevant designs that fit this mood and inspire your visual concept

Choosing a range of images to display will give your client a good grasp on what they’re signing off on and will also give you the opportunity to gain some beneficial feedback before you even begin designing.

And that’s all there is to it! As you can see, mood boards can definitely go beyond just looking pretty in your portfolio and instead can act as a successful tool to use in your logo design process.

If your clients have been requesting several revisions for your logo designs lately, a mood board may be a great step to add into your design process. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!


Podcast Interview with Maria

To extend the conversation around mood boards I interviewed Maria for the Logo Geek Podcast. You can listen here…

Mariah Althoff Graphic Designer

About Mariah Althoff

Mariah is a freelance graphic designer who specializes in branding and logo design. She helps entrepreneurs unleash their inner Beyonce by creating a flawless visual identity that stands out from their competition. She works one-on-one with clients, as well as runs a design blog for entrepreneurs, bloggers, and marketing managers who are looking to create their own logo and visual branding as well as develop their own graphic design skills.

Find out more about Mariah and her work here: and follow her on twitter @mariah_althoff.

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