The terms “mood board” and “inspiration board”– along with “vision board”, “story board”, and “boring board”– are being tossed around these days like petticoats in a costume drama (OK, I made up ‘boring board’).
While they are similar, in terms of being a tool used by creative people as a reference for their work, there are some distinctions that I think are ignored when people use the terms interchangeably.
(Caveat: I am a big word nerd, and abuse of vocabulary causes me to twitch and foam at the mouth. Perhaps I was an elocution coach, or a Catholic school teacher in a past life… Forgive me.)
I’m going to try to outline a basic definition of what an inspiration board is (and therefore, what those other boards are not), and give you some concrete ideas for making them.
What is an inspiration board?
An inspiration board is basically a collage of images, words, and objects (fabric, trims, paint chips, packaging, etc.) that a designer has collected and wants to organize and keep at hand as a reference for a project they are working on.
It can be in the form of a paper poster, a bulletin board, a digital graphic, or a video. Really, any visual medium. Papier mache sculpture. I don’t know.
It’s a way to organize your references and research to create a framework for your design.
How is it different from a mood board?
Moodboard by Julie Gomoll via Evernote
I haven’t yet found a clear mood vs. inspiration definition, but here’s the best way I’ve distinguished them so far:
A mood board sets the mood – a style, feeling, emotional scenario, ambience, presence, context—for whatever the final product will be.
For example: Soft or hard? Grungy or clean? Dark or light?
An inspiration board is more specific and visual—a collection of visual references that are the starting point for elements that will eventually show up in the designed product. In this case, there is a more literal connection between what shows up on the inspiration board, and what ends up in the final piece. It would include things like photographs, illustrations, screenshots, color swatches, words, shapes.
So the mood board gathers all the research and images of how the product will make you feel, and an inspiration board gathers all the reference points for what the product will look like. Mood board: woo-woo, conceptual, feeling, psychology. Inspiration board: details, colors, forms, texture, lines. The mood board should influence what goes onto the inspiration board, and the inspiration board should respond to the mood board.
Who uses inspiration boards?
Inspiration boards are used by fashion designers, stylists, architects, interior decorators, hair stylists, artists, writers, wedding and event planners, and many other designers including: web, graphic, car, jewelry, shoe, game, movie set, costume, make up—even pop stars, apparently.
A digital inspiration board I compiled for a past photo shoot.
I use inspiration boards in 3 ways:
to loosely frame the look for my design work, which will end up in my Etsy shop;
to communicate with a photographer to decide on the theme and aesthetic for styling photo shoots, and then source the looks;
to suggest new outfits and shopping lists to my personal styling clients.
(I have also made “vision boards”, as a sort of New Years' ritual, to help me focus my intentions and goals for a new year.)
Why is an inspiration board useful or helpful?
Rather than fighting the paralysis-inducing blank page or screen, an inspiration board is an intuitive way to brainstorm, organize, and play with your research.
Words like “new, cutting-edge, modern”– or my fashion favorites, “edgy, romantic, sexy”—mean different things to different people. As a visual tool, an inspiration board can be much more specific.
When you’re working with other people everyone can get on the same page more easily.
This is especially helpful in any kind of team environment, or if you have the idea, and are hiring people to carry out the work (home remodeling, etc.).
You can make small changes, or completely change direction, without already having invested a lot of time and effort in starting the actual design work.
And it serves as a reminder to keep you on track as you get into the project, rather than going out on a tangent and having to do a lot of revision to come back to the original concept.
Are inspiration boards only for pro designers?
Inspiration boards can be used for
home decorating and remodeling
personal development and goal setting (known as a “vision board”)
therapy and social work
packing for a trip
theater and film (a “storyboard”)
dance and choreography
How do you make an inspiration board?
The old fashioned way. Use repositionable glue to tack items onto poster board, or use a bulletin board or piece of foam board to pin items down, like magazine tearsheets, photocopies, fabric, etc.
Digital graphic (for web or print)
Picasa - Google's free photo editor and photo sharing site (like Flickr). It's got a feature to create image Collages, either using a template or your own layout (choose Picture Pile– that's usually how I make mine).
Gimp* – an open source (free and customizable) program based on Adobe Photoshop
Photoshop* - the industry-standard (and pretty expensive) software for creating graphics and editing photos
Image Spark – free cloud-based (web-only) collage program. I like this as a tree-free option. Share with colleagues via a link to your board.
Polyvore - fashion and shopping-centric collage service. It comes pre-loaded with images from shopping sites, but you can also upload your own to share with the "community". Share via a link, or embed on your blog.
Pinterest – a web-based image-collecting service, with features similar to Tumblr (following, re-posting, etc.). It's still in beta, and invite-only, but I got mine within a couple of weeks of requesting it.
Tumblr - the new-new-hotness in blogging. Very simple blogging platform especially suited for photos and images. It's still new and very wonky, with lots of bugs and downtime.
Start a private blog – all of the blogging platforms have an option to keep your blog private. I recently started a private blog with a photographer as co-author to help us plan for a detailed photo shoot.
MosaicMaker* – upload your photos or images and use their templates to create a really basic collage for print or download.
Essential tools for web and digital boards
UPDATE 2/24: Just found out about this other web-based photo editor, Photoscape, from a fellow IFBlogger – read her post.
ScreenPresso – the holy grail of image-obsessed web surfers (or maybe just me). Download this little program to your hard drive to clip any screenshot– basically, take a picture of anything that shows up on your screen.
Picnik - Like Picasa, another free, web-based photo editor (recently acquired by Google), with cutesy "stickers", "frames" and other features, in addition to basic photo editing tools.
Dr. Pic* – free online photo editing.
Evernote - a really helpful web-based service for taking notes, organizing pictures and text, even just filing and categorizing links you would otherwise bookmark. If your computer crashes, your stuff is still safe. Download their toolbar button to make the process painless.
Microsoft OneNote – a similar program to Evernote, put out by Microsoft. (I think it comes standard these days with the pre-installed Microsoft Office programs on PCs.)
*I have not actually used these services, just passing on the link or recommendation I found during my research.
DISCLAIMER: As far as I understand, copying and editing images for your own research and inspiration is perfectly legal. Claiming licensed/copyrighted images as your own, altering them, or reselling them in any form is generally frowned upon. Always be sure to find out the licensing and copyright info for any image you want to republish or sell. Any trouble you get into for misusing images is your own responsibility, not mine.