Moodboards: From Concept To Creation To Completion

So far, I’ve shared posts about how we use square moodboards as well as why we cut clients out of the curation process. But I haven’t gone deeper and explained how we move from concept to creation to completion. It’s one of the most common questions I’m asked, so I thought … why not share a little how to right here on the Rowan Made blog. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Now, you can’t create a moodboard without strategy. Well, you can, but it’s not something that I would advise. ;) Many designers approach this part of their process differently, and I’ve touched a bit on how we handle it right here. But basically, our goal is to figure out who are clients are, who their audience is, and how we can blend all of that into a neat little story so that they can grow and move forward in the best way possible. That brings us to step one …


Before I even think about creating a moodboard, I’ll fully immerse myself into our already prepared brand strategy. And often times (okay, all the time), this includes a handy dandy list of brand buzzwords. For example, we may be going for something that’s modern, approachable, and feminine. Or perhaps we’re going for something that’s playful, bright, and young. Whatever it is, I’ll close my eyes and begin to visualize what those words look like.

I know this sounds a little hippie dippy, but the act of closing my eyes and shutting out the world around me helps those initial concepts come to life. To help explain this, let’s go back to the first three buzzwords from above: modern, approachable, and feminine.

When visualizing the word modern, you may begin to consider a clean composition with sans serif typography. And then, when you add the words approachable + feminine to the mix, things soften, just a little bit. Maybe that means adding in a certain color. Or maybe a flowy (but still simple) illustration.

There are obviously many different ways you can go, but if you shuffle through your client’s buzzwords and do a quick gut check as to whether or not the concept (or concepts) you’ve come up with feel appropriate, you’ll be on the right track. Ultimately, this part is meant to be rough and will be refined later on. But at least instead of grabbing images without much strategy, you’ll have taken the time to put yourself in the proper mindset.


Once I’m feeling good about a client’s strategy + concept, I’ll immediately begin collecting imagery. The reason I do this right away is because I’m already fully immersed in their brand and don’t want to force any sort of break (whether it’s one hour or two days) that will take me out of it. Simply put, immersion is key. At least for me, anyway. ;)

Next up, the inspiration hunt typically begins on Pinterest. We’ve curated our account to be organized in a way that’s extremely efficient for moodboard creation. As you’ll see, we have design boards for typography, print, packaging, patterns, and more. But we also have a handful of boards that have nothing to do with design, like home, photography, nature, travel, and plants.

Moodboards aren’t just about pulling out different design elements and / or projects that are in line with the direction you’d like to go. In reality, it’s much more than that. So while we love pouring through our design boards, everything else is just as important for setting the tone. I like to think of our research (and final boards) as a mix of equal parts typography (or design elements in general), tone, and color.

To achieve this, I’ll begin pulling anything that fits within our strategy and concept. But most importantly, anything that feels right. I don’t really second guess myself at this point, since refinement happens later anyway. The end result is a truly messy artboard in Illustrator:

Okay, it’s not THAT messy. And this one is pretty tame in comparison to where I usually end up. But hey, this is the one I have for you right now, so let’s continue on, shall we?

(click image to make larger)

The above artboard is for a current client of ours that’s actually using the words modern, approachable, and feminine to set the tone. If you take a closer look (or click on the image to make it bigger), you’ll notice that the selected typography is modern, although we haven’t yet made a choice between sans serif or serif type. Beyond that, there is a nice mix of fashion, illustration, interior, and exterior imagery to help bring in the words approachable + feminine.


So now, it’s time for refinement. Or as I like to call it: controlling the chaos. And honestly, this mostly involves me dragging things around (or deleting duds) until it feels right, while simultaneously double checking that each and every pull is consistent with the agreed upon strategy. That’s important.

Sometimes, things come together quickly. Other times, I’ll find that my original pulls weren’t quite enough and will head back to Pinterest (or elsewhere) for more. It’s a very organic process ... one that I find completely soothing. It’s hard to explain what happens here other than to say: it’s one part strategy, one part “having a good eye,” and one part magic.

To keep the example train going, I thought I would share the final result from the above artboard:


As you can see, for typography, we’re still in between on using sans serif or serif and will explore that more during the actual design phase. For tone, we pulled a lot of approachable imagery that feels warm and inviting. And for color, we simply made sure that some of the type and tone selects utilized their palette* so that everything would feel cohesive at glance.

* In fact, I will go out of my way to find inspirational images that only use our client’s palette. Cohesive moodboards give me great joy (as well as an accurate vision for our clients) and random color additions do not, so there you have it.

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Now that I’ve outlined our process, I’m curious: do you handle anything differently? If so, please share your approach in the comments. I love that we can all learn from each other and I hope that this post has given you some good tips as well!

PS. Just a quick update for you all! I've finally come up with an editorial schedule for both Rowan Made's blog and newsletter. Blog post will be published on Tuesdays and newsletters will go out on Thursdays. Heads up. ;)