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Moodboards Demystified

Moodboards Demystified

Whether seasoned veterans or starry-eyed entrepreneurs, we take our new clients through a step in our process that we call the “moodboard.” Other agencies or industries might have their own approach to moodboards, so we wanted to explain what the moodboard means to us. There is a ton of value and insight to be gained in this relatively brief exercise, which might not be apparent at first glance. We truly think of it as an essential piece of the Sussner roadmap that helps us consistenly achieve successful outcomes with our customers.

Before starting a moodboard we conduct our research phase, followed by a period of distilling our learnings and findings to usable, objective and inspirational information. Think lots of test tubes and bunsen burners.

A key piece to come out of this step are the “Desired Brand Attributes”—a short list of words that when combined, begin to establish a personality and differentiate our customer’s brand identity from that of their competitors’. In later steps this is the foundation for a lot of elements, such as brand language, logo and user/customer experience.

In the DBA exercise, the words we are looking for are adjectives that could also be used to describe a person. Humanizing the brand, product or service—giving it a voice and a face—makes it easier to develop a coherent identity. And while editing the list can be a challenge, the fewer words the better.

Here are the desired brand attributes chosen for three of our actual customers:


Notice that in all three examples the client wants to be perceived as approachable or relatable. But we start to draw insight from how that combines with other words in the list. There is a difference between: Approachable+Dependable – vs – Approachable+Curious – vs – Approachable+Cool.

It’s also worth noting that none of these words describe the client’s industry, product or service. Can you tell which of these is a fitness company, which is a printing company and which is a consulting company? We don’t yet need to explore how we communicate services or products on a tactical level. This is about personality. We want to know whether the peanut butter is crunchy or smooth, not how much protein it contains. We’ll get into the fine detail but it’s not our focus during this step in the identity process.

Once we have this lofty, ultra-descriptive DBA list, we start to translate its intended meaning into the visual realm. What does a Professional, Dependable, Responsible entity look like? We consider both the design aesthetic and the lifestyle. What car would best represent that desired personality? Which textures and patterns fit the image? What does our client want their audience to think their team, office or culture look like?

Hope you’re not dizzy…this is supposed to help eliminate confusion! Let’s take a look at some examples of the actual moodboards built from the DBA lists shown above, to help illustrate how this visual collage might come together:

These collages create a sense of the intended personality for the customers’ organization. Nothing from the collage is meant to be part of our final design deliverables. They are found images, colors, textures, patterns, shapes, foods, illustrations and/or typography that collectively give a sense of the creative direction for the new identity. We recommend the client take a step back, blur their eyes a bit and just take it in for a moment. Then we talk through reactions that the moodboard elicits, reviewing each of the specific images in turn, comparing the collage to the list of DBA words.

We do not “present” the moodboard, but instead use it to have an informed conversation with our customers before getting too deep into the creative process. Discussing the moodboard helps us show our customer that we understand how to achieve the desired tone. The moodboard can be thought of as the visual companion to the project brief. In the words of many customers, it ensures we are on track with the new “look and feel” for the brand identity.

So how does it inform the logo and identity design? Here are the logos that came from the moodboards and DBAs shown above. The intended personality comes through and is emphasized in the other graphic elements that we create to complement it, forming a full visual identity system. Each client identity should transform the audience’s perception, more accurately and authentically representing the product or service. The change should capture the attention of the client’s ideal customer more effectively.

The moodboard doesn’t take long to create, but it is monumentally helpful and preempts a lot of conversations that should be had at the project outset, rather than several weeks into design. It might not make complete sense to the client at the time, but if they come along for the ride, it ensures a smooth ride for everyone involved.