9 Things Most People Don’t Know About Mood Boards

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What’s going on here is not “mood boarding”, but it’s closely related to it.

What is a Mood Board?

A mood board is a type of visual presentation or ‘collage’ consisting of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition.

It can be based on a set topic or can be any material chosen at random.

A mood board can be used to convey a general idea or feeling about a particular topic.

They may be physical or digital, and can be effective presentation tools.

wikipedia, 2021

Is moodboard mood board two words or one?
We’ve got you covered.

1. Mood Board is Two Words

words text scrabble blocks

We have skateboards and whiteboards, so why not moodboards?

No reason. In fact, I’ve personally used both interchangeably.

According to the top search result authorities out there on Google search (Wikipedia, Canva, Adobe, etc.) mood board is, in fact, two separate words.

That aside, many designers I know (and even some top search results, such as those of Masterclass and some commercial mood board apps) go with the compound word version.

The bottom line?

It’s safest to go with two words.

The best reason I can give for this is that it is EASIER TO READ.

Another reason is that ‘alternative versions’ of the name “mood board” seem weird when put together, so why do it with ‘mood board’ only?

This brings us to our next point!

2. Mood Boards are Known by Other Names

Ah yes. Like any really broadly useful tool, mood boards are used in so many different ways that it makes sense that they’d sometimes be known by different handles.

Here are some of the most common names for “mood boards” that are either used interchangeably or may be confused with them:

Alternative Names for Mood Boards

NameIndustry or User TypePrimary UseMedium
Mood boardGraphic design, interior design, photography, industrial design, fashion designFor compiling the initial ideas for a project and setting the “tone”Photographs, magazine tear sheets, both digital and physical
CollageArtists, hobbyists, crafts peopleCreative expressionBoth physical and digital media
Vision BoardEntrepreneurs of every profession, individuals from myriad backgrounds, with a large range of divergent interestsInspiration and personal goal-setting, macro “planning”Pinterest boards, digital boards, photo collages, magazine tear sheets, compilations of a variety of media
Look bookFashionUsually a finished product for presentationUsually photography, printed or digital
ScrapbookArtists, hobbyists, crafts peopleCompilation of ideas and visual resources, creative expressionOriginally photographs and physical media. Often inspired by the idea of creating something beautiful from “waste”
Digital versions are usually referred to as mood boards
Sample boardInterior design, decorating and construction, sometimes fashionCompiling materials for visual study and later approval by clientUsually physical, however, where this is not possible, digital may be substituted (considered inferior)
Direction boardInterior design, especially digital or virtual interior designA combination of mood board and sample board which is created specifically for the clientPhotographs and color palettes, sometimes product images.
Usually digital

3. Designers Use Mood Boards for Themselves More Than for Clients

happy multiracial women working on gadgets in floral store

We’ve all seen those beautiful boards put together by designers to sell the client on their design idea.

Presentation of the final design concept by an interior designer or design firm is an important occasion, and they prepare for it well in advance.

After all, the adoption of the design and the future direction and success of the project, not to mention funding, depend upon it!

What most people fail to see, however, is the work that goes into the development of that final concept, which is eventually shown to the client.

Before the client ever sees a single color swatch or materials palette, designers go through many “versions” of their initial idea.

The very first “mood boards” are often only for the designers working on the project. Before the client sees the first “mood board” or “direction board”, the designer may have already done several, based on the initial consultation.

It’s usually only the best ideas that make it through to the client.

This means there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes when developing a creative idea. What might appear as “magic” is actually a very deliberate process.

Mood boards: A designer’s best friend.

4. Conceptual Boards and Presentation Boards Have Different Uses

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Concepts are cheap; presentations ‘concrete’.

In the “conceptual” phase designers are usually spitballing ideas. There are no wrong answers, they just go with whatever inspiration happens to strike.

There is usually a “brief” (a leading idea or set of requirements), which is either based on a design questionnaire or is a result of a “discovery session” with the client.

As long as the designer’s “inspiration” is in line with the brief, all ideas are fair game.

On the other hand, the presentation board or “sample board” usually shows up at the tail end of the design process.

Instead of simply being the visual representation of a bunch of ideas, a “sample presentation board” has already gone through several iterations, and is much more likely to hit the mark.

In this way, that early mood board can be seen as more of an exploratory exercise.

After a major presentation, if the designer has done their job right the design is usually approved by the client.

Sometimes minor changes are requested.

Conversely, when it comes to early-phase “mood boards”, it’s not uncommon to discard them completely and start over.

5. Designers Use More Than 5 Different Types of Boards

faceless woman with photos on papers creating collage on parquet
Photo by George Milton on Pexels.com

In design school we primarily used two types of boards:

  1. Mood Boards (Whole concept)
  2. Sample Boards (Materials)

As explained in the previous point, the mood boards come first, way earlier in the process, and the sample boards come later.

The sample boards are generally used as presentation boards, but material samples are not the only type of board which may be presented to a client.

Other types of final presentation boards may include:

a) materials sample board, b) fabric sample board, c) color scheme board, d) furniture and fittings board

The difference between mood boards and sample boards is that mood boards are “concept” boards, concerned with the overarching idea behind the design and the mood to be conveyed.

Schematic” boards, on the other hand, are concerned with very practical materials and products. These are the visual specifics of the design, without getting into the detailed schedules and tables used in the business.

Direction Boards

A “direction board” (often used in residential design) could be a combination of mood board and sample board. It would be an overall bird’s eye view used for visual presentation of an entire scheme.

A good direction board should combine concrete elements from the mood boards (items the client has approved) combined with key color and material samples (often also pre-approved by the client).

Sometimes floor plans are included in direction and sample boards.

The interior design professional work process is really emphasized in interior design school. If there is interest from readers I will write more about it in the future.

6. Interior Design is Not the Only Profession to Use Mood Boards

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I’ve venture to say that almost every type of designer that deals with aesthetics creates mood boards as a part of their work process.

Professions where mood boards are frequently used include:

  1. Advertising
  2. Architecture
  3. Art Direction
  4. Fashion Design
  5. Graphic Design
  6. Gaming Design
  7. Industrial Design
  8. Interior Design
  9. User Experience/User Interface Design
  10. Website Design

7. Mood Boards Can Be Physical or Digital

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It’s fairly obvious that mood boards can be digital these days, but for old school designers, digital mood boards are the “new kids on the block”.

I try keep a good mix of physical and digital media, both in my personal workflow, as well as that of my business and design work.

Magazines are the reason scrapbooks exist, and it doesn’t hurt to keep some real tear-sheets around.

Even a physical vision board definitely has its place.

Ultimately, it comes down to your personal preference and what you personally have available.

There is one major caveat.

Remember sample boards? Well, it’s best to keep them real.

Not only is it better to have real samples in order to get a feel for the material, color or pattern, but for commercial projects it’s usually expected.

When it comes to actual conceptual “mood boards”, however, digital is the standard these days.

I still sometimes think about the early distance-learning interior design students from my design school who used to conduct their entire course by correspondence.

These students had to submit their tests via snail mail.

This meant that students had to mail heavy sample boards overseas, and the turnaround time on a test was easily a month.

Luckily for me, by the time I enrolled the program was fully online.

I think we can all agree that even though digital hasn’t fully upstaged physical, it is just so nice to have the option these days!

8. Presentation Boards are “Evolved” Mood Boards

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We touched on this topic in our fifth point, “Designers use up to five different types of boards”, but this point can stand on it’s own.

A mood board is a reference point, while a presentation board is more of a destination.

As explained before, the final presentation board may contain some of key early imagery or conceptual details upon which the physical design scheme was based.

So think of those presentation boards as evolved mood boards.

They have been through all of the iterations, the back-and-forth between the designer and the client, and they are close to realizing what the final design will be.

Mood board, sample board or “presentation board”, can we just agree that boards are a wonderful way to bring together all of the elements of a design in a way that can help us to envision something that is not yet realized?

Remember that construction is expensive, so all of the details and planning should be worked out long before any actual renovation or design implementation is done.

A designer’s job is to help you envision what will be long before it actually is.

9. Anyone Can Mood Board

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Mood boarding is easy!

Just throw some random design inspiration together on a page or in an art program, and you’re good to go.


When I say that anyone can create a mood board, I say that with the understanding that most beginners need a little direction getting started.

My point is that really anyone can learn how to create successful and useful mood boards, whether that is for themselves personally, or for a creative project.

Mood boards are one of those things that almost become addictive once you start using them.

Like bubble diagrams and mind maps, they are one of the design tools that I will probably continue to use for the rest of my life.

Mood boards can even be something of an art form (hello, collage?)

If you are a highly visual person, (You remember things better when they are presented visually), a mood board habit could be your way to level up in your creative life.

If you’re not doing it already, I encourage you to try it out for yourself.

As the old saying goes, “You won’t love it ’til you try it!”.

Final Thoughts

Although this is not a “mood board”, I wanted to show you how I use boards to help me remember visual information. I converted a list of common home DIY tools and equipment into a visual board that is something like an illustrated encyclopedia. Because I had to find the images and compile them myself, this ends up being a kind of note-taking that can help me to remember my list better than if I simply copied and pasted it, or wrote it down. How’s your visual memory?

If you are new to mood boards, or new to mood boards for interior design specifically, you might still have some questions after reading this.

What are some easy ways to create mood boards and tips for starting out?’, for example.

You’ll be happy to know that I will be writing another article with my best tips on how to mood board in the near future.

In the mean time, feel free to ask any questions you may have related to creating or using mood boards below so I can do my best to answer them in the next mood board installation.

Happy designing!

Wanna know more about using a mood board in a real life project? Check out how mood boards can help when planning, below:


Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

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