Moodboards are a great way of organizing your ideas for a design project. You can simply use a moodboard as a personal creative aid, providing inspiration and direction for tackling a brief.
Moodboards are also fantastic methods of communicating your creative ideas to a client. A polished, beautiful board can give your client an immediate understanding of your style and intentions for a project, and can help to get them on board (no pun intended!) with your ideas much quicker than verbal communications could do alone.
In this tutorial you’ll learn how to put together a grid-based moodboard, and look at how you can combine images, color, textures and typography to give the board a unified, professional look.
We'll focus on how you can best communicate your intended color palette and textures for a design project, making this kind of board relevant for all sorts of design projects—across graphic design, branding design, photography, textile design and interior design.
You’ll need Adobe InDesign for this tutorial; and access to Adobe Bridge would be a bonus, though not essential.
1. Organize Your Ideas
Imagine this scenario: a client has given you a brief to give their brand a design refresh.
Before you even think about tackling the details of the refresh—for example, a new logo, brand guidelines, a new website, etc.—a first step is to communicate to the client the mood of the refreshed designs. How do you want the consumer to feel when they come into contact with your client’s brand? How do you want the client to feel about their own brand?
A moodboard needs to emotionally connect to the viewer. Your selection of images, colors, textures and typography will come together to give an emotional undertone to the board. This may sound difficult and a bit deep, but don’t worry—have a think about what you want your designs to communicate in simple terms.
In this example, I’ve designed for a fictional retail company. I want their customers to feel calm and relaxed when they visit the brand’s stores. I then thought about how to connect that emotion with what the brand actually offers—which in this (fictional!) case, is organic and fair-trade fashion and lifestyle products.
The next step is to get inspired! Browse Google Images, Pinterest, or stock image sites like Photodune, and save any images you feel connect in some way to your ideas for tackling the brief. Try to pick a range of images: some with people, some without, some landscapes, and some with plain textures or simple patterns that catch your eye.
Save them all in one folder on your computer. The images I’ve picked for my moodboard are listed below:
- Blue Door
- Blue Jeans
- Cloudy Sky
- Jungle Scene
- Winter Woods
- Starry Sky
- Magical Seashore
- Sunny Beach
- Woman in Jeans
If you have access to Adobe Bridge, open it up and navigate to your folder of images. If not, no problem: simply browse through your images directly in your Finder (Mac OS) or Windows Explorer.
Can you spot any common color trends across your selection of images? More generally, have you picked more cool (blues, greens) or warm (reds, oranges, pinks) colors? Do you have a predominant color, as well as lesser-used complementary colors? It’s fine to have a little bit of range, as long as they work well together.
In my selection I can see that blue is a prominent color across many of the images, with dusky purples and earthy greens also making an appearance. Warmer paper and wood textures help to balance out the coolness of the blues.
Take note of the colors you think commonly appear. If you have some images that don’t fit the general trend and stick out like a sore thumb, be disciplined and delete them!
2. Create the Grid for Your Board in InDesign
Now you have your set of images prepared, you can start to prepare the layout of your moodboard.
For this we will need to move over to InDesign. Open InDesign and go to File > New > Document to open the New Document window.
Keep the Intent as Print (you can export the moodboard as a digital PDF file later if you would prefer to share it online or on email), and Uncheck Facing Pages.
Select A3 from the Page Size drop-down menu and switch the Orientation to Landscape.
Increase the Number of Columns to 6 and reduce the Gutter of the Columns to 0 mm. Set the Margins on all sides to 4 mm and the Bleed on all sides to 3 mm.
Open the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and double-click on the default Layer 1 name in the panel to open the Layer Options window. Rename the layer as Images and click OK.
Back in the Layers panel, select New Layer from the panel’s drop-down menu, or click on the Create New Layer square icon at the bottom right of the panel.
Name this second layer Transparent Overlay and click OK. Repeat this process five more times to create a total of seven layers in the following order: Typography, Border, Square Grid, Diagonal Strokes and finally Circle, at the top.
Click in the blank space to the right of the ‘eye’ icon in the Layers panel, to the left of each layer’s name, to lock all the layers except Border. Click on the layer name to activate it.
Select the Rectangle Tool (M) from the Tools panel running along the left side of your screen and drag to create a rectangle that sits along the edge of the page (the trim edge). Set the Weight of the Stroke to 7 mm. You can keep it as [Black] for now—we’ll change the color later in the tutorial.
Lock the Border layer and Unlock the Square Grid layer.
We want to divide the page into a series of square sections. The vertical columns have been marked out for us already, so let’s use the rulers to build up a series of horizontal rows. Drag a guide down from the top ruler (View > Show Rulers) to the center point of the page, at 148.5 mm.
Drag a second guide down to 74.25 mm (a quarter of the way down the page), and a third to 222.75 mm.
Remaining on the Square Grid layer, select the Line Tool (\) from the Tools panel and, holding down Shift, drag from left to right to create a perfectly straight horizontal line.
Extend the length of the line so that it sits on the left edge of the page, and extends across to the right side of the page. Position the line so that it runs along one of the guides you created in the previous step.
Increase the Weight of the Stroke to 2 mm.
Select the line and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste, positioning this second line along another guide. Repeat one more time, so you have three horizontal lines crossing the page.
Select one of the lines and Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate 90 Degrees CW to create a vertical line. Position along the edge of one of the columns.
Select the vertical line and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste four times, positioning each new line along a column border, as shown, until you have a grid of 24 squares.
3. Drop in Your Images
Lock the Square Grid layer and Unlock the Images layer at the bottom of the Layers panel.
If you have Mini Bridge (versions CS5, CS6 and CC of InDesign), go to Window > Mini Bridge to open it in InDesign. Mini Bridge is a super useful little tool for browsing and dropping images into your InDesign documents. But if you don’t have Mini Bridge, you can simply use the File > Place function for inserting your images.
Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag to create a square frame that fits neatly within one of the grid sections.
Set the Mini Bridge panel alongside the document. Select an image and click and drag it from the panel, dropping it on the image frame you have prepared.
Create a second new frame using the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) as before and drop in a different image. Try to group more similarly colored images together to create ‘groups’ of color on the board.
Create a third frame two square sections in height and drop in a third image from Mini Bridge.
Continue to create new image frames, some a single square in diameter, some two squares in length or in height, and drop in more images from Bridge.
Position across the page, fitting each within the spaces allocated by the grid.
Don’t be afraid to repeat images across the board, particularly if you want to draw attention to a particular image, color or texture.
Leave a couple of squares blank, scattered at different points on the board.
4. Lifting and Applying Color
Your images are looking great! Now we can start to pull out the color from the images to give the board some extra clarity.
Open the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches [F5]).
Now select the Eyedropper Tool (I) from the Tools panel and hover over one of the images on your board.
Click once to pick up the color from the image. The eyedropper cursor icon will fill, and the color will appear in the Fill or Stroke squares at the bottom of the Tools panel.
To add the color to the Swatches panel, select New Color Swatch from the Swatches panel’s drop-down menu.
The picked-up color automatically flashes up in the window. Adjust the Color Mode to CMYK, then click Add and finally, click Done.
The new swatch has been added to your Swatches panel. You can repeat the process for other colors, using the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick them up from your images. Try to build up a palette of about five swatches to give you plenty of color options to play with.
The CMYK swatches I have used here are:
Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and drag to create a square; position it in one of the blank spaces on the board. Set the Fill to one of your selected colors, preferably one that was lifted from one of the adjacent pictures.
Create a second square using the Rectangle Tool (M) and set the Fill to a different color.
Lock the Images layer and Unlock the Border and Square Grid layers. Drag your mouse across the whole page to select the border and all the black lines on the page. Then adjust the Stroke Color to [Paper].
Remaining on the Square Grid layer, note where the white lines cross through the center of the larger images, cutting them in half. We want the lines to frame the outside of each image, but not dissect them.
Pull back the edges of the lines, using the Scissors Tool (C) if you need to cut lines to create separate sections, until you have created borders around each image, as shown.
5. Introduce Shapes and Transparencies
Lock the Border and Square Grid layers and Unlock the top layer, Circles.
Select the Ellipse Frame Tool from the Tools panel and, holding Shift, drag to create a perfect circle about 65 mm in diameter. Set the Stroke Color to [Paper] and the Stroke Weight to 2 mm, to match the grid lines.
Position the circle on the join of four of the grid squares in the top-right corner of the page, and set the Fill to another of your swatches from the Swatches panel.
Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste the circle, positioning this second circle in the bottom-left quarter of the page. Set the Fill to [None] and drop in an image from the Mini Bridge panel. Plain textures or simple patterns will work best. Here I’ve chosen a papery image.
Lock the Circles layer and Unlock the Transparent Overlay layer.
Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and drag to create a square that fits within one of the grid squares, as you did earlier when you created your image frames in Part 3 of the tutorial.
Give the square a Fill Color from your Swatches selection, but no Stroke Color.
Take the Scissors Tool (C) and snip two of the opposite corners of the square to create two triangle sections.
With one of the triangle sections selected, go to Object > Effects > Transparency. Set the Mode to Normal and reduce the Opacity to 60%. Click OK.
Place the triangle over one of the square images, fitting the edge in the corner, snug against the white grid lines. Try and match the Fill Color of the triangle to the dominant color of the image.
You can Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste the triangle a few times, varying the Fill Color, the position and rotation (Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate...). To place triangle shapes over taller images, pull up on the top edge of the triangle to stretch it out.
Return to the Layers panel and Lock the Transparent Overlay layer. Unlock the Diagonal Strokes layer, a few layers above.
Take the Line Tool (\) and hover over one of the triangle shapes. Drag your mouse down across the diagonal edge of the triangle, from corner to corner. Set the Stroke Weight to 2 mm and the Stroke Color to [Paper] to again match the grid lines.
Repeat for the other triangle shapes, so that each transparent triangle appears bordered on all sides by a white line.
6. Add in Typography
Some limited text can enhance your moodboard. You can introduce fonts and type weights that complement your images and colors, and use ‘buzz words’ that tie the images together.
Introducing typography is optional, and in some cases it may not be necessary. But let’s go through the process of how I introduced typography onto this moodboard design.
Lock the Diagonal Strokes layer and Unlock the Typography layer.
Take the Type Tool (T) and zoom in on the top left section of the board. Drag to create a small text frame that extends across the width of one of the square sections, and position it towards the top of one of the squares. Type something that sums up the color trend of the section; here I’ve typed ‘Cool Blues’.
Set the Font to De La Fuente, Size 36 pt, All Caps, Align Center, and set the Font Color to a pale swatch, e.g. [Paper].
Create a second text frame and type a single letter into the frame. Here I’ve typed ‘B’ (for ‘Blue’). Set the Font to Lekea, Size 250 pt, and Font Color to a contrasting swatch. Here I’ve used a dark blue.
You can apply a transparency to the text to make it more subtle, by first selecting the text frame, then going to Object > Effects > Transparency. Set the Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 60%.
Be sparing with introducing more text frames across the board, but a couple here and there will really help to tie together your design.
Your Board Is Complete!
Fantastic work, your moodboard is finished and it looks great!
You can export your board to PDF format for print (File > Export > select Adobe PDF [Print]) or digital circulation (File > Export > select Adobe PDF [Interactive]); or export the file as a JPEG, PNG or TIFF image (File > Export).
Let’s recap the lessons we’ve covered in this tutorial. These tips and tricks can easily be applied to your own moodboard designs:
- Consider your project brief and try to connect your ideas with an emotional response (for the consumer and/or client).
- Try to spot dominant color trends across your images, and arrange the images in rough groups.
- Use the Eyedropper Tool in InDesign to lift color from your images and create a color palette for your moodboard.
- Create a simple grid layout for your moodboard first, and place different elements of the board on separate layers to keep it organized and easily editable.
- Use Adobe Bridge (via the Mini Bridge panel) to easily drop images onto your board.
- Introduce different shapes, transparencies and typography to add interest to your board.