In the first post in this little branding series, I had you answer a series of questions in the Brand Styling Brief to help determine what your own brand is all about. Understanding the 4 V’s — Vision, Value, Voice and Visuals — is essential, as these start to form the building blocks of a brand, ensuring that your story, style and strategy are aligned, and every brand touchpoint is communicating the right message, regardless of what form a piece of content might show up in.
So now you’ve filled out your own Brand Style Brief, and have hopefully gone back through it and started pulling out what we’ll now be referring to as your tone words. These will not only help us to develop your brand voice and compile a brand thesaurus as we dive deeper into the branding process, but they’re also going to help us in this next phase, as we build out our own brand mood board.
Mood boards may seem like a somewhat trivial endeavor, but I believe they’re an integral part of the branding process — or any creative project, really. If you spend the time building them out and paying attention to why you’re choosing certain images, what they represent in relation to your brand and how you’ll draw inspiration from them, they can help you start to explore the visual side of your brand with more structure and provide an amazing reference point to look back on. Plus they just so happen to be one of my favorite parts of the process, so there’s that. An excuse to play on Pinterest and gather pretty pictures? Sign me up!
Creating a Brand Mood Board
Step One: Start on Pinterest and Let Yourself Run Wild
We’re going to start on Pinterest for this first step, and we’ll want to start a new (and likely secret) board specifically for this purpose.
Start exploring and pin anything that stands out to you, whether it’s a color palette you’re drawn to, a feeling that an image evokes, or a styling detail that resonates with your brand. You can do the same offline, keeping your eyes out for visual references, color samples, texture references (fabric swatches or ribbons are a favorite of mine), or anything else that feels like it could translate into part of your brand.
At this beginning stage, it’s important not to get too hung up on pinning the “right” or “perfect” images. We’re really looking to populate the board with as many photos as possible, paying attention to anything that feels right or that we’re drawn to, using the filter of our brand, of course. We’ll be fine-tuning the collection of images later in the process, so go a little wild with your pinning and let yourself wander down those visual rabbit holes. Our intention for this stage is to capture imagery that feels like what we want our brand to feel like. So think through what that means, and pay attention to the emotions that certain photos or details might evoke.
Use your tone words to help with search terms and keep in mind that pins don’t have to be a direct relation to the end result of your project. In fact, we’re really trying to stay away from looking for direct inspiration since that can inhibit us from creating our own visual strategy, and instead, we end up relying too heavily on what other people have already done. For example, think about pulling typography samples from a magazine layout, a retro sign, or a web design screenshot, color inspiration from a landscape or an outfit detail, and texture references from an interior decor image.
Step Two: Narrow Down Your Board and Make Notes on Each Photo
We’re going to start going back through your Pinterest board and reevaluating all of your pins. Ask yourself why you chose each specific image and what it represents about your brand. Does it capture the feeling of your brand? Is there a specific styling detail that relates directly to what you’d like to see in your imagery? Does it act as a visual representation of how you want your brand to sound?
At this stage, we’re trying to eliminate any images that don’t feel 100% right, so delete any that don’t make the cut. You can either do this by deleting them from your board or — and especially if you have a lot of images — you may want to just start a brand new board for your next round. Once you’re happy with where this board is, it’s time to move on.
For the remaining images, start noting why you chose each one and what it represents in the caption of the image. It might be tempting to skip over this note-taking stage since the tendency is to think that since you know why you chose it, you don’t need to actually write it down. Do it anyways, as it will help you articulate the intention behind it and start to define a language around your brand that you can refer back to.
After we’ve narrowed down the images, chances are there are going to be some gaps in content or some new ideas that have been generated, so take some time to do one more pass at finding images that will fill out your board until you feel like it’s at a good place and a well-rounded visual representation of your brand.
Step Three: Finalize Your Mood Board
Now that you’ve narrowed down your original board and ensured that each image on there is a clear representation of the direction you want for your project, it’s time to build your final board. You have a few options for this, as you can either leave it as a Pinterest board, save each image and build a digital inspiration board with a graphics program of your choice, or print off the images and build a physical mood board.
If you are compiling your mood board off of Pinterest, another thing I want you to pay attention to is how you’re laying the images out — what size each image is in relation to the rest, which images you choose to group or layer, and how the eye moves across the mood board and interacts with the overall composition. This can help you communicate even more about your collection of images and the overall effect if you pay attention to the layout and place each image with intention until it feels just right.
However you choose to build this final collection of images, remember that the idea is that this will serve as a visual reference as you move forward with developing your brand, so make sure it’s kept in a spot where you can easily go back to it in order to ensure that you’re moving in the right direction.
Step Four: Fill out Your Mood Board Exploration Workbook
As you’re going through this process of creating a mood board and are immersed in your inspiration images, I want you to start paying attention to themes that have started to emerge within the content — similarly to what we did when we filled out the Brand Styling Brief.
This is another opportunity to make notes on your images and link them back to your brand tone words and also capture new visual themes that you’ve started to notice emerge. You can do this on post-it notes if you’re working with a physical mood board, with typed or handwritten notes directly on the board if you’re working digitally (which you can see I’ve done below), or in the caption areas on Pinterest if that’s where you’ve opted to save your final mood board.
I’ve designed a Mood Board Exploration Workbook for you, which you can download here. This will walk you through the next section and give you a place to jot down those recurring themes and observations that have started to come to light as you’ve built your mood board.
Specifically, I want you to look for the following and start to make notes under each category in your workbook:
- Tone Words
- Subject matter
- Styling details
- Content themes
If you’ve gone through the process of making notes on your mood board, you’ll be able to pull a lot of these details from there. Once again, going through this exercise will help us to establish a language around our brand and identify the visual details we want associated with it. This starts to form the basis of our Brand Style Guide, which acts as a reference as we continue to build our brand style and story. In that same download folder along with the workbook, you’ll find a sample of this that I’ve put together for a brand, so you can see how I start to pull this all together and how this can be a valuable resource to refer back to.
And that concludes the visual exploration portion of the branding series, as we’ve now spent time gathering inspiration images for our brand, building a mood board to represent it, continuing to develop a language around through tone word identification, and beginning to build out our Brand Style Guide.
In the next (and final!) post, we’ll continue to develop our brand story and compile it all in one place, as a continuation of what we’ve already pulled together. Make sure you’ve downloaded the Mood Board Exploration Workbook and the sample Brand Style Guide and taken the time to work through it, and I’ll see you in the next post!
About our Guest Contributor
Paige is the owner and creative director of Studio Bicyclette, a lifestyle blog and creative studio that aims to inspire and help brands and businesses find their magic, style their brand and tell their story. Her wanderlust and ability to find and create beauty in the unlikeliest places comes from a belief in fairy tales that started at an early age, a place where imagination is a tool that can be used to tell a story, spark creativity and solve any problem. When she’s not styling a photoshoot or helping clients implement a social media strategy, you can usually find her dreaming up fancy cocktail creations, planning her next adventure or hunting for the perfect shade of pink lipstick.