“We need a moodboard and some interface samples.”
This is the deceptively simple start to a project for designers. You may have a vision of an artist sitting down with a blank piece of paper and creating a masterpiece out of thin air. For us regular folk, though, a clean slate is both exciting and terrifying.
A moodboard sets the style for an entire project. It comes before screen design and is referenced throughout the design process. Typically, it doesn't have any concrete, specific components, like a header or page view. Rather, a moodboard contains the colors, fonts, and other bits and pieces that are used throughout all the screens or web pages. Trying to come up with a beautiful design from scratch is a daunting task, so I make sure to follow a few steps to make it more digestible.
1. BREAK IT DOWN
A blank moodboard can be terrifying, so it’s best approached in small chunks. Which fonts? What colors? Patterns? Illustration styles? What kinds of buttons might look good? When you get some of the individual elements figured out, you’ll often find that the overall picture starts to come into focus. Or, I may already have a small part of the moodboard decided on, such as a font the client requires or an illustration style that looks gorgeous. When I put this font or illustration in the moodboard, it’s no longer an empty void. I can then base the next moodboard piece, such as a color palette, on what I just added and slowly put the pieces together
2. LOOK AT BRAND STANDARDS
Brand standards are an important asset for designers. They provide a lot of helpful information for the moodboard, such as required colors or photography. Even if I choose not to follow them, brand standards can give insight into a company or serve as inspiration. The decision on whether or not to stay true to brand standards depends on two considerations: how strictly you need to follow them, and if they fit the goals of the project.
Even in projects that have strict branding requirements, it’s often possible to break standards in some way that the client loves. This may be as simple as using a new pattern or as complex as reinterpreting a photo standard with line drawings. Sometimes, the brand is so vivid and beautiful that it’s already perfect for the project. But other times, we find that the project will benefit from its own branding and identity in order to function as its own product.
3. CONSIDER THE AUDIENCE
In addition to brand standards, I always research the audience for the project. Every group of people will interact with designs in a different way, so it’s important to consider all the options. One group may prefer something more simple and straightforward, while another may love complexity and interactivity.
4. GET INSPIRED
A designer’s best friend is inspiration. This can come in all shapes and sizes, from web design mockups on Pinterest, to paintings in a museum, to fabric patterns. A designer’s mind tends to start buzzing when surrounded by interesting images and innovative layouts. Get those elements cooking, and you can combine them to create something amazing.
5. START INSIDE THE BOX, AND THEN BUST OUT
When starting a design, I’m usually more conservative with my ideas. I need a secure base of operations that I know is based on classic design principles. But once I have something roughed out in PhotoShop, I start getting weird. The final form may end up being revolutionary, or it may be expanded to something beautiful that stays inside the box. It doesn’t always have to be revolutionary—it has to look great and function great for the particular project.
6. TRY EVERYTHING
This may seem counterintuitive. However, knowing what doesn’t work is almost as important as knowing as what does work. There have been plenty of times that I have deliberately designed something in a way that I doubted would look good. And most of the time I was right; it looked like a grease fire. But sometimes, a weird experiment ends up setting the tone for the entire project. You never know what will work until you try it.