Whether you are planning a small event or opening a small business you would want to make it stand out. You put your time and effort into it and you probably hope it would be remembered easily. This is only possible if you have a plan and a strategy to bring it to life (in addition to all the excitement you have and can’t wait to share).
While any project includes realistic logistics you can’t start with too tight limits. On the other hand, you do need a framework within which you will stay and make your project coherent and flowing.
Let’s consider a few practical tools to start any ‘blank page’.
Mood boards (or take a step further and combine your work into a Brand Guide) are your DIY ‘blueprints’ that dictate the project’s aesthetics.
(If you are short on time but in need of a clean and professional look for a small project check out this branding mood board templates from Amber&Ink That can save you [a lot] of time and provide a more comprehensive project look than Pinterest or Canva. This brand board, in particular, is budget-friendly and very simple to use.)
Mood board and Brand guide elements:
- Design elements like graphic images associated with your brand. They may be as basic or complex as you wish but the idea is that they need to be understandable signage for your brand (like a stick figure in a dress or pants represents restrooms without a need to put an actual word ‘restroom’ on the doors [these elements you can reuse in various forms to enrich anything from your website to printed collateral while staying recognizable without having to use your logo or name all the time].
At Couloir we use them on our packing tape, complimentary coasters (that we include in each order), stickers, social media, etc.
- Fonts [any project or brand will need a set of complementary fonts with a clearly defined hierarchy to use for the name, headlines, quotes, and paragraph text. This is also relevant if you have any physical branded elements like stickers, cards, labels, etc.] Fonts need to follow the style you are going for - there are classic, casual, bold, comic, elegant, etc. fonts you can choose from.
For a little inspo here’s a TEDx Talk video about font creation.
Find endless free or paid fonts at Creative Market (which come in various formats and tend to have one-of-a-kind styles) or free Adobe Fonts (which you can sync between all the Adobe apps.
- Color palette [the general color theme helps to create and explain the character of your brand, event, or project. Color is one of the most crucial elements of mood boards. Color communicates directly with our subconsciousness and manifests whether it is a formal event, surfing get-together on the beach, sustainable brand, traditional restaurant, or Easter family gathering. Ideally, you would want to collect a set of contrasting colors with different uses in mind. Think backgrounds, logo, text, and accents.] Here is color pairing explained (in a nutshell) article.
- Relevant images or photography which can be organized in form of a collage or as a mood board grid [this is important for two reasons: it is a great way to show all the above elements in real-life applications (like a photo of the branded packaging which would include colors, fonts, patterns, and other design elements, or a mock-up of the interior design of the room or, say, a restaurant that you developed the mood board for. It could also be a copy of the invites or business cards). On the other hand, photos can serve as a guide to the style of the future visual material. This would include which filters if any were used on the photos - a more faded retro look would have different vibe than a vivid high contrast high definition image or a bright clean photo with dominating white space. If you are planning to use a lot of visuals along with your brand or project this part is really important and will help a lot in case you decide to outsource or collaborate with co-creators. You can also use your brand colors as filters when working on images to extend your recognizability even further.]
- White space [space (or its absence) creates the rhythm that you want to keep consistent throughout the whole project. Is it a crowded eclectic theme or a clean minimalistic style with a single accent? You will have to think about spacing when choosing the fonts, organizing mood board elements, or even the photo content. Is it a photo with an open background and a single palm tree or a crowded table filled with colors and textures?
- Speaking of textures [like patterns textures have a wide application and should be coordinated with colors and patterns. Remember ever ordering photo prints or business cards? Do you prefer matte or gloss? Well, that’s the very basic choice you have to make. But textures can be relevant in anything from the physical products to the imagery choices. Is it a slick modern style with hard highlights and shadows or a soft fuzzy and full of half-tones and details?]
In addition to different materials, textures can vary throughout the mood boards. You can make it a statement or use textures as background to a more subtle character to your styles and designs. Check out this paper background texture that comes in multiple colors and can work for anything from business cards to invites to Instagram promo templates.
- Patterns [you may or may not use patterns to provide extra subtle context to your visual story. Like colors they communicate the characte. Is it a vintage style event, modern company, or minimalistic ‘clean’ brand? Patterns may be a part of the background or own a high contrast and act as design elements on their own. Your chosen colors can help set these differences in place.] Here’s an organic abstract pattern bundle for you to check out.
- And most importantly the mood board and a brand guide has to include your name. It is listed last even though you probably had a name for the project or an event in the very beginning. Working on it last however can help to create the best ‘sum-up’ of your board. By this time you will have a good idea of what color will best represent the project as a whole, how big should it be, and how much ‘negative space’ should accompany it. You can use one of the fonts you have chosen or edit it to avoid having your ‘name look’ easily copied (if your project is on the bigger side or more long term investing in the unique name font that is still coherent with the other fonts you chose is a good idea).
Another tip is to think of the name (and a logo for that matter) in terms of printing: it should ideally have the most complex variant (the one you can print at large scale) and the simplest form (think when your name or logo is printed among others at the bottom of a flier or a tight space on the website). This should also consider color vs black and white look, and ‘light on dark’ vs ‘dark on light’. Textures and colors can also come in handy when working on this.
To summarize think of your mood board as an alphabet that you will use to create your project's language. Which tone it will have? Where do you put accents? Is it an emotional and expressive quick-paced language or a flowing and extravagant one with plenty of sophisticated twists and elements? Or is it a headline style bold and simple language that says ‘what you see is what you get? Is it an enigmatic foreigner or your next-door neighbor?
Finally, sometimes when starting your work on ‘what your project is?’ it helps to define what it isn’t. If you don’t know where to start thinking of it in terms of associations. For example, if you are planning your home office design: it should be open NOT claustrophobic, bright NOT dark, modern NOT classic. Or the other way around: “the event I am working on is not formal [this eliminates a lot of formal elements like fonts, dress code, invitations, decorations] but casual, it is not a dark theme but bright [opens the doors to consider bright themes like beach, music festival, hot-air balloon rides, spring, etc.], it is not a huge gathering but a small family get-together”.
One of the best antique sculpturer Michelangelo once said that creating a great piece of art is basically taking a block of raw material and eliminating all that is unnecessary. I love this approach to any project. After you collect enough ideas - think about how ultimately important each of them is and refine your list again. Just because the ideas are good on their own doesn't mean they complement each other and work great as a whole.