The Brandscape

One thing designers these days seem to salivate over is moodboards. If you’re not in the know, a moodboard is a collection of images, colors, and such all artfully arranged to show a client – or yourself – the look and feel of a design.

It is my firm belief that the growing use of moodboards has helped to contribute to the “blandvertising” seen in modern marketing. Designers are looking at so much of the same stuff that marketing and branding are starting to look and feel the same. Kind of counter to what branding should be doing.

I understand that the purpose of a moodboard is to get the juices flowing. See how colors and forms work together. But as a practice, this approach is devoid of context or a concept.

Should you decide to share a moodboard with a client, it is almost inevitable that they’re going to wonder why your finished designs don’t mirror the moodboard exactly. I’ve had this experience. I had a foodservice client who expected all the finished photography to look EXACTLY like the comps originally presented. By darn, if there was a blue stripe on a plate, it had better be one of the finished photographs or you can reshoot it at your own expense.

I also believe, from a creative perspective, moodboards are lazy. Truly artificial intelligence. Any knucklehead can go out, cut and paste a bunch of stuff they like, and present it as their work. It is a very vapid way to show your thinking because the end product only shows the designer’s preferences and tastes.

On the other hand, I do like the format of a moodboard. Seeing lots of forms in a live environment rather than a sterile museum space provides context when evaluating the work and helps to reach a solution faster. For instance, a logo looks very different seeing it on a plain white surface than seeing it on a letterhead, on a mobile device, or on the side of a building.

Also, how do messages and the brand’s language work with visual treatments?

For my clients, I like to build them a more powerful version of a moodboard. I call it a brandscape. It shows different expressions of the brand in ads, collateral, digital, whatever is a likely place for the designs to roam freely. Marketing messaging and positioning are included, too. This technique shows the brand’s look and feel in action. Gives them a real sense of their work out in the wild.

For designers, it becomes a North Star. As a client engagement goes on, the brandscape is a good measuring stick to see if you work we are doing still works with other pieces. Or it can show us if we need to adjust.

Getting to solutions quickly is great. So is consistency. But the true value of this approach is originality. The brandscape is not about what works for other companies but rather how individual companies can present themselves with their unique point of view.