AT WHAT POINT ARE
MOOD BOARDS NO LONGER
JUST FOR INSPIRATION?
I didn’t spend as much time on Instagram last month as I normally do. It’s my last semester of graduate school and I’ve been focusing the last few months not only on my thesis, but on planning a series of programming a new org for Black designers that I founded at Parsons. Black History Month has been quite eventful this year. And, I was online long enough to notice that in the midst of all of the historical black references, politics and racially-charged gaffes by major fashion houses during fashion month, the fashion industry seems to be fighting internally in a battle that manifests on the runway: the fight to stay relevant in a new age of fast fashion. Prevalent in this race is the advent of mood boards. The traditional mood board method, or inspiration board, is used way for designers to gather and organize ideas when conceptualizing for a new project. Generally, this involves using clippings and photographs of the work of others and arranging it into a collage or Pinterest board that helps to communicate the direction to ones self, team, or client.
Pinterest has been one of my favorite tools to keep track of some of the aesthetic breadcrumbs I like to gather from around the internets—my favorite images, art and design snippets captured forever on my own personal thought archive. I even filmed a tutorial about how I like to use it, here. Mood boards are not necessarily a bad thing; they are helpful when trying to describe an idea that isn’t fully formed, or when trying to give creative direction to a photographer or editor. Yet, while I’ve been in graduate school, many of my professors have expressed their annoyance with Pinterest. I’ve actually begun to use Pinterest less and less when I hit creative roadblocks because these roadblocks are natural to the creative process. Much creative progress has made from building on discoveries made by others, it’s fully okay to be inspired by another’s work. But, referencing an idea and copying it are two different things.
The mood board becomes especially problematic in our current times, when everything seems to come instantaneously and with minimal effort throughout our phone screens. Today’s unnatural and unsustainable pace of creativity requires a constant churning of product. In reality, takes time to realize a creative concept and to execute it brilliantly. It also takes a ton of planning, testing and refining to perfect it—and if a user grabs a few finished products and fully-formed ideas, sews them together and repackages them as their own unique when in reality only a hodgepodge of another person’s ideas, and when only color, texture or setting was changed, the cruel and damaging cycle of infringement rears its head. When a designer hits a creative road block, we tend to turn to mood boards. It’s not much different than citing a source from a book, but that’s the tricky thing: books provide much needed context, and citing sources is required. There’s so much floating around the web and social media that goes uncited, and reposted, without giving proper credit to designers.
I chose to attend Parsons in because I wanted become an interior designer, and strengthen my conceptualization through inspiration I found firsthand and from my own brain, and not from browsing finished works of artisans that had taken many hours months, years, and even decades to perfect. The problem with Pinterest (and with mood boards in general for that matter) as much as I enjoy browsing and pulling together a nice cohesive collage, or sharing posts from my favorite users on Instagram, this dependence on referencing others’ work is that it reduces the craft of discovery to mere screenshots. Mood boards provide no real context about the design process that it took an artist to compose individual works, and at worst give permission for designers to lapse into laziness—focusing too much on trends and sometimes even literally duplicating others’ work (subconsciously, and consciously at times, unfortunately), to an extent where inspiration is no longer the goal, but with others’ work becoming a crutch on which to lean on.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand, I love to keep track of my favorite work on platforms like Pinterest or in mood boards. But really, the old school way of execution is always better: collecting inspiration through experimentation, testing and refinement. Even if it takes longer than we think it should. As designers, let’s challenge ourselves to be original, and true to our own unique voices, as often as possible. Because that difficult and grueling work is what pushes design forward. And, if we have to use a mood board, let’s give credit where it’s due.