The most common current process for developing “look and feel” for learning resources involves an interface designer basing their work around existing client design guidelines or previous pieces of work. The client is then presented with between one and three “look and feels” to approve. The problem with this is that these designs are usually well worked up and formally presented, with well-crafted interface elements, button styles, typographical layouts and so on. The focus of attention is on detail. So instead of prompting an open discussion about the tone and character required to meet the learning need, the process moves directly to making adjustments and closing off interface design issues. It is a convergent rather than a divergent process.
What is often required is a way of capturing, communicating and discussing the emotional tone of a learning experience very early in the process. Being able to do so can avoid a number of problems:
- Given the subjective nature of evaluating designs, clients often express opinions about the designs presented to them based on thoughts and feelings they are not fully aware of. It is not uncommon for an exasperated designer to remark “...but we did what they said they wanted, and now they want it all changed”. The problem here is that the client may have sensed that something was wrong, articulated it unhelpfully and sent the design team off in another direction. The client – indeed the whole team – needs a means of clearly articulating and agreeing the emotional tone.
- The tone of the learning experience may not match the learning need or the learning strategy. Re-cycling previous work, or basing a design on generic guidelines will not always be appropriate.
- If the tone of voice is not clearly articulated, the various creative individuals involved in the design and production may make their own decisions, leading to inconsistency and confusion on the part of the learner. It is not unusual for decisions about illustration style, written style, use of video, audio, and a wide range of other significant issues to be made too late in the process of design.
Television, graphic identity and fashion designers put considerable effort into researching and producing mood boards. They do this in order to develop, communicate and discuss the character of their designs. They know that what is communicated by a design is a sum of all its components, even those that people are only dimly aware of.
Andy Clarke Alex James Smith
A mood board is a collection of images assembled to express visually the potential character, tone and style of something that is yet to be designed. Images tend to be taken from a range of sources, such as magazines, photographs and books, although they are increasingly built from online image libraries. Mood boards should build a picture of the colour palette to be used, type faces, photographic and illustrate styles, and so on.
Mood boards serve various purposes:
- They give the designer or design team the opportunity to explore the brief and share opinions about the character of what they are designing. This is usually an enjoyable exercise – and one that should involve a range of people, including those who regard themselves (usually wrongly) as neither visual nor creative.
- They allow the design team to explore some of the less tangible, more emotional aspects of a potential design, and bypass confusion that may result from trying to express these aspects in words.
- When used as a basis for discussion with a client, they can be very effective in eliciting new information that other forms of discussion and communication may have missed. Visual metaphors can help to bypass assumptions, blockages and points of resistance and help to unearth deeper issues relating to the needs of the project. Further, c lients can feel more involved in the design process and often enjoy being consulted on aesthetic issues; (most are unlikely to make this kind of decision very often).
- They can provide visual metaphors for aspects of the design that trigger off further ideas for development.
There are no general rules about where mood boards should and should not be used. They appear most appropriate where there is a significant expressive or symbolic component in the experience that is being designed (such as where the learning relates to a sensitive subject or a strategic change).