Defining Design Terms: Vision Boards vs Mood Boards vs Concept Boards

For the first installment of Defining Design Terms, I’m covering “boards”. You hear the terms vision boards, mood boards, concept boards, material boards… clearly interior designers love boards! But what does each one mean?

It’s always good to be prepared when hiring a professional, in any industry. That’s why I’ve shared my tips on hiring an interior designer. But I also see a lot of confusion among clients surrounding some of the terms interior designers use. It’s helpful to know what these terms mean prior to embarking on a design project – the more you know, the more smoothly the process will go.

Vision Board

This is what I ask my clients to create prior to our initial consultation. No, I’m not putting them to work creating a presentation for me! A vision board is simply inspiration the client has gathered in anticipation of the project. It could be a Pinterest board, it could be photos ripped from a magazine, it could be a piece of fabric, or a drawer pull that caught their eye at the hardware store. Anything that gives me insight into the client’s personal style, which will then allow me to design a space they will love.

Defining interior design terms sample of a vision board inspired by Cape Cod

Sample Vision Board

Mood Boards

Not all designers create mood boards. Typically these are used in large scale commercial projects when the design process will be multi-phased. A commercial space can take months of planning just to come up with the concept. The mood board allows the designer to show the client what the “feel” of the space will be, prior to sourcing materials or furniture. Mood boards could be images of cars, buildings, nature, fabrics, colors… anything that shows a cohesive look and allows the designer to create a concept for the space. As a residential designer, I typically skip this step and go straight to concept boards, but here is a sample mood board:

Defining interior design terms sample of a mood board cape cod inspired

Sample Mood Board

Concept Boards

This is where the designer presents the complete concept, including the name of the project, to the client. I like to come up with unique names for each project, something that tells people what it is in one cohesive visual.

For example, the “Casual Cape Cod Retreat” was a finished basement of a Cape Cod bungalow. The family was going to use the space as a relaxation zone. The owners wanted a cozy, casual, welcoming space. When I presented the concept board to the client, it had the name of the project along with sample furniture, colors, fabrics, lighting, and accessories. The clients then told me what they liked and didn’t like, which allowed me to refine my plans and create a custom design for them. After a few tweaks to the concept board, I began the design phase of the project.

Interior design terms sample of a project concept board

Sample Concept Board

Materials Board

The final step of the creative part of the design process is the materials board. This board is presented to the client along with all of the other design drawings and images. It shows the materials, furniture, accessories, and colors that will be going into the room. Any item I plan on using in the space gets placed on the materials board. Sometimes the materials board looks nearly identical to the concept board and other times they look nothing alike. It all depends on what the clients decided during the concept consultation. Once the materials board and other drawings are approved by the client, the fun part can begin: putting together the space!

Defining interior design terminology different types of board sample material board

Sample Materials Board

Is there a design term that has you confused? Let me know, and I will cover it in a future installment of Defining Design Terms!

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