The moment I heard the words “mood board,” I wanted to bolt the room and run. If you’ve read the last excerpt from 40, Love, you know I have a visceral reaction to what seems like a hokey grade school project. And to think, things had been going so well in the first meeting with my chosen design firm/new idea agency Kern+Lead.
Their spare offices were in a hipster block of the East Village—just around the corner from the setting of my sitcom life Alphabet City. My main contact Will, an incredibly affable, calm and straightforward guy—meaning I appreciated he didn’t speak design and/or tech jargon to me—explained their process for moving forward. First, they’d gather some information from me about my brand and then they’d start working on design elements to match. At the same time, they’d tackle setting up the technical aspects of the site—it was pretty clear that I wanted a layout that could handle multiple branded shows/channels. So far, so good. Will was ready to give me a task.
“For your homework, go through magazines and catalogs—tear out anything that you like or inspires you or calls to you. Pictures, typeface, lay out design. Anything. Bring them to the next meeting and then we’ll use that to create a mood board.”
“Mood board?” I asked sheepishly, wondering if I’d made the wrong decision.
“Don’t worry. We ask all our clients to do it. You’d be surprised what you’ll learn.”
Will was a far cry from the mood board loving full-of-themselves MBAs I had endured during my brief stint doing PR for a soda brand. What did I have to lose, really? Besides, I like any excuse to waste time flipping through “old media.”
At home curled up on the couch with Frida, I flipped furiously through stacks of magazines and catalogs trying to group the debris by category with notes about why it spoke to me as a brand. Here’s what I ended up with:
Marc Jacobs—sexy, playful, bold, dirty, funny
Paul Smith (my glasses)—intelligent, quirky, classy
Michael Kors—classic, timeless, accessible
Brooklyn Industries—accessible, playful, adaptable
Oliver People/LA Eyeworks—clever, sassy, distinctive
West Elm—modern, accessible, affordable, fun
Flor—fun, modular, clean, humor
Kimpton Hotels—playful, quality, creative, consistent
Tim Gunn—classic yet reinvent, honest, charming, smart
Cher—honest, reinvented, smart, self-deprecating
New York magazine—relevant, urban, cheeky
GayListDaily—cheeky, clean design
It wasn’t hard to notice a pattern of what I liked and what spoke to me. Confidently, I packaged up the tear sheets and sent it over to Will in advance of our next meeting, along with a summary memo.
While at first I sneered at this exercise, now I was really into it. Just the process of tearing out and categorizing inspirations really solidified what I stood for as a brand—funny, honest, smart, optimistic.
So imagine my surprise when at the next meeting I got a glimpse of my mood board—and it screamed SEX. Staring at me from across the table was the naked, muscular, tattooed and oiled body of Marc Jacobs from his cologne ad. Oh lord, maybe I’d gone too far? Was this too homoerotic? Most of my readers are women, after all. I’d chosen that ad because of the typeface, now it was yelling at me, “Your mood is sex!” Sure, there were other images on the board, but the Marc Jacobs’ glistening toned body overwhelmed them all. I laughed.
“Funny to see it all played back this way. Am I that gay?” I quipped.
“Well, we want to tone down the hard edges of the fonts a little. Give it a softness, and a pop of color. From our meetings, we see you like stripes a lot—so we want to incorporate that.”
Will rearranged the mood board to hide Marc Jacobs’ crotch. My gamble to go with the design firm that I could meet with in person was paying off. They were picking up on subtleties in my personality to infuse into the new site. But according to Will, I wasn’t off the hook yet.
“While we start on the design, you really need to settle on a new name. How’s that coming?”
I was like a kid called to task on his homework. While I had many ideas, none of them were exciting me. How was I going to clear that hurdle?