For a long time I regarded moodboards as an arcane tool the preternaturally creative and terminally inspired.
Nothing should be further from the truth. It is a powerful technique for product managers too.
Moodboards for the rest of us
Narrow definition of moodboard as a design inspiration tool and a way to define visual language of a product is misleading.
As Lamudi's head of design Anja pointed out in a recent discussion - most of the time we are operating within the pre-existing constrains imposed by style guides or the existing products. In this context moodboards as inspiration have a limited role to play.
This is not to say that moodboards are not of interest to product managers. Much to the contrary.
Radiators not inspiration
After all, product managers are constantly on the lookout for parallels, analogies and patterns in other products. Here, moodboards can play an important role.
In addition to using them as a scrapbooks for product manager's own use, moodboards can be a powerful information radiator - communicating visually the direction in which the feature is going to anyone involved in the process.
Having resolved to make moodboards an integral part of our product development stack at Lamudi, I started searching for the suitable options.
An ideal moodboard tool for us had to be:
- digital - since we need to work closely with local teams in 34 countries across the globe;
- easy to annotate - so that visuals do not have to stand on their own;
- pervasive - cheap enough and easy to use so they can be used throughout the team.
I have started with Gomoodboard, a simple tool built by Crew, whose excellent blog post on moodboards kicked off my thinking on moodboards.
I loved the simplicity of Gomoodboard, particularly moodboard creation. Although annotation feature is missing, it does further lower the bar for participation.
However, viewing mode is not nearly as accomplished and the volume of information that can be conveyed is relatively low.
Overall, I hope the project goes somewhere, since it could well be a viable, stand-alone service.
On the opposite scale of editing, I have tried Niice. I have tried it in the past to no avail. I did not fare any better this time around.
I always found Niice positioning strange - is it a visual search engine, is it a moodboard tool? I certainly see the two as separate experiences.
Real pain point for me was process of ingesting images. Granted, with free version of Niice you can add images via search or via browser extension. The former works only if you are actively searching for inspiration. The latter is a smart idea, but it only works if you are clipping individual images, rather than making entire screenshots from the websites you are browsing.
So, if you want to do what in most cases you should - that is grab a screenshots of other products and annotate them - you got to get a Pro plan. At 9 USD per collaborator per month, it gets pretty steep - even though there are discounts on annual plans.
I originally ignored InVision. I discovered Mavel first and when I had an opportunity to switch, I found InVision prototyping overblown, unnecessarily complicated and more expensive than Marvel. Besides, Marvel guys are a nice bunch and from London too.
Turns out I've ignored InVision at my peril. InVision Boards had all I needed.
For a start, it's free. I guess they are hoping to make their core Prototyping suite more sticky. More importantly, the upload is straightforward and annotation / commenting is very nicely done.
As you can imagine from InVision, the UX is outstanding and unlike their Prototyping module - it is nicely focused and stripped to the essentials.
If you think moodboards are just for moody designers, think again.
Use them to organise your ideas and product inspiration and to communicate the direction in which you are going to other members of the team.
Among the tools I have tried, InVision Board stands head and shoulders ahead of the rest.