We have been very fortunate that amidst various closures and social distancing orders, the helium team has been able to work remotely and stay well connected. In a lot of ways, we were already prepared for these measures since we routinely work in non-traditional settings when we do site visits to real estate and hospitality properties. While some of us are taking photos or meeting with owners and developers, the rest of the team stays in touch with email, chat, phone, and file sharing for things like sketches, mood boards, design comps, and preliminary concepts.
In many ways, collaborating at a distance is a very positive exercise. Often, it reveals new ideas that are completely without influence from someone sitting nearby. As well, it forces us to develop concepts and designs that don’t require a lot of explanation or convincing to resonate well with other people. If they can’t be easily summarized in an email or phone call, then that can be a signal to return to the drawing board and refine, enhance, or think in a new direction. We’re used to this style of working on various projects here and there… but then we took it next level by opening a second office in Baltimore. Now, long-range collaboration is a more integrated part of our everyday process… even before it became required for public safety.
Because we spend a lot of time working with seasonal markets, a few of our clients have asked us for suggestions on how to make the most of social distancing time. This is a great time to pursue internal projects that normally get pushed aside during busier periods. A website refresh can be a smart decision right now, not just because there’s time to finesse details but also because it gives you the tools to hit the ground running when normal business activities resume. Or, it could be that this is the optimal time to finally integrate e-commerce and capture online sales. Many of our clients are focusing on social media, and looking at ways to enrich engagement and foster deeper connections with audiences. Updated logos, revamped corporate branding, breaking into new media… all are great ways to ready your business for the future, and it’s all work that helium can execute remotely. Downtime doesn’t have to be a downturn. It can be the dress rehearsal for your brand version 2.0.
Mood boards are a critical step in our process. They allow us to capture the visual essence of a brand or project in a realm that is somewhere halfway between real and imagined. It allows us to help clients tap into their own creative vision and communicate their intentions and feelings much more clearly than words will sometimes allow.
The mood board process helps us creatively as much as it help the client understand a direction. In our creative process, going through tons of visual inspiration will help shape the intangible concept in our head. Image after image starts to refine and idea and construct a direction that ultimately guides where we go with the brand — from storytelling, statements, and print collateral like brochures, packaging and stationery, to online material such as websites. The mood board helps get all the ideas in front of us.
With everyone picturing the same visual universe, we find projects move forward more efficiently. Instead of spending round after round of revisions to nail down design direction, we can spend more time executing the special details that make a project one of a kind. It might mean having extra time to add 3D renderings [check out helium reality for more on this]. Other times, a streamlined creative development process may allow sales efforts to launch sooner, a quicker transition between temporary and permanent websites, or the addition of special finishes on printed pieces and animations on digital elements.
So, what goes into a mood board? That’s both the fun part and, perhaps, the most challenging. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it easily takes a thousand [or more] pictures to convey an idea as complex as an experience, an idea, a destination, or a home. We comb through a gross amount of images in magazines, websites, books, and everyone’s favorite: Pinterest. We’ve got our own bank of photographs and items we’ve collected of the years.
We scan what the competition is doing and look for uncharted territory. We sketch on notepads. We take our own photos of things that inspire us. We start arranging things together in a composition. We see what other team members think. We switch things in and out. And then… we walk away for a while and see what still strikes us as powerful and unique. After we’ve done all that about a dozen times [usually more], our clients get a chance to dive into the mood board themselves. It’s at that point that our role shifts from creators to listeners and observers. What was the initial reaction? Positive? Awe-inspired? Energized? Which elements are getting the biggest and best responses? Is it color? Camera angle? Something else? The mood board brings all of this to the forefront and becomes the anchor point for everything that comes next.