Visualising values in design with mood boards



Technology and Design

Design phase:







This teaching activity challenges students to explain and suggest implementations of values in their design projects through the use of mood boards. In doing so, the values behind a product, system or service become more explicit and obvious to stakeholders.


The underlying values in products, systems or services are manifested in use through e.g. their visual appearance, the symbolic language associated with them, or the different elements that they consist of. The underlying values may encourage and discourage people to act in certain ways when they interact with a product, system or service.

A prerequisite for this teaching activity is that students work on a project and have already identified their project values. During the activity, the students are challenged to express the values and the intentions of their product, system or service through visual means in order to support the prototyping process.

It is important that the students are able to reflect upon how they might integrate, embody and manifest values in their design. If students are not able to find ways of embodying values in a prototype, the values behind the product, system or service might not be obvious to the direct and indirect stakeholders.

Thus, in this teaching activity the students use a mood board as a prerequisite for a prototyping process to reflect upon how they would like their design to “speak” to different users and how their products, systems and services influence user behaviours and lifestyles. The visual representations of values are collected in mood boards (a visual presentation or a collage that communicates a concept or an idea) that inspire further development of prototypes.


After the teaching activity students will be able to:

  • illustrate and explain how their products, systems or services should manifest and embody their project values,
  • create a mood board that can serve as inspiration for how they might implement values in their products, systems and services.


Before running this teaching activity, the students should already have identified their project values. They work in groups, and this activity is a collaborative effort.

  • Ask the students to bring a list of project values that should be prominent in their design project. The list of values could also consist of a prioritised list of stakeholder values that were discovered through an analysis of empirical data from user/stakeholder research.
  • Arrange settings for group work. The students should preferably work in groups of 3–5 people.
  • The students should bring their laptop with access to the internet, so that they can search for image material online.
  • Furthermore, students should be able to work in a program, like Miro, where they can create some sort of inspirational bulletin board with a collection of images.
  • Prepare an online platform used as a shared repository (e.g. Miro, Mentimeter, Wordcloud) to which the students can submit value words. The shared repository will be used in the last part of this activity, when the students review each other’s mood boards in class and submit the words that they associate with the visual materials.


The teaching activity consists of six steps.

Step 1:

  • Ask the students to search for image materials that somehow capture, manifest and symbolise their project values. The following steps (2–6) are done as a way of adding to and “thickening” their mood boards, and expanding their mood boards that might end up being a bit messy and large.

    The image materials can:

    • consist of photos of situations where people are engaged with social interactions or other kinds of activities that illustrate the project values,
    • be symbols or icons that can help identify project values. For example, a lock symbol might identify security,
    • in some cases also display functionalities from other products, systems or services that the students think manifest one or more of the project values,
    • consist of colors and typefaces that students think illustrate the project values.

  • Note: The focus should be put on visuals, they should not collect single words. If the teacher wants the students to work with word associations, then they can do the teaching activity Values clustering for developing students' value vocabularies.

Step 2:

  • The students might also consider how the design “speaks” to the user through slogans, instructions how to use the design or small paragraphs with descriptions of the design, if the design was to be represented on a web site. Such sentences can be placed next to the visual materials that they talk about in the mood boards.

Step 3:

  • When student groups have created their mood boards, they present them in class, one group at a time, to see how the other students perceive their mood boards.

  • The presentation of the mood boards should happen in silence – the group who presents should not mention the underlying values behind the visual material that they present. They should just present their mood boards in a manner that other students are able to view the visual materials and contemplate. Thus, all individual students who review the others’ mood boards get a chance to reflect individually. The teacher asks the students to submit words into an online shared repository that the teacher has prepared beforehand – or work directly on mood boards that student groups share (e.g., via Miro or Mentimeter). The students type in the words that come to their mind when reviewing the mood board materials in class.

Step 4:

  • Capture the shared repository of words, and at the end of the presentation, display the collection of words submitted to the shared repository (e.g. Miro, Mentimeter, Wordcloud) to the students. The result is used as a basis for discussion about the presented mood board. The purpose of the collection of words is to give the student groups some idea of how the visual material in their mood boards is perceived by others.

Step 5:

  • The group that presented the mood board finally reveals to the class which value words they based their mood boards on. The group that presented gets to reflect upon the differences or similarities between the value words that they based their mood boards on and the word associations that their classmates came to think of when reviewing the mood board. Each group can also submit a written reflection on the differences of perception to the teacher.

  • The mood boards and their related word collections can be submitted to a shared platform and be further commented on by the other student groups and/or the teacher after the in-class presentation.


To assess whether the intended learning outcomes were attained by the teaching activity the following assessment activities can be carried out (in class or after class).


Assess students' learning by asking them to create a value-based video pitch (summative assessment) focusing on how their design “speaks” through presenting their mood board to stakeholders along with their explanations and suggestions for implementation of values in their design projects. They should end the pitch by posing some questions that bring project values up for discussion with stakeholders.

Assess students' learning by asking them to hold a value-based exhibition or public workshop (authentic assessment) asking stakeholders to interact with and review the mood board in similar ways as done in the teaching activity to get external evaluation and dialogue around how their design “speaks” and if it speaks in the right way.


In the assessment activity ask students to focus on:

  • illustrating through mood boards how their design manifest and embody project values in such a way that it “speaks” clearly to an audience,
  • explaining why their mood boards looks the way it does, and how this capture the values of the design in a clear and powerful way,
  • describing the reception of their mood boards in class and the differences and similarities in value words and how that prompts them to change the mood board and how the design “speaks”.