Don’t Call It a ‘Mood Board’ — It’s a ‘World’

Mood boards are “carcasses,” said Brian Collins, the chief creative officer of Collins, a branding strategy company. “I have used ‘world-building’ since the start of my career,” he said. “I was introduced to the idea by Marty Sklar, who led Walt Disney Imagineering for years. He walked me through Disney World when I was 23, beautifully explaining how their stories were brought to life through architecture, design, sound, music and even scents.”

While designers have strong feelings about the terminology, explaining “worlds” to clients is a different story. “I try to lean clients into ‘world’ versus ‘mood board,’” Ms. Kanner said. “Clients don’t have the language. They’re looking to me to decide, so if I say ‘world,’ it’s a world.”

“World” appears to be the most popular replacement for “mood board,” though some in the branding industry are partial to “brandscapes” and “territories.” In Mr. Rasmussen’s latest venture, Outlier, an online educational platform where students take for-credit college courses at inexpensive prices, he refers to the brand guidelines as the Outlier Cinematic Universe. “It has a very specific look to it. It’s ‘Blade Runner’ meets Hogwarts,” he said.

Tessa Mu, 33, a founder and the chief executive of WithPlot, a collaboration platform for marketers, used mood boards frequently when she worked at Marc Jacobs. The designers there “would pin up old photographs, tear-outs from magazines, pieces of fabric and trinkets for inspiration,” she said. “With the rise of Pinterest at the time, mood boards were a natural way to present your ideas and thoughts.”

Ms. Mu began hearing the term “world” about six years ago, when she was the marketing vice president of a probiotics company called Seed Health. “You don’t feel crazy bringing an idea to the table because you’re building a world, not a mood board,” she said. “It makes the work more complex.”

Because the branding for Seed Health was inspired by Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ms. Mu said, she and her colleagues even preferred the word “universe,” because “the terminology shift awakened a lot more possibilities.”

The only thing left now? The multiverse.