After all the documents are signed and the questionnaires filled out it's time to start getting creative! I like my process to begin with client-driven mood boards. An important thing to remember is that most clients like to be part of the creative process, so this is really their time to shine.
When I check out a new client's boards I can usually determine what type of person they strive to be and what type of aesthetic they are attracted to. First we start with a fresh (and secret) Pinterest Board. I ask the client to describe what she likes about a particular image so we can begin to see a theme and pick out the most important elements. The more particular they are with the descriptions the better! Typography, colors, pattern, design elements and layout should all be pinned but I'm also interested in overall mood shots, which could be anything from food shots to scenic views.
After the board has a general theme I look though all the images and notes. I begin pulling the pinned images in Illustrator and adding my own images for more variety and a fresh spin. I typically create two mood boards - one shows the aesthetic of the brand and the other shows what the ideal customer looks like. Showing the lifestyle of their target customer helps connect the branding and business problems into real-world solutions.
After all my questionnaires, consultations and spending time looking at my client's inspiration I usually feel good to begin designing. I shoot my client a simple "I'm so excited to work on this project" email with the aesthetic mood board attached and some bullet points of what I hope to incorporate into the branding. I don't spend too much time fussing over the board because I look at it as a work in progress.
Some general rules to remember
Make the theme obvious.
Aim to spark an emotional response.
Photoshop is your friend. If you like an image change the color or tone to match the rest of the board
Create an inspiring layout
If you squint at your mood board and you squint at the final design they should match