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How to Create a Design or Inspiration Board

Posted on January 4, 2010 at 3:08 pm
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A design board, inspriration board, color board, concept board – call it what you want. A design board is a wonderful way to put all of your design ideas, concepts and colors for a project down in one place. Design professionals, such as kitchen designers, interior decorators and the lot use them to make presentations to clients, but you can do the same to help you consolidate your plans. How to make your own design board and more examples after the jump!

How to Share Visual Design Ideas Online

Rather than creating a traditional design board, where you cut samples of fabrics, color chips, tiles and other materials and attach them to a board, we’re going to focus on creating a virtual or digital design board – one you can share online. You’ll need to decide if you’re going to work primarily on an inspiration board, or on a design and materials board. You could combine the two, but they’re easy concepts to separate, and I’d recommend it for clarity’s sake. I’ll do a short pictorial tutorial for each type of board below.

In either case, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Digital photos and/or a scanner
  • A photo editing program (at a minimum, one which allows you to resize and crop photos)
  • A simple graphics program which will allow you to make a collage of your photos

How to Create an Inspiration Board

An inspiration board is different from a design or materials board because it represents finished projects that inform your decisions on your own projects. Usually, it will include photographs of rooms that are similar in color, style, layout or periodicity to the look you’re going for in your own room.  I’ll walk through step-by-step on how to make a digital inspiration board as I create my own from digital files I’ve collected over the years.

Step One: Acquire Photographs

Comb through all those stacks of magazines you’ve been hoarding and pull out the images that make your heart swoon – that’s right! Tear them out and recycle the magazines or donate them to a doctor’s office or other waiting room. Scan them and save them at the highest resolution possible in a .jpg format – then throw the originals away or file away for future reference if you’re not comfortable going paperless.

Also, grab and save images from your favorite inspiration websites (check the IKEAFANS galleries for over 15,000 IKEA Inspiration photos). Usually, you can simply right-click on an image and then select Save or Save As from the resulting menu. I try to name mine after the specific item in the photo that inspired me in the first place.


Save them into a folder on your computer where you store all your design ideas. For an inspiration board, they don’t have to be realistic ideas – just ones that will serve to inspire your own design. Cull out any that are just ’so-so’ though – this is for inspiration, after all!


Step Two: Prepare Images

If your photo editing software allows it, touch up your photos as necessary, paying special attention to white balance. Crop the photos to show the relevant portions leaving enough of the original for context, perspective and reference if necessary.


Step Three: Arrange Inspiration Photos

In your graphics program, create a large canvas on which to work. If you have a dominant picture in your set of photos, use the size of that photo as a guide for the initial size. I found that a good size to start with is 1600×1200 pixels, but you might find that you like to work larger or smaller than that depending on your monitor size and your computer’s ability to deal with large graphics (i.e. how much RAM or memory your computer has available). Visually, it’s best to choose a solid, preferably white, background. I put a small 5px dark grey border around my photo arrangement example below just to show the size of the canvas and the arrangement of photos:


Step Four: Add Notes and Reference Points

Now’s when you need to really examine the photos (if you haven’t already done so) to pick out the details that you find interesting in the photos. If you’re going to share your design inspiration board online, this will help other people to understand WHAT it is about the photos you find inspiring. Give your inspiration board a title as well so that others can relate it to you in online discussion boards.


Inspiration Board Example

Wendi is known as litlnemo in our forums. In this example from litlnemo (found in our kitchen planning gallery), you can see Wendi’s Kitchen Inspirations for her cottage style kitchen:


How to Create a Design Board

Creating a design board is very similar to creating an inspiration board, except in this case, you’re going to have made your choices of materials and you’ll be focusing on the fabrics, fixtures and finishes, including examples of your doorstyles, countertop materials, flooring, etc. that will make up your project. I’ll step you through the process once again as I create my own design board.

Step One: Gather Photos

With a design board, you might acquire your photographs from the manufacturers’ websites, or you could scan paint chips or use other photographs cropped to feature the particular item. It’s not necessary to include every element that will make up the design, but it’s a good idea to cover the basics:

  • Color Scheme: Paint chips and fabric samples usually are sufficient to represent the color scheme
  • Fixtures: Include photos of cabinet and drawer hardware, faucets, soap dispensers, pot-fillers, instant hot units and lighting fixtures
  • Materials: Flooring material including any rugs if you have photos, countertop material(s), backsplash tiles or other materials such as tin ceiling tiles, plus cabinet doors and drawer front examples, and architectural details such as corbels, legs, open shelving, etc.


Step Two: Prepare Images

You’ll prepare your images like you did when you created an inspiration board, only this time you might pay attention to the backgrounds – you might wish to select and delete the background, leaving your final image with a transparent background so that you can place images on top of one another. It’s not at all necessary, but it makes it easier to manipulate the images on the page. In some images, you may wish to eliminate a distracting element, as I did with this original image below:

design-board-crop-picturesStep Three: Arrange Photos

For a design board, you may find that your images are much smaller than the full-size photos you were working with in your inspiration board and get lost on a board as large as 1600×1200 pixels. I found that 1200×800 pixels worked well for me. Again, it’s best to choose a solid white background but you could choose the primary paint color if you are confident that your images will all look good on it – I chose to use my paint color as a border on my white design board as you’ll see below:


Step Four: Annotate

Particularly if you’re going to be posting your design board online, please make sure to annotate your board so that others will know what the products (and sources) are for the items you’re including in your design. If you know the manufacturer’s name, the product name or color, all the better!  Before posting online, be sure you optimize your image and save it as a .jpg file.


Design Board Examples

Here’s Wendi’s Design Board example:


The Susan whose Kitchen Material Board is shown below is known as Zeuss in our forums – she’s a professional kitchen designer and one of IKEAFANS own Moderators!


Ok – I’m exhausted. This article took a LOT of work to put together! I’m sure there are wonderful examples of design and inspiration boards out there that I missed. Do you have one to share? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to see them and share some more!


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