Visual communication

Most professional interior design projects involve study, review, and refinement of interior architectural finishes and materials, as well as furnishings, fixtures, and equipment. Finish materials, furnishings, and fixtures must be studied individually and also be viewed as parts of a whole.

A formal materials presentation is not of particular importance to the individual designer as an aid in the design process. It is most common for designers to gather a variety of samples and make preliminary decisions without pinning anything down. Most designers can work from large samples kept loose (unmounted) while in the preliminary stages of a design.

Keeping things loose also allows the client to understand clearly the preliminary nature of the selection and imparts a sense that there is plenty of room for decision making.

 18 material samples 0118 material samples

It is necessary to create formal presentations for clients, end users, or investors only when selections have been determined or narrowed down.

As a project moves forward, it is important that materials presentations clearly reflect the given stages of the design. Many designers create a materials presentation as part of the final visual presentation, which takes place at the end of design development phase of a project.

Clearly there is variation in the manner in which finalized selections of materials, furnishings, and finishes are presented to clients. Many designers pride themselves on consistent, well-crafted materials presentations, whereas others prefer to keep samples loose and informal.

Inspiration board, mood board, material board,… can be done traditionally or digitally. Here are two examples of a material and finish presentation board done both ways in relation to the same project:

18 traditional board by Taylor McCammon Houston, Texas.

18 digital board by Taylor McCammon Houston, Texas.

Material and finish presentation boards by Taylor McCammon

Traditional board

Most materials presentations for a traditional physical board require sturdy backing materials, most often a type of paperboard. Foam board is often used in such presentations because it is sturdy yet lightweight and easy to work with. Samples, titles, and notes can be applied directly to the top paper surface of the foam core.

18 material samples 05

Interior Design Portfolio Website for Annie Geitner | Wix.

18 material samples 04

San Diego Rendering and Materials Board – Interior Design Photos

18 granger_mood_board

Mood board by Jane Lockhart

Digital board

Designers now often rely on digital technology when preparing materials presentations. Digital cameras and scanners are used to capture materials samples and product imagery. And many materials and furnishing suppliers and manufacturers put digital images online so designer can download them.

These virtual samples presentation lack the textural quality provided by true finish materials, but they are useful for setting a conceptual direction.

Notes: use only high resolution (300dpi) images in digital presentations.

18 cdi-inspiration-board-sterling-sliver. 18 cdi-inspiration-board-lighthouse.

Inspiration board by Corporate Design Interiors

Developing a presentation 

A key skill for the designer is the ability to develop an appealing and successful presentation that translates the ideas and processes that led to specific design decisions. Creating a narrative, outlining and storyboarding the presentation, and determining the appropriate medium for the content are but a few of the interior designer’s tasks.

The designer must also grasp how drawings-used as graphic elements-function within different types of presentations, and how the principles of graphic design can influence the presentation.

Design boards set up a sequential and ordered structure in which the intent of the proposal is illustrated. For boards to succeed, the principles of storyboarding must be applied to the information being presented; this entails the hierarchy of the elements on the board itself and the sequence in which the narrative unfolds. Design boards allow the client to spend as much time with the work as possible, and thus elements should be paced to allow for further discovery the longer they are examined. Numerous issues need to be considered when designing presentation boards.

Number of Boards: In determining the number of boards in a presentation, several questions must be asked: What is the size of the project? How many drawings will be needed to adequately describe the project? Are there going to be perspectives? Will samples be attached directly to the board or scanned and added to a perspective?

  • Narrative Development and Outlining: Developing a narrative for the presentation means, essentially, telling the story of the design process. A well-conceived narrative structures what and when to include in the presentation. Narratives provide a framework that can allocate emphasis and importance to certain aspects of the process. Maintaining an outline of the design intent, and developing it as the project itself evolves, will focus the narrative.
  • Spacing, Scale, and Speed: When developing the layout for a presentation, it is important to consider how the boards will be viewed. Some viewers will quickly scan the boards, and others will pause to look at the work in depth. By anticipating this, layout strategies regarding the spacing and scale of objects can begin to address the speed at which they are examined.
  • Orientation: Boards arranged with their length in the vertical dimension are said to be in portrait format and those with a width longer than height are referred to as landscape. Each has its benefits:
    • Portrait oriented boards have a visual resonance with the printed page, and when displayed in sequence, allow for more information in less horizontal space.
    • Landscape-oriented boards enable a more natural cropping of views for perspectives, and their width encourages a more relaxed sequencing.
  • White Space: The surrounding white space can be used to increase the relative importance of any drawing, sample, or text on the page. Designers should avoid overcomplicating the layout of the presentation by crowding too few boards with too much information. Adding another board is always an option.
  • Storyboarding and Thumbnails: A useful method for developing the presentation is to create several variations as mock-ups. These mock-ups gather the information to be presented and then explore several sequencing strategies. Labelling and Annotation: Often overlooked, one of the most important factors in determining how a layout is perceived is the choice of fonts that will translate the designer’s text. Clear, legible type, used at varying type sizes, can add another layer to how a board is read; it also offers another graphic element for the design of the board. Establishing a good hierarchy of fonts early in the process allows annotations to be placed in relation to the graphics in precise ways. At the very least, decisions should be made with regard to the following label types in a document: title font, label font, and caption font.

Grid Development & Layout Strategies

To establish the structure and placement of objects on a presentation board, the designer must develop a template that provides rules in the form of grids. Grids, set up correctly, can clarify the distribution of the design elements. If uncertain where to start, interior designers can draw from the world of the graphic arts, from which the following examples come, to fashion their own grid systems. 18 layout strategies

18 grid development

I hope you found this helpful. The main point is to be purposeful and consistent with your layout and image choices and to make sure each image or item helps the story and doesn’t take away from it.

Tips for Making Mood Boards, with Nathan Turner | Pottery Barn


Interior Design Visual Presentation, second and fourth edition, by Maureen Mitton.

COLOR, SPACE, STYLE, © 2007 by Rockport Publishers, Inc.


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