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The Digital Moodboard

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Lucy Royle shares her fifth exclusive article with WhichPLM here, exploring the moodboard; as a self-confessed lover of the physical moodboard, Lucy shares the benefits of a digital one. In her first instalment in this series she explored ‘The Pencil Revolution’ and the transformative ways of working for designers in our industry; in the second piece, she delved into the world of 3D and what it means to designers; in her third piece she pushed for designers to really think about the way they use Adobe Illustrator; and in her fourth she explored how brands and designers can adapt to keep up with pace.

The Pursuit of Inspiration

As designers, we all love a good moodboard; a sumptuous collection of inspiring imagery, colour, fabrics and trims. It was probably the very notion of a moodboard that drew me into wanting to work in the fashion industry in the first place. We just love to get absorbed into that conceptual world by creating seasonal stories that capture the imagination and propel us with excitement into designing product.

As creative people, we’re obsessively looking for the next thing – it’s what keeps us going, and keeps us so passionate about what we do. So when it comes to sourcing, our visionary eyes are drawn to innovative fabrics, beautiful colour palettes, trending imagery and newness in print and trim design. And whilst product development processes, range planning meetings and tech pack updates can get frantic and administrative, the process of moodboarding and collection story building at the kick-start of each season reminds us why we joined the industry – and it’s simply because we love to feel inspired.

The Physical Moodboard

The sourcing process at the start of the season is a global one. A single design team can be sourcing from every continent of the world in some way or another – just one visit to a fabric trade show can demonstrate the far-reaching global scale of the industry, and the manufacturing capabilities of one global territory to the next. With the arrival of a design teams’ selected fabric collections, samples and strike offs, the design office quickly becomes an international information hub of fabric and trim innovation – there’s a lot of information to make sense of, collate, edit and present… let alone find place for storage!

It is from this sourcing that the physical moodboard is created. Printed images torn from magazines or downloaded from trend sites are instantly brought to life when physical samples of fabric and colour cuttings get pinned to the board alongside them. It brings about the collection vision, giving everyone on the design team a starting point – and a truly inspirational one at that.

And as that moodboard is presented to the wider business – buyers, merchandisers and sales teams – we invite them on that creative journey with us. The moodboard gives a clear visual insight into the seasonal direction, allowing teams to anticipate ‘what’s coming’ and get the business excited about newness. At the concept presentation, the board stands proud in the showroom – poised on easel – inviting those from all teams and levels of the business to come and enjoy its beautiful imagery and colour, and get a physical feel for the collection through being able to handle the fabrics. There’s a huge buzz about the meeting. With the last season designed and in production, everyone’s looking at what’s next to look forward to.

Once the excitement of the initial design presentation calms, the moodboard moves to the design office, to kick start the creative process. It’s a one-of-one creation, made to look beautiful with its curated selection of imagery, fabrics and trims pinned to its surface. But once the designers have been at it with scissors in a frantic rush to get the fabric qualities and colour swatches out to suppliers all over the globe, it soon falls flat from its previous visual glory. As each department takes a swatch cutting, or takes a sample of a trim (usually with the empty promise that it will be returned), the moodboard gradually diminishes in content. Within a few weeks of its initial presentation, it can become a rather beaten and battered piece of foamboard, cast to the side of the design room and forgotten.

Inspirational, but not Practical

So, although incredibly inspirational, the moodboard process is laced with frustrations: fabrics go missing, colour swatches disappear and we lose fundamental seasonal information – who knows where it’s gone?

So as we cut fabric swatches with inspired excitement, we sever the information link between the fabric and its native source – whether that be a fabric hanger from a mill, or a swatch card from a supplier. Either will detail key metadata of that fabric; its code, composition, weight, leadtime and price. It’s too easy to think that the swatch can be matched back to its original hanger at a later date – it just isn’t time effective, and comes with the risk of not being able to find it again!

And what about if we want to return to a moodboard a few seasons later to revisit where we were to where we are now? We all know that fashion is cyclical, and everything comes back around. We need to be able to recurrently access the images, trims, fabrics and colour palettes, but with a physical moodboard, this just isn’t possible – shortage of office storage space being a key factor in the regular end-of-season clear out.

The Importance of Metadata

Where design, sourcing and production teams are concerned, these moodboards contain more than just inspirational imagery. The metadata that comes with every fabric swatch is crucial to the design process and the strategy of product placement within a global supply chain. The critical path dictates the seasonal timeline, and fabric lead times have to correlate to the demands. So aside from just looking pretty, these moodboards contain crucial information that impacts on range planning, design strategy and even retail drop and visual merchandising procedures.

So it becomes somewhat of a paradox that we form something so fundamental to a product’s lifecycle from a piece of foamboard that is prone to deterioration and information loss. The data that is selected at the design stage of the process is absolutely crucial to subsequent processes in the supply chain – if facts aren’t established at product prototype stage, there will be inevitable discrepancies down the production line. 

The New Digital

With the understanding that at any one time during the season, a design office can be a hub of global manufacturing data; it seems only right that the information be stored in a way that grants full visibility to everyone on the team at their convenience. Many of us have become accustomed to an isolated way of working whereby we safeguard our own stash of fabric qualities and supplier references – normally in a plastic tub that we fill to capacity, clamp on the lid and soon forget about! This leads to boundless unnecessary duplication, and we need to be more efficient than that.

So it’s time to embrace the digital.

With a digital moodboard, the document is saved within a centralised storage system where it can be found by season or name. Every image placed on it can be hyperlinked back to its original source, but can also be zoomed in on for details. Each fabric quality can be scanned in and given a digital identity file that details mill, leadtime, composition, weight and price details. Then simply by clicking on an image of the fabric on the digital moodboard, all its metadata can be accessed – you just can’t achieve that on a physical level. Likewise with trim components – labels, buttons, eyelets, drawcord ends – every trim can have its own digital file where valuable information can be accessed simply by clicking through the hyperlinked image on the document.

And then each digital file can be made as a vectorised asset to use within the Adobe Creative Suite. Fabrics can be made into repeating pattern swatches to drop directly into CAD drawings to give accurate representations of fabric across a collection. Trim components can be drawn to scale as vectors and populated within a categorised Symbols Library in Adobe Illustrator. Designers can then drag and drop the artworks they need into their techpacks, all the time maintaining the link back to the native file data and never losing key information that will inform essential manufacturing processes.

Ahead of its final presentation, the moodboard can be saved a number of times over to track and trace design progress. With the capability to save numerous versions (revision 1, revision 2, revision 3 etc.), we’re never at risk of losing images or details that we may disregard at one stage, but want to revisit later.

So what was once a piece of foamboard with a limited lifespan, becomes an interactive platform where all teams of the business get full visibility of the collection ‘story’ and the key sourcing that informs the fundamental processes to get the product to the consumer. And on time. Rather than viewing a physical moodboard from a distance, a digital moodboard allows teams across the business to instantly connect and be reactive to help kick start the collection in the most productive way possible. A beautifully pinned together moodboard might make for an attractive presentation, but if the strategy behind sourcing the raw materials doesn’t match up to the critical path, the customer will never see the product.

The Potential for Connected PLM Landscapes

With a digital database of raw materials, the potential for connecting the fashion manufacturing landscape becomes a reality. With one business working to a digitised catalogue of fabric, trims and suppliers, there comes the opportunity for greater visibility over stock availability and supply chain logistics. Designers are equipped to create with instant access to PLM material libraries, making it quick to select from fully approved assets and components for design with full clarity of cost, leadtime and availability up front. If it’s too expensive, alternative decisions can be made earlier and with more consideration, within the timeline of the supply chain. And if it’s ready to use, quantities can be reserved and orders can be placed ahead of time to eliminate any delays further down the workflow.

And there’s the greater potential of connecting these digital databases across other fashion businesses, brands and manufacturers. PLM is an ideology that stretches beyond the confines of a single company – in its full recognition, it has the capability to connect multiple global operations.

Making the Switch

We’ve learnt through this article how a digital landscape can bring boundless benefits, not just to designers, but to the entire connected manufacturing chain – and it all starts from the concept of a moodboard presented on a digital platform. But can we ever replace the truly inspiring process of engaging with a tactile world? The physical entity will always be our starting point – that is where the true inspiration is, and always will be, in my opinion. This digital age may strip us of our previously more artisan ways, but it also helps us to document our inspirations in ways that sketchbooks, notebooks and plastic storage tubs never could; a digital archive means that we will never lose anything, and it enables us to work with more informed knowledge, efficiency and speed.

So just as designers migrated from the pencil to the wacom pen throughout the ‘00s, the process of the digital moodboard now presents itself as the next renaissance, triggering the ever more realistic prospect of a fully connected global design database.

Lucy Royle Lucy Royle is a Fashion Design graduate of the University of Leeds and became a devoted advocate of CAD and Adobe Illustrator during a sportswear design internship with Reebok. Following graduation, Lucy went on to work as a womenswear designer for Superdry where she pioneered the Superdry Sport product category. She now works as a freelance designer.With her industry experience, Lucy is passionate about working with others, sharing her knowledge - at both professional and student level - and continuing to learn herself. Lucy contributes regularly to WhichPLM, reflecting on how the designers' role within the industry is evolving in light of new technologies. As consumer demand for newness increases, Lucy is looking at how more organised and efficient working practices at design level - particularly in the use of Adobe Illustrator - make for establishing solid foundations within the product supply chain.This year, Lucy has launched a blogging and tutorial website dedicated to designers as a platform to impart knowledge of good design habits (http://fashionsketchstudio.com/). Lucy lives in the Cotswolds with her partner, Jonny.

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