There are many research techniques that can be used to collect qualitative data in order to answer a research question. One of the lesser used research techniques is also one that can allow both the researcher and the participant to get quite creative – mood boards. You may have heard of mood boards in the context of interior design or fashion, but did you know that creating mood boards around a particular topic or theme could also be used as a research technique?
Using mood boards as a research technique can be a really useful way to better understand often difficult or nebulous concepts. Plus, it’s also a fun way to be creative – by allowing participants to use visuals to explain their experiences.
What is a mood board?
A mood board as a research technique is a visual way for a participant to describe something. It is where a participant arranges a variety of images into a particular order to answer a question. Images can be chosen from a pool of images or sourced by participants themselves.
Mood boards are a good research technique for a variety of research questions:
1. Mood boards can be used to get participants to explain what they think your brand or product is.
Asking a participant to collect a series of images that explain what your brand is can be a good indicator of how well your brand identity is understood with your audiences. This is a good exercise to do whenever you are working on branding for your company or organisation – whether you are trying to define a new brand identity or want to better understand how you are received.
2. Mood boards can help facilitate conversations around what a participant’s daily routine or typical behaviour is.
Asking a participant to share images of their daily routine can help explain complicated behaviours. These could be images they took themselves or images they found online that represent elements of their routine.
3. Mood boards can identify what a problem might feel like.
Sometimes its difficult to articulate how something feels. This can be especially true in a research setting! However, this aversion can be problematic when designing a new product for example, since products are often designed to solve a problem! Understanding how someone feels while experiencing a problem can be an incredibly useful way to dig into the root issue your product or service could solve, for example. Visualising what something feels like is a good way to get participants to talk about issues that are potentially difficult to articulate without feeling too personal.
Why use a mood board?
I once worked on a project for a client that asked us to understand what Americans thought being “country” meant. They wanted to get a better understanding of how Americans self identify as “country” and what it was that allowed them to enact their identities on a daily basis. This was a complicated task – trying to understand unspoken ways that people enact identities often require in-depth and long term ethnographic projects that this project’s timescale just couldn’t afford. So we decided to ask participants to choose from hundreds of images we had collected and paste them onto a mood board along a scale:
We then used this as a tool in a follow up interview. Participants talked through why they put certain pictures as meaningful and certain pictures as “stereotypes”. Having this visual cue helped participants articulate what they were trying to describe, and gave them a good framing device to help us understand the boundaries of how they identified.
Why use Pinterest as a research tool?
When thinking about how to conduct remote research, Pinterest isn’t necessarily the first thing that springs to mind. A combination of a social media tool and a visual search engine, it has the reputation of being the place to go to find DIY projects and dinner recipes. But Pinterest is much more than that – it’s an incredibly powerful visual search engine that uses keywords to collect and disseminate millions of images. And if you can’t find what you are looking for, you can upload it yourself, either through scraping a web page or uploading an image from your computer or phone. It also allows you to store and rearrange images, or “pins”, in a variety of sections, or “boards”, allowing you to create a filing system unique to you.
Pinterest is a relatively common social media platform with brand awareness across many people. An easy app to onboard, it is user friendly and a good way to get participants to think visually. The ability to share boards with other people means you can easily create and manage boards as a researcher, while giving access to your participants to contribute. Also, it’s free!
How to use Pinterest as a Research Tool
1. Set up a Pinterest account (if you don’t have one)
The first step to using Pinterest as a research tool is to have a Pinterest account. Go to www.pinterest.com and follow the instructions to “sign up”.
2. Create a Board
The next thing you need to do is create a board to use for your research project. You do this by going to your profile, and clicking the “+” sign, then choose “create board”. You will see a dialog box pop up where you can name your board or add a date.
This is the stage you can also choose to make your board secret. I like to choose this option because then the research board I create doesn’t impact the rest of my Pinterest account, and if you’re working with multiple participants, they won’t be able to see each other’s boards.
3. Add pins to your board
Once you’ve created your research board, you can start adding pins. This is where you have to decide if you are going to:
a). provide images for your participants to choose from
b). ask your participants to source their own images
c). allow participants to choose from some provided images but also add their own images
If you chose a) or c), it’s time to start pinning!
4. Duplicate your Board
Once you’re happy with the images you’ve added to your board, it’s time to duplicate the boards to create a board for each of your participants. This unfortunately requires a few steps, but I’ve broken down how to do it below.
First, you click on the filter button on the right hand side (the one next to the “+”. You then choose “select pins to move or delete”.
Once, you’ve done that, a new menu will appear at the top, where you can choose “select all” and then “copy”.
Finally, type in a new name and choose “create” to create a new board, or choose a board to move it to if you have already created empty boards for your participants.
Note: You only really need to do this step if you are planning on asking different participants to do this activity at the same time. An alternative would be to only create one board, and just “reset” it after every interview (after you’ve taken screenshots or made notes of how their board was set up).
5. Add sections to your board
Think about the different categories you would like your participants to collect images for. If you’re going for a scale, create sections that represent each end of the X axis.
In order to create a section, go into the board you’ve created for your project. Click on the “+” on the right hand side and select “section”.
6. Invite each participant to the board created specifically for them
The last thing you need to do to set up your Pinterest boards for your research project is to invite your participant along as a collaborator. To do this, click on the pencil icon on the left hand side of the screen. A menu will pop up that will allow you to add a collaborator. If you click on the “+” arrow in the Collaborator section, you’ll be able to either invite someone directly with an email address or Pinterest account, or send them a link to participate.
7. Provide instructions to your Participant
Now that you’ve set up your Pinterest Boards, it’s time to send instructions to your participant. You should give them detailed instructions on what you expect them to do (for example, do you expect them to put every pin in the board into a section, or do they only need to add a few images to each section? Are they allowed to add their own images to the board or must they choose from what you’ve provided?). It might be useful to send them instructions or a link on how to create an account if they don’t already have one as well.
Also, If they are doing this activity on their own before the interview, make sure you give them a time limit for when it needs to be done by.
8. Organise the Interview
One of my favourite ways to understand what the participants have done is to schedule an interview and ask them to talk through why they chose the images they did, and why they sorted them in that particular way. A very loose conversational technique at this point can be very useful and allow participants to feel comfortable enough to tell stories or anecdotes that are related.
One option you could use if you can’t conduct an interview, is to ask participants to write why they’ve chosen that image in the “pin description”. This can work in a pinch or if you are unable to schedule a time to speak directly with your participant.
Finally, have fun! I hope this creative research technique provides you with useful qualitative data for your next research project!
Have you used Pinterest as a Research Tool Before?
Let me know in the comments below if you have tried any of the above techniques!
And don’t forget to sign up to my newsletter to recieve more on what research methods to choose, research best practice, and a variety of other relevant and informative content!