How to Create a Design Board (the Easy Way!)
A few weeks ago, I gave you all an introduction to the process I use to design rooms in our homes. I’m really blown away by the positive response to that post and excited to hear so many of you found it helpful. You better bet I am working hard to bring you Part II soon, but I also wanted to make sure I showed you my (easy!) process for creating virtual design boards I referred to in that post. I like to create a design board to help outline my vision for a room, hammer out color schemes, identify good fabric pairings, and experiment with various looks before spending a dime or lifting a paint brush.
They are really valuable tools, and I highly recommend you make something similar whenever you do a room makeover (big or small!). I’m super excited to show you how easy pulling together a virtual design board can be using software I bet you already have!
Before You Can Create a Virtual Design Board…
Before you get started actually hunting for images and putting a design board together, you need to do some “reflection” and inspiration searching for the room you want to design. If you don’t have a good vision for the space, I highly recommend you read THIS post to see how I go about moving from a blank room with no direction…to a series of inspirational images…and ultimately to a loose vision and starting color palette for a room. Once you’re caught up, come back here for this design board tutorial!
Just as a refresher, this is the room I’m using as an example for this process. It’s our current family room; and while the major “bones” are in place (i.e., wall color, furniture), the room is lacking the fun, fresh, colorful and comfortable vibe I want for our home.
After spending a lot of time on Pinterest, I settled on some inspiration images and a color scheme (below) that will help me achieve the look and feel I want for our room.
With a design vision and color palette “set,” you can start hunting for images and assembling a virtual design board!
What Software to Use
To create a virtual design board, I recommend working in whatever software you are comfortable with. Good options include Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and PicMonkey. However, if you aren’t familiar with or comfortable in any of these programs, I also highly recommend Microsoft PowerPoint (yep…again!). Microsoft PowerPoint is a software most of us have access to, is user-friendly, and actually has some very good image formatting capabilities that don’t require a ton of time or skill. I currently do most of my design board work in Illustrator, but I’ve used PowerPoint for years with a lot of success!
Updated 2021: Canva is another great option for making design boards! Learn how in in this brand new tutorial!
Step 1. Find and Save Images
WHERE TO FIND IMAGES
Your goal with a virtual design board is to figure out what items could/should be brought into your room to ultimately bring about the design you are envisioning. To do that, you will need to collect images of everything you are considering (or already have) for your room; and the best place to start is Google Images. If you know the brand of the item you have or plan on using, start with those words in the search box. For basic items or just to get an example of an item (when you don’t have a specific one in mind), use generic and descriptive terms. Below is my search for “Blue sectional.”
I will discuss how to clean up images in a minute, but give yourself a head start by looking for good, simple images on a white background. It is ideal if you can find a picture of your item without any accessories on it (e.g., pillows, side tables, lamps, books, etc). In addition to Google, I also recommend searching sites like Overstock.com and Target.com because they carry a ton of different merchandise and almost always have pictures of their items isolated on a white background. Below is a great example of the kind of image you want for your design board. Although there are also pictures of the unit styled and “in a room” available, try to find/save the item completely by itself.
HOW TO SAVE IMAGES
As you find pictures you want to consider for your design board, you’ll need to save them. First, I recommend pinning the image to a pinboard dedicated to this room makeover. Although you will also need to save the image to your computer so you can edit and play with it, you may eventually want a live link back to the product in order to reference (or buy!) it again.
Next, save the image to your computer. You can “right click” on the image and select “Save Image As…,” but I am finding more and more of these interactive sites (where you can rotate the item or change its color, etc) don’t allow you to save a picture. A better alternative is to take a screenshot of the item by selecting Command 4 on a Mac or using the Snipping Tool on Windows. Keep all your pictures in a dedicated folder on your computer so you can play with them later.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
So…with so many images to find…where do you start? I recommend first looking for pictures of items you already have or are certain will be in the room. This can include anything from furniture, flooring, and wall colors that are set or can’t be changed, and even architectural details that need to be designed around (e.g., fireplace). For our family room, the brown carpeting, blue sectional, white media cabinet, patterned club chairs, and Asian cabinet are all items that have to stay in the room so I found those pictures first.
It’s important to note here that you don’t always need pictures of exact items for your design board. While there are times when you will want “exact” pictures to help you decide between certain fabrics, rugs, wallpapers, etc; oftentimes generic representations are sufficient to help you assess compatibility of items from an aesthetic perspective. Our white media stand was found at a consignment store, but the image I am using is a “good enough” representation to determine how it will work with other elements I may ultimately use. In fact, all of the pictures shown below are “generic representations” of items we already have in our home (except for the club chair) and were just saved to help me see everything together.
I also saved pictures of a few design decisions I’ve already bought for the room, specifically the window treatments and a large plant. No detail is too big or small, so grab pictures of anything and everything that needs to be considered (i.e., shelves, built-ins, fireplaces, etc).
“SHOP” FOR OPTIONS
The next step is to hunt and peck around the web to find various items that may work in your space to bring about the aesthetic you want. Using your inspiration images as a guide, continue to search Google and your favorite home sites for the various items that will help complete the room. From lamps and tables to fabric and accessories, consider everything and try to find a picture of it. Use this as the research phase of actually finding the exact items to bring into your home. As you find various “contender” items, use the steps outlined above to save them to your computer (and don’t forget to pin them so you can revisit the live link again later!). If necessary, make various computer folders (e.g., tables, lamps, fabrics) to keep all your images straight.
Below are the various items I sourced for my family room makeover. These are the elements of the room that I am not sure about, so finding lots of different options allows me to play with different looks before settling on certain products.
FINDING IMAGES OF PAINT COLORS
A quick word on finding and using paint colors on your virtual design board. I do think it’s important to bring in color “swatches” on your design board. However, be aware that digital representations of colors are not accurate reflections of what the color may look like in real life. Certainly use this method to pull shades that are close enough to allow you to evaluate general colors (e.g., red versus blue) for walls, furniture, etc. But don’t use online swatches to determine exact shades or if something matches just right. You will always want to get samples (of paint and any other items you are considering) to determine if things match in real life before buying large quantities and installing in the room.
Where To Source
To find paint colors for your design board, you have a few options. If you know the paint colors you are considering because you already have swatches or have tested paint in your space, simply do a quick Google search for the paint color’s name. Ideally, try to save an image of the actual paint color (not a picture of the color already in a room) that is from the paint manufacturer’s website (e.g., Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, etc).
If you don’t have any idea what paint colors you want to use on the walls (just as an example), you can always create your own “general” colors using the color tools in whatever design program you are using. This can at least help you narrow down which colors you want to consider, and then you can find paint swatches during the design execution phase of your makeover. You can also search Pinterest for “the best grey paints” or “good navy paints for bedrooms,” etc. This can give you actual names to search for so that you can bring specific tones onto your board.
Step 2. Edit Images
Once you have computer file folders filled with all sorts of images (or at least enough to get started), there are two things you may want to do to them before you start assembling a design board: remove the backgrounds and adjust the scale (where necessary).
REMOVE THE BACKGROUNDS FROM IMAGES
So that you can layer images onto each other to create a nice collage and get a good sense of how some things might play together, it’s really helpful to remove the backgrounds of any images you are using. It might seem like you need fancy software to do this, but it’s actually quite simple using my nifty PowerPoint hack I shared earlier this week (I was so excited to see that so many of you were thrilled to learn this simple trick!). You can see my full tutorial on how to remove the backgrounds of pictures HERE!
ADJUST THE SCALE OF PICTURES
Although we are not doing a detailed rendering of the room, there are times when it is important that the scale of items are accurately represented. This is especially important for things with patterns such as rugs, wallpaper, art, or fabric. If you are trying to determine if fabrics go together, a wallpaper is too busy for a room, or if other such elements “play nice,” make sure the scale is reflected correctly in your pictures.
For example, let’s look at all the fabric options I’m considering for our family room. The screenshots of each of the seven fabrics (below) have different measurements, as shown by the rulers provided by the website. Some are 42″ wide, some are 18″ wide, and some are 8″ wide. Use the included rulers (on most fabric websites) or pattern repeat (usually noted in fabric and wallpaper descriptions) to determine a “common denominator” size.
I used the ruler measurements to re-size all the fabrics to 24″ wide (below). This may often require cropping an image (an option under the Format Picture toolbar in PowerPoint) or copying/pasting multiple swatches together to achieve the common measurement. Below are my “re-sized” swatches, which give me a better sense of the fabric’s size and scale as it’s printed.
With all the fabrics represented in a standard measurement, it then becomes easier to determine which fabrics might actually work well together.
Step 3. Play!
With the backgrounds removed from all your images and the scale accounted for, now you get to play! Using a series of blank PowerPoint slides (or a blank canvas in whatever program you prefer), drop in all your edited images and play with all your various options. If you’re pretty certain which items you want to use, you can create your design board right away (see Step 4). If you’re really stuck on some design decisions though, it’s really helpful to create a primitive “mock up” of your room using all your images. For our family room, I had a difficult time envisioning which fabric + table + lamp combinations would work best. After swapping out all the various images I had saved, I quickly landed on a look I liked the most.
I will often create a mock-up of each wall in a room to help me make decisions. Using the various shape tools (squares, mostly), add in details such as wall color, floor color or other basics like frames, shelves, fireplaces, etc. These are far from realistic, but seeing all these renderings can give you a pretty good sense for how a room might come together in real life.
Step 4. Create a Design Board
The final step of creating the design board can also be done in PowerPoint (or any other program you like) and can take on any style that makes sense to you. I like to put two versions together (both for my use and for here on the blog): a Grid Style and a Collage Style.
GRID-STYLE DESIGN BOARD
To create a grid-style design board, use lines to create grids that visually separate the ideas and selections for each aspect of the room’s design. Create a section for the color scheme, wall treatments, fabric choices, furniture selections, accessories etc. Utilize the shape (line, square, and circle) and text tools to add in any information you want included. Use the color dropper tool on your saved images of paint colors to accurately represent them on your virtual design board. Because this layout provides visual segmentation and allows you to add text, you can make notes so that you (and anyone else) can easily see (and even execute!) your plan for the space.
COLLAGE-STYLE DESIGN BOARD
If you’re not a blogger or designer and don’t necessarily need a detailed design plan graphic (like shown above), another option to take all your edited images and create a collage-style design board. You don’t need to maintain the room layout like you did when you were playing around with options up in Step 3. Instead, just drop your selected images onto a PowerPoint slide or other design surface, and adjust the spacing and sizing until everything fits and is pleasing to the eye. Again, add in any images and details that you find helpful to really bring your design to life and convey the overall feeling you want for the space.
This style of design board is really great for seeing how everything works together and providing an at-a-glance snapshot of the collective design of the space. If something isn’t jiving, this type of design board will reveal it right away (and thankfully, it’s pretty easy to swap out at this stage!). I like keeping these collage-style design boards on my phone for easy reference. While I am out shopping or considering various items to bring into the room, this collage can help me quickly determine if a new item will work with other decisions I’ve already made for the space.
Step 5. Save Your Design Board
Once your finished with your design board (for now at least…you can always continue to swap out ideas as your room evolves), you will want to save your design board in several ways. First, save your design file (the PowerPoint file in this case) so you can revisit it if necessary. Second, export the slide/artboard/design surface into a graphic you can easily reference on a mobile device. To do this, navigate to File -> Save As and then choose what file type you want. I recommend saving your design board as either a JPEG or PDF.
And that’s it!
Although all the steps in this post might indicate that creating a design board is laborious and tedious, I promise you it’s not (I was just being thorough!) Deciding on the design direction and color scheme of the room is, in my opinion, the toughest part. Searching around online for products, removing the backgrounds, playing with images and ultimately creating a design board is the fun part! Don’t let this process (or the fact that you’re not a trained designer) scare you away from creating design boards for rooms you want to makeover. They really are fun and easy to make (especially the more you practice!) and are a key tool in creating a well-designed room you love!
12 Comments on “How to Create a Design Board (the Easy Way!)”
Thank you for this! I am definitely pinning and saving to use soon. I have always wondered how to do this!
Yes, Megan, I’d love to see your various design boards over the years. I think it’s super helpful. Great series!
Wow, this is such a thorough tutorial, Megan. So many awesome tips!
Yes please! Love your style and would love to see the inception of each room. 🙂
I would love to see your past design boards! You have such a great style and eye for scale and design! Thank you.
Thank you so much for doing this! I have been trying to figure out how to do this and have had a hard time finding out online! I’m excited!
This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Thank you so much! Very helpful.
This has been super helpful! I am the wife of an Air Force Officer and have been trying to figure out how to get into the design field when we move ALL THE TIME. I’m contemplating starting something online and helping clients design their spaces from pictures and phone calls but needed to help in figuring out the best way to create a design board for someone. Finding this article has helped tremendously! Thanks and keep it up, you are awesome! And thank you and your husband for your service!
Thanks so much, Jennifer!
So glad you found this helpful and wish you the best of luck with your new biz idea!
Have a great week!
Great user friendly advice. This is written in clear simple instructions. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with everyone.
You are most welcome!
Have a great week!Megan
You are amazing! I am truly in awe right now. Thank you so much!