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Time-Saving Design File Organization Tips

January 8, 2021 In Design

What’s in a name? It may sound silly, but the names and overall organization of your design files can have a substantial impact on your work. Complicated folder systems and illogical file names can bog down your workflow and waste much of your precious time. In the worst cases, you may end up using an outdated version of a design and making costly mistakes.  

If these are issues you’ve been dealing with, it’s time to clean out the old design file closets and start fresh. Follow along with us as we share the valuable lessons we’ve learned over the years to help you organize your digital designs. 

Naming Files 

When design files are strategically named, it becomes much easier to find and search for individual files. This comes in handy if you’re bouncing between projects, or if you need to reference past work. Strategic names also help keep all team members and clients on the same page. Instead of creating disorder with confusingly named files, a clear naming strategy can prevent any miscommunication. 

As you create a file naming system, we suggest choosing a specific series of identifiers listed a certain order. These identifiers should at a minimum include the project name and the document version number. For example, a first draft of your restaurant food menu may be called FoodMenu_v1. For large projects, you may want to further specify files by their date or by individual components, such as Website_Homepage_Slider_v1. As you decide on the words to include in the file name, think about the phrases you might type to find it in the future. Additionally, if you make changes to a file, remember to always save it as a new version. You’ll be able to track the record of your edits and identify exactly when you made them.  

Keep in mind that if file names become too lengthy, they become hard to display and view in a document finder. We recommend leaving out any unnecessary information in the file name, such as the size of the screen or repeat words. We also suggest avoiding using the word “final” when naming files. All too often, what you think is truly your “final” version will end up as just another draft. Eventually, you’re editing documents named “ABC-Mailer-Final-Final2-ACTUAL-FINAL.” If you stick to the numbered version system, you’ll simply know to always edit from the highest-numbered file.  

Organizing Folders 

Now that you’ve strategically named your files, it’s time to reorganize the folders they are kept in. First, we recommend creating folders for each individual kind of design work you do. You might have a folder for your company’s branding materials, another for social media graphics, and another for print designs. Inside those folders, you can further organize by individual projects. The last step is to create sub-folders for the various assets you use for each project, such as vectors or raw images. 

You may also find it helpful to organize your project folders by month or year, if you regularly create designs for your social media or other ongoing promotions. If you choose to organize based on time, use a numerical system rather than a nominal one to keep folders in chronological order. Instead of calling a folder “January 2021,” you’ll want to call it 01-2021. When you go to reference a past design, you’ll be able to quickly scan the dates and find exactly what you’re looking for. 

Coordinating Large Projects 

File and folder organization can become especially complicated for large-scale projects. In these situations, try to break down the entire project into its key sections. These sections will become your sub-folders. Let’s try an example. If you’re designing a product catalog for a toy company, you might create folders called Planning, Concepts, Photos, Content, Past Resources and Design Files. This will keep each element of the catalog easily accessible, and if you need to quickly reference one of the many files you’re working with, you can find it in seconds. 

As you continue working on the project, you may find you’re continually trying to place files somewhere and can’t find the appropriate place. That’s when you’ll know it’s time to create a new folder for these documents. Otherwise, try to avoid creating more folders than is necessary. If you’re not actively using all of your folders, they’re just taking up space and cluttering up your system. And now that your files and folders are so nicely organized, we’re not going back to the old way.