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File management makeover for graphic designers

How many times have you found yourself opening an old project file only to discover missing linked files or sifting through ten different versions of a “final” file? If it’s final, why are there ten of them?! If only you had been more disciplined with your file management, you wouldn’t be going into a blind rage right now. This encounter can be one of the most annoying and frustrating situations a designer can find themselves in, especially when you’re under a time crunch. “I’ll get around to it later” is just a lie you tell yourself and in the end it will never get done. This task might seem cumbersome and time-consuming at first, but if you make an effort to properly manage your files as a regular habit, it will save you countless hours of searching and possibly a few broken monitors.

Why File Management is Important

File management is key to maximizing your productivity and ensuring that when you return later down the road to locate a specific file, and it will happen, that you’re in and out like a ninja.

You’ll Become a More Productive Designer

Imagine someone constantly interrupting you while you work. Every time you stop to search for a lost file is time that you lose towards your client work. Fewer interruptions equal increased productivity.

You’ll Look More Professional

Think about that a person that’s wearing a wrinkly shirt, messy hair and literally looks like they just crawled out of bed. Now imagine someone that’s well dressed, clean-cut and put together. It’s obvious which one screams professionalism. Your file management is much the same. If your file management system looks like a virtual hurricane went through it, you’re communicating to others that you’re unorganized and lazy.

You’ll Feel Less Stressed

Think about your file management like the place you live in. When it’s upside down and disorderly, you feel stressed, out of control and you waste time looking for things. When it’s clean and tidy, there’s a sense of order, you’re relaxed, and you can easily locate items. Also, there will come a time when another designer may have to work on your files while you’re away. You wouldn’t invite someone over when your place is a mess, would you?

The Stryve System

Over the years of working with many different types of projects, both print and digital, we’ve learned a few key ways of keeping some sanity in this office, and trust me a little goes along way! File management is definitely one of those key items. It allows me to be organized and productive while allowing others that need access, to easily find and locate files while I’m away from the office or busy fighting dragons. Here is how we keep things organized here at Stryve:

Work Folder

file management for designers: work folder

First, create a Work Folder to separate your work files from your personal files, it’s a no brainer.

Clients Folder

file management for designers: client folder

Create Client Folders within your Work folder to keep your clients organized. Whether you’re working for an agency or doing freelance, you’ll more than likely be doing work for multiple clients so it’s important to have dedicated folders for each.

Project and Brand Assets Folder

file management for designers: project and brand asset folders

This stage has two steps. First, create a Project Folder. I like to label them with a number in front so that when I go into a specific client folder, the projects are in order of when they were created (Ex. 01_Project, 02_Project). Make sure you’re specific with your folder naming. “Facebook Ad” is good, but “Aim Suite Facebook Ad” is better.

Next create a Brand Assets Folder. This is where you’ll want to put files associated with the client’s brand. It’s very handy for files you’ll constantly be reusing, for example, the company’s logo or brand key.

Tip: Use an underscore so the folder is labeled “_Brand Assets”. This will force the folder to the top for easy and quick access.

File Folders

file management for designers: file folders

This is where we drill down into the specifics of each Project folder and really get organized. Here’s the breakdown:

Here you’ll want to put files associated with the project that is given to you by the client. This includes documents, notes and even corrections that have been marked on a proof you previously sent. It’s incredibly important to keep these files for record in case you have to reference them later on.

Place all your design files here (Illustrator, Photoshop, Indesign etc.).

Tip: If you have a project that uses multiple programs and multiple files for each, separate them into designated program folders (Ai, Psd, Ind etc.)

This is where your images, vectors, icons, fonts, and any other design elements used to create your design.

All of your client’s proofs will be placed here.

Tip: Keep track of your revisions in “Rounds Folders” (Rd1, Rd2, Rd3). It will help keep your revisions organized, especially when there are multiple designs for each proof stage. It’s also a good idea to keep track of how many revision rounds you have with your client.

Let’s be honest, final never really means final, so labeling it as such is pointless. I can’t count how many times a client has approved a design and then changed their mind. The last thing you want is a final folder with ten different final files, that’s just asking for trouble.

Instead create a Production Folder. This is where you want to locate not only your deliverables to the client but the specific versions of design files and proofs that were approved. I like to make a copy of these files from my Design Folder into my Production Folder for two reasons. First, I know exactly what was approved and what last design file was used to create the deliverables. Second, If the client changes their mind on the “final” design, I can replace the copied files in the Production Folder with the new approved files and know that I still have the old ones in my Design and Proofs Folder. Remember, the most recent version you create, is not always what the client goes with.

Naming Files and Saving Revisions

file management for designers: naming systems

Now that you’ve got a sense of order with your folders, the next important thing is how you save your files. Whenever I create a new file I always begin with the initials or short form of the client I’m working on. In large agencies, they may already have “client code” to organize their clients. Either way, this gives your design file easy identification if you’re doing a search. In this case, I’ve used the letters “IN” for Intel. Next is the project, “Aim Suite Facebook Ad”  followed by the latest version. Whenever you are making changes to a design file, never save overtop of the original. Instead, use the “Save As” command and create a new design file. I like to use V1, V2, V3 and so on but if you prefer to use other abbreviations that’s ok too.

Some Final Thoughts

Every designer has their own way of managing files that works best for them. There’s not really a right or wrong way, but there is definitely something that can be said for efficiency. I still find myself fine-tuning how I manage my files and am always interested to see how others manage theirs. The key take away from this blog is that no matter how you organize folders or name your files, make it an everyday habit and you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and broken screens down the road.

If you have any tips on file management let us know, we’re always eager to learn!

Brent Morrison

Graphic Designer

Brent is a Graphic Designer at Stryve. This Illustrator-obsessed individual packs quite a punch with creativity and strategy as his biggest allies.

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