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How to Organise Your Design Files Like a Pro

How to Organise Your Design Files Like a Pro

Are you tired of wasting precious time looking for that one design file buried somewhere in your digital clutter? Do you often need help with disorganised and chaotic design folders? If so, you're not alone. Designers everywhere need help to organise their files, resulting in lost productivity, missed deadlines and unnecessary stress.

But fear not, my friends! Organising your design files isn't rocket science, and with a few simple tricks, you can transform your digital design space from chaos to clarity. In this blog post, I'll share my top tips on organising your design files like a pro. By the end of this post, you'll have a clear and concise system for managing your files that will save you time, improve your workflow and keep you sane. So let's get started!

Here's How to Organise your Design Files

Design Files Organisation

Keeping your design files neatly organised is crucial for your workflow and productivity and avoiding mistakes and confusion. However, it is essential to remember that the main reason for organising your files is to ensure you can quickly find the correct file(s) later. To fulfil this purpose, we must understand how our memory works and use it to our advantage.

If you are like most people, remembering something that happened four years ago may seem like an impossible task. However, if it's a project you worked on, you probably remember specific vital details for finding the correct files. These include the client's name, the year or quarter you completed the project and the main description of the project.

If you do multiple projects for a client, which is often the case in the design industry, you probably have a global sense of the order in which you completed different projects for the client. This knowledge can be instrumental in creating a folder structure that matches our memory. Using these building blocks, you can create a system that makes finding suitable files easy and efficient.

Start by using the year as the top folder in your folder structure. This makes it easy to find files depending on when they were created or changed. Then create a separate folder for each client, using the client's full name and not abbreviations or acronyms to avoid confusion. Within each client folder, create a folder for each project and use a general project description as the folder name.

For example, if you were working on a project for Tesco Supermarkets at the end of 2022, you could create a folder structure like the following:


  • Tesco Supermarkets
    • Instructional Video Script for Tesco Supermarkets App

This folder structure makes it easy to quickly find the files for this project by simply remembering the client name, the year and the general project description.

In addition to these building blocks, you can also set up subfolders for the different types of files you store. For example, you can create separate folders for images, documents and source files. Within each project folder, create subfolders that match the type of files you are storing and use unique and descriptive names.

Remember that the key to creating an effective folder structure is to think about how you remember and identify things and use this to your advantage. By using building blocks that match how our memory works and creating a clear and consistent folder structure, you can ensure that you can find the files you need quickly and efficiently.

Start Today

Organising your design files is essential for productivity and efficiency, but knowing where to start can be overwhelming. But as the saying goes, the first step is always the hardest, and beginning with a solid foundation is essential. We recommend starting with the simplest but most effective method: organising your files by year.

Year numbers are the ultimate unique identifier for files. They are recognisable, are automatically sorted correctly and are easy to remember. When trying to remember something, the first question that comes to mind is usually, “When was that again?” With years, you can easily find and retrieve the files you need by browsing the folder for that year.

Once you have sorted your files by year, the next step is to group them by the client. If you are looking for a specific file, you will probably remember which client it was for. Sorting like this is convenient and a great way to keep your clients' projects organised and easily accessible.

For even more convenience, you can use a macOS pro tip. When looking for a client's folder, you can jump directly there by pressing the key on your keyboard that corresponds to the first letter of the client's name. This small but time-saving feature can make a big difference in your workflow.

How to use Project Folders

Organise Design Project Files Folders 1 1024X577 1

It would be best to balance the importance of organisation, and a well-organised file structure can save you countless hours of frustration and confusion. A carefully designed system can help you find the correct files quickly and easily and minimise the risk of mistakes and confusion.

One way to create a simple but effective file structure is to organise everything by year. The years are unique and automatically sorted in the correct order, making them easy to recognise and remember. Starting with a year-based hierarchy, you can create a clear chronological order for all your files.

Next, you can sort your files by client name. This is a no-brainer because you will always know which client you have worked for, and it makes sense to group projects by the client rather than the other way around. To make finding files for a particular client even easier, you can use a handy macOS tip: Press the key corresponding to the first letter of the client's name on your keyboard to jump to the folder that starts with that letter.

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Once you have sorted your files by year and client, the next step is to develop a naming convention for your project files. You should ensure that the client and year are visible, that you can sort the folders chronologically, and that the contents of each folder are unique without having to look inside. A simple and effective way to achieve this is to use project identifiers.

Project identifiers consist of the first three characters of the client's name, a short year and an ascending index. You can use these identifiers in your scheduling software, time tracking, invoicing and correspondence with clients, so there is a link in all your applications. Thanks to this naming convention, you can identify a project's location by its identifier.

Although this structure may seem redundant, it helps to organise the projects chronologically and to identify the project files quickly. Following these simple steps, you can create a robust, manageable and effective file structure that keeps you organised and productive.

Input / Output / Working Design Files

The next step in our file organisation system is to divide each file belonging to a project into one of three categories – input, output and working files.

Let's first talk about input files. The client or other stakeholders have sent these files to you, such as third-party research, briefings, brand guidelines, specifications and more. These files are critical to understanding the project requirements and should be easy to find when you need them.

Next, come the output files. These are files created in-house that you can send to printers, the client or others involved in the project. This category includes proposals, mood boards or other files you need feedback on. A file is considered an output if sent to someone else for review or production.

Finally, there are the working files. You are currently working on these files using your preferred software. It doesn't matter if they are illustrations, spreadsheets, texts, brochures, posters or 3D models. If you work on it, it is a working file. This category also includes purchased images, scans, sketches, audio fragments, notes or anything else you use while working on a project.

To maintain the integrity of the workflow, it is crucial to follow the rule of not editing files in the output folder. This can lead to confusion and errors as changes to the output file must be reflected in the working file. This can lead to outdated files being used and mistakes being made, which can be costly and time-consuming.

Instead, it is recommended to make changes in the workspace folder. This folder is for work files, and here you can edit files without affecting the logic of the workflow. If you need to edit a file, copy it into the workspace folder, give it an appropriate name and make the necessary changes.

It is worth noting that the workspace folder is more flexible than the other folders regarding the folder structure. Depending on the project's requirements, you may need to create subfolders to organise the files. This is acceptable as long as the overall logic of the folder structure is not compromised.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your workflow remains organised and efficient. It may take some getting used to, but once you do, you will find it much easier to keep track of your files and avoid costly mistakes.

Naming Design Files

Name Structure

File naming and organisation can make all the difference regarding productivity and efficiency. In this context, adhering to certain file naming conventions and folder structures can make files easy to find, identify and access.

Our agency uses a naming convention that includes the project identifier, file type and version number, separated by hyphens. For example, BBC19004-mood-boards-v2.pdf. This naming convention may seem redundant, but it ensures the file is still easy to find and identify, even if omitted from the context. We avoid spaces in filenames and use lowercase letters to prevent problems that arise when encoding online. This approach has proven effective and has become part of our standard file management procedures.

Version control is another important aspect of file management. Our agency uses an incremental version system that includes v1, v2, and v3. We don't use terms like ‘final' or ‘finished' as there is always room for improvement and feedback. Using an incremental versioning system helps keep track of changes and ensures that the latest version of the file is always accessible.

Apart from the naming conventions and versioning, we also stick to a specific folder structure. We have three folders, Input, Output and Workspace, which categorise files according to their function. Input files are files we receive from clients, stakeholders or third parties. Output files are files that can be sent for review or production, while workspace files are those that are currently being worked on. This categorisation helps to ensure that files are not edited in the output folder, which could result in outdated files being sent for review or production.

Sometimes file management may seem like a waste of time, but it is crucial for productivity and efficiency. Organised files can lead to wasted time, repeat printing and frustrated customers, ultimately affecting the bottom line. That's why you must adopt file naming conventions, version numbers and folder structures that work best for your business. Start today and make sure your files are easy to manage, identify and access.

Wrapping Up

Organising your design files is not just a matter of order or efficiency but a key component of being a professional designer. By implementing a system that works for you, sticking to it and continually improving it, you can free up more time and creative energy to do what you do best:

  1. Create incredible designs.
  2. Remember, the more organised you are, the more time you have to develop and revise, which separates professionals from amateurs.
  3. So take the time to set up a system that works for you and watch your productivity and creativity soar.
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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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