Best Practices For Organizing Your Graphic Design Files

As graphic designers we can easily become overwhelmed juggling multiple projects with tight deadlines and a ton of files to manage and organize. In order to maintain some form of sanity, it's vital to have a basic filing system in place.

Approaches can vary from designer to designer and can depend on the type of design project. As a freelance graphic designer I primarily work on branding, print, and logo design for small to mid-size businesses and found the following to meet the basic needs of most projects.

Feel free to copy, adapt and customize for your own use.

organizing-design-files.jpg

#1 – Root Directory Folder

I'd first start off by creating a ROOT-DIRECTORY folder. This will serve as your main folder where all client folders will be stored. Sometimes referred to as the "master client folder". Something like below. Pretty easy stuff.

 ROOT-DIRECTORY

#2 – Client Name Folder

Within the ROOT-DIRECTORY folder are the individual folders for each client. I prefer using a numerical ordering system. Notice the number 001 in front of the ClientName. Designating a client number allows you to reference and organize client folders quickly and efficently. For example, I may have my top clients numbered 001-025 and other small or one-time clients labled between 050-100+. This allows my most accessed client folders to appear at the top reducing the amount of searching and scrolling. Another alternative is to list client names alphabetically A-Z.

  •  ROOT-DIRECTORY
    •  001-ClientName
    •  002-ClientName
    •  003-ClientName

#3 – Project Name Folder

Similar to the ClientName folders, the same numerical system is used for the ProjectName folders. All projects are numbered chronologically allowing you to organize project folders in an ascending or descending order. Project numbers also serve as references when tracking hours in toggl or invoicing clients.

  •  ROOT-DIRECTORY
    •  001-ClientName
      •  001-ProjectName
      •  002-ProjectName
      •  003-ProjectName
    •  002-ClientName
    •  003-ClientName

#4 – Project Filing Folder Names

Sub-folders are included within the main ProjectName folder and include Assets, ClientInput, Invoice, Moodboard, Obsolete and PDFs. Below is the standard filing system I use for a typical print design project, but it could vary and adapt depending on the type of designer and/or project.

  •  ROOT-DIRECTORY
    •  001-ClientName
      •  001-ProjectName
        •  Assets
        •  ClientInput
        •  Invoice
        •  Moodboard
        •  Obsolete
        •  PDFs
      •  002-ProjectName
      •  003-ProjectName
    •  002-ClientName
    •  003-ClientName

Assets: Basically any type of design element that is used to create your design project. This can vary from stock images, photos, logos, vector files, fonts, patterns, textures, icons, illustations, templates and more.
Client Input: Documents and files you receive from the client go here. Project questionnaires, previous design samples, copy, revisions, etc.
Invoice: Anything business-related. Project proposals or agreements, project expenses as well as final invoice and payment.
Moodboard: Research and inspiration curated throughout the course of the project.
Obsolete: Archived versions of revised project design files are stored here.
PDFs: Exported PDF's. These are proofs sent to the cleint for feedback, edits and final approval.

#5 – Project File Names

Working project files such as Adobe Photoshop (.psd), Illustrator (.ai) and InDesign (.indd) also have their own file naming structure. Each design file begins with the project number 001 followed by ClientName, ProjectName, YYYY-MM-DD (Year, Month, Day) and ending with a version number v01. With any revisions you implement, I highly recommend re-saving the existing design file to a newer version and placing the older version into the Obsolete folder. Doing this will allow easy access to the most recent file while avoiding the mistake of opening up an incorrect version. A paper trail of archived files can also come in handy when you or your client need to reference or backtrack to a particular version.

When naming your files and folders be sure to use only letters, numbers and hyphens. Hypens - are consider leigtimate word separators and are more optimal for serachability. Underscores _ are considered word joiners. Avoid spaces and special characters as these don't nessicarly translate well to other platforms such as the web.

  •  ROOT-DIRECTORY
    •  001-ClientName
      •  001-ProjectName
        •  001-ClientName-ProjectName-YYYY-MM-DD-v03.indd
        •  Assets
        •  ClientInput
        •  Invoice
        •  Moodboard
        •  Obsolete
          •  001-ClientName-ProjectName-YYYY-MM-DD-v01.indd
          •  001-ClientName-ProjectName-YYYY-MM-DD-v01.pdf
          •  001-ClientName-ProjectName-YYYY-MM-DD-v02.indd
          •  001-ClientName-ProjectName-YYYY-MM-DD-v02.pdf
        •  PDFs
          •  001-ClientName-ProjectName-YYYY-MM-DD-v03.pdf
      •  002-ProjectName
      •  003-ProjectName
    •  002-ClientName
    •  003-ClientName

Consistency is key when maintaining the organization of your design files. Find a system that works the best for you and stick to it. My first design job at a small ad agency had an array of different filing systems from previous designers. There was no consistency and it made it difficult to quickly locate and reference previous files. Save countless hours and headache by setting up a system that works for you right from the start.

How do you organize your design files? Feel free to comment and share your methods below.