Save your Business Reputation with these 5 Design File Tips

Screen shot 2011-12-27 at 11.26.37 PM
14,891 designers received our email newsletter last week. Click here to sign up for free.

First, a note from Preston: Hey GDB Readers, you may have noticed a few articles recently from April Greer here at GDB. She’s an excellent entrepreneur,  designer and writer (as you’ve probably already noticed) and I’ve asked April to join the GDB team for the next few months (and hopefully longer into the future) as a once-a-week writer. April has some great experience as a freelance designer and I’ve asked her to write about the things she experiences on a daily basis–which is going to be awesome for the GDB community! Join me in welcoming April to GDB by leaving a comment on this post.

In the midst of a project, it gets hectic. Everyone knows what it’s like: The deadline is looming and you’ve got files final_v1 through final_v13, and you may even have final_final!

You intend to sort it all out after the project is finished, but if you’re anything like me, those good intentions go right out the window in favor of the next new project.

However, it’s little mistakes like these that will most certainly waste your time and might end up costing you your reputation! Follow these tips to keep your files, and your reputation, in order.

#1: Name Your Files Appropriately

Naming your files appropriately saves you both time, money, and face. Instead of an exhaustive search, you can reasonably guess what you would’ve called the project and use your search bar. Furthermore, you don’t have to send your client multiple images asking if any of them are the correct file.

#2: Organize your File Structure

Have you ever had a client ask for a file months or years after a project was completed and then you’re scrambling to figure out what you might have named “the ad we did for X magazine in October of 2009?”

Keeping your files organized by client, project, and/or date helps you quickly and easily deliver the appropriate file when necessary, and makes you look professional and well-organized to your client.

#3: Be Consistent

Determine a naming convention that works for you and stick with it.

For example, I like to name my proof files that are sent to the customer as filename[PROOF] while naming the actual file sent to the printer filename[PRINTED].

This way, if I need to send the file for reprint, I know exactly which file to send, and I know what to look for when searching as well.

#4: Back Up Your Files Regularly

Losing files is the absolute worst feeling, especially if you need it to send to a client.

#5: Save your Contract in the Project Folder

A good contract is not only a binding piece of paper, it is the most important file in any project. Use it as a tool to stay within the scope of the project as well as a guide and a reference when you present your proofs to your client.

How has your naming convention or file organization benefited your business?

How do you name your files? What tricks have you learned over time that help you be more organized? Share your tips and stories in the comments on this post.

Like what you've read?

Subscribe to our M,W,F newsletter packed with awesome content just like this. We'll also throw in a free ebook just for signing up. Enter your email below. Download will begin immediately.

About April Greer

April is a go-to freelance designer with a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy. She is available for subcontracting and speaking engagements – visit Greer Genius for more information.

Comments

  1. I previously worked at engineering companies, and their project tracking and filenaming conventions were already second nature to me so I adapted them for my business. Every project gets a number, which gets used pretty much everything, from e-mail folders to Quickbooks account number to project folder(s) on my computer. Each project folder has a subdirectory named _admin that holds the contracts, and a folder for the work. Purchased images and typefaces go into the _assets folder. Work in progress has a _working-files folder that has mockups, drafts, etc. When the project is complete, all of the final files get grouped together into a folder named _final-yyyymmdd. There’s more to it, but those are the basics.

    I’m a web developer so not every project is exactly the same, but I can fairly easily adapt this scheme to any project I do, from site maintenance to theme development to projects where I’m part of a bigger team.

    Oh, and everything gets backed up every day. Every computer and every hard drive fails eventually. Usually at the worst possible time.

    • @Margie,

      Excellent advice! (I use QuickBooks, too.)

      How do you determine the number for the projects? Is it random? Do the numbers mean something (i.e. 001-12012011 company name-date)?

      Personally, I have a really hard time with arbitrary numbers – I think it’s just how my brain is wired. But the important thing is, if it works for you, do it! Everyone is different, and there is no one way to achieve file organization.

      Thanks for sharing!

      • @April, I just use consecutive numbers, like 1, 2, … 150, etc. So my folders end up getting labeled ###-companyname so that if the client number doesn’t immediately click in my mind, the company name is right there too.

        I do a lot of repeat work, like coding for designers, or multiple web sites for an event coordinator, too, so within a client folder, there might be multiple subfolders. For example, within 54-fabdesigner, there will be 54-01_someclient, 54-02_someotherclient, etc.

        The numbers have the added benefit of keeping the project folders organized more or less chronologically without having to actually use dates. When something’s closed (and backed up one last time), I move the whole project folder to my closed project archive folder. That way my backup program doesn’t have to take the time to scan closed projects. If some project gets reactivated, I move the folder back into the work-in-progress folder.

        I suspect this works so well for me because I worked with a similar system for so many years in previous jobs.

  2. I learned the file naming (and dates) system at my first job working for another design firm. It works greatly for teams and individuals for ease of access and great when intuitive searches. It’s been nearly a decade later and I still use the system.

    I’m a huge planner by nature and always think about the “what if” moments when naming and placing files and have actually ran into times when those “what it” situations came to past and everything flowed very smoothly (especially when I’m on a call with the client and am able to retrieve the file(s) within seconds—which my clients love).

    I usually start a new folder every year of all the projects and sort each company by name and projects within that folder with the specific file name and date (and so on and so forth). This not only helps me keep track of a client’s project and dates, but also serves as a great means of tracking your business’ growth.

    For backup, I use an online cloud storage (that comes with an app for my smartphone) because it’s always nice to know that I can protect and access any files from anywhere when needed.

    • @Dionna,

      Planning is my middle name, too (besides efficiency)! I am always trying to anticipate the needs of the future and I love to find others who have similar foresight. Being able to pull up something from the past easily has impressed my clients, too!

      Do your links break in the files when you move them from year to year?

      Love the cloud technology. I am moving to an NAS file storage (parts are in the mail) that will allow me to access it via a web portal so that I can access my files from anywhere, too. With the after-Thanksgiving Day sales and the Christmas deals, now is an excellent time (if prudent and necessary) to upgrade your technology…and lower your tax bill!

      Thanks for sharing!

      • @April, To avoid links breaking. There are two effective methods I use.

        1. Inside the project folder, I place an additional folder and name it ‘images’. This is where all the linked files will go so when I move the whole project file all the images will stay put too.

        2. I package my design files when completed. I usually do this when I send files to print. I usually include my font files along with the links inside the packaged folder. That way I know that the files will not break, especially when I place them in the hands of the printer.

        I hope this helps. Let me know!

        • @Dionna,

          You bring up an excellent point inadvertantly here – a good reputation includes your vendors and subcontractors, not just your clients! Having well organized and well named files makes you a look good all around!

          Thanks for sharing!

  3. I’d think that you should look into source code control systems which can also be tasked for other types of files. Some examples are Subversion, also known as SVN and git which is a favorite of developers who work in distributed environments. With these there is no question of what the “latest” file is. For a designer it’d probably take a bit of learning, but it would be well worth the time and trouble to learn.

    • @slabounty,

      Being a coder (CS degree + backend web), I bet I’d get the hang of it no problem. I’ll look into it and see if it would work.

      Thanks for sharing!

      PS – There is versioning in Adobe Creative Suite…has anybody had success or failure with it that they’d like to share?

  4. I’m a fresher into this whole freelancing gig and I thank April for sharing these wonderful tips here in GDB. It sure helped me out alot too.

    • @Deepesh,

      You are in the right place – Graphic Design Blender (GDB) is a great place to learn all about “turning your passion into profit” as Preston’s great book puts it. Very aptly named!

      Stay tuned for more posts with the RSS feed, sign up for the email updates, and read the archives because there is something for everyone to learn about the business of being a designer here.

      Welcome!

  5. Organising your desktop is as good as having a neat physical workspace. You know the employee is fumbling all over the shop when you see him stacked behind a desk full of last month’s undone reports etc. It says a lot about you, about the way you work, about how you handle timeline.

    • @Morgan & Me Creative,

      Glad to see you posting so much! Your comments are always insightful.

      I couldn’t agree more with you – red flags start raising the more disorganized a place/person looks.

      Have a great weekend!

  6. Hi Preston and April,

    I’m an avid reader of your posts and articles here at GDB.

    I’ve been a designer for 13+ years and have always had a solid file naming and folder naming structure (learned from 8 years of working as an employee). Now in my own business (I’ll plug my business here – Hollywood Black – we’re trying to reach 50 fans by end of 2011 – we’re very close – https://www.facebook.com/hollywoodblackdesign) I use a master job folder for design clients and a different master job folder for photography clients.

    This is what my design folder structure looks like. Like April mentioned above, I make sure to have an “images” folder within the “design” folder so that if a folder is moved, the links don’t break. I supply high-res pdfs to printers rather than collected files, so I don’t need to store fonts in my job folders, though I do have a “working” folder which contains all the make up files such as a fonts folder for that client if I’ve used special fonts, as well as psds, working illustrations, images that are inspirational for the job, etc.

    My master design folder looks like this:

    CLIENT NAME
    < 1. Invoices – These have their own naming structure, as do quotes (Note: quotes are my design contract)
    < 2. Quotes
    < Project Name Month Year (e.g. 4pp Brochure January 2011)
    < DESIGN
    This contains the actual design files, e.g. InDesign named in sequential order of drafts. E.g. HB_ClientName_ProjectName_Draft1.indd (e.g. HB_MadeUpClient_4ppBrochure_Draft1.indd). This also contains the following sub-folders:
    < Images < Stock – Contains purchased stock images
    – Contains all the linked images (eps, jpeg, etc.).
    < Jpegs – These are jpegs which will be delivered to the client (e.g. diagrams or illustrations made into jpegs).
    < Pdfs < Previous Versions
    – Contains visual pdfs of the design drafts and then as new pdfs are made the previous versions go into the "Previous Versions" folder above, within this "Pdfs" folder. (E.g. HB_MadeUpClient_4ppBrochure_Draft1.pdf)
    < Supplied – Contains the files supplied to me by the client (e.g. logos, images, word documents, etc.).
    < Working – Contains all the make-up files for the design job (e.g. psds, a font folder, illustrations, etc.), as well as the previous versions of the design files themselves (the InDesign drafts).
    < SALES – Contains supplier quotes or additional client correspondence, etc.
    < TO PRINTER – Contains the high-res print ready pdf which is sent to the printer.

    Hope it helps others work out a system that is useful for them.
    Gina

  7. Just wanted to thank everyone for the great info. I had a fairly organized file structure, but not to the level of detail laid out here. I am implementing the necessary changes and I think it will make for a much better system.

  8. This is great! I have looked high and low for advice on file structure from the designers perspective and this is the best article I have found on this subject. Thanks for the information.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Save your Business Reputation with these 5 Design File Tips – In the midst of a project, it gets hectic. Everyone knows what it’s like: The deadline is looming and you’ve got files final_v1 through final_v13, and you may even have final_final! […]

  2. […] Disadur dari: graphicdesignblender.com […]

Join the conversation

*