Why can’t I find that file I just finished…importance of organization in design

Well, it’s that time of the year again when resolutions are made, projects are started and file back ups are started. In a couple of months, which is always the case, you’re going to reach a major meltdown…that design project is ready for proofing and you need the first draft for file information or art that the customer decided he liked after all. Where did I save that file? After some fruitless efforts to find said file, you grab the remaining specks of sanity and start the long process of looking through all your back up files under the word “proof”. There are 5,625 files with the word “proof” in the title or file. Ugh! After the first 2 hours, you’ve found it…the file titled “artproof#1.pdf”. To think this whole 6 hours of searching is unbillable due to this one file.

Before you waste anymore time, you’re going to have to spend time organizing. This time spent will save you valuable time and mental stability in the long run. We spend countless hours looking for things in our day to day lives. Hours that we can’t bill for and add to our already stressful lives. Start with your computer and please consider some of these ideas for your non-work situations.

Believe it or not, computers start off clean, immaculate and stable environments much like your home when you first move in. The impulse is to fill the space with your stuff in each room…bed in the bedroom, table in the kitchen, couch in the livingroom, etc. After the first couple of months you have your floor plan set and your living in your home and more stuff arrives. Just like the late George Carlin spouted,”… everywhere you go you gotta bring your stuff with you…”.

Folders, sub folders and more folders. I used to think folders were nerdy. I told myself just put the files in one directory and be done with it already. What folders achieve is the ability to generalize and specify all in one sweep.
Designers should consider their working environment before setting up folders, especially when working in collaboration with other designers. You need to converse with your cube mates on the ability to “share” folders and when the need to archive to such folders. This communication is necessary because duplication of folders could lead to file deletion or original, final files to be overwritten which can be devastating to the creative process.
The naming of your folders is important. Simply naming your art scans folder “scanning stuff” is not enough. Try naming the folder with a date and name of the account (i.e. 121211_joesplumbingscans) this folder name gives you the actual date of the scan and the client so when the next set of scans arrive your ability to avoid duplication of scans can help you avoid wasting time scanning images you may already have. If you want to generalize the “scanfolder” and create subfolders, that’s fine. Simply place “121211_joesplumbingscans” in the “2011 scan folder” which can also be placed in the “scan folder”. A simple search for “joesplumbing” will turn up with the file being located in the “scan folder” under “2011 scan folder”.

File names. Simply naming a file with the term “artcopy” is too general file name to use. Unlike the the naming of folders where naming conventions can be general and specific, file names should be a specific process, that when working with other designers, you should have an agreed upon system. For example…

A file completed for the first draft of your company newsletter with which there are multiple files associated including copy written in Microsoft Word in a couple different files. The name of the client is Joe the Plumber and his newsletter is printed quarterly.

I would create a folder for 2012 clients. My subfolder would be Joe the Plumber and the subfolder within this folder would be 2012_joetheplumberNL1. (NL short for newsletter) Art would be placed in a folder named art_joetheplumber2012 and scans, diagrams and other related digital art would be placed here as well. As far as newsletters are concerned, art is sometimes used frequently and in the case of InDesign, is linked to multiple files so care should be taken when moving art to different locations where the process of relinking can be a hassle. Before you proof your first draft of the newsletter, create 3 folders…working_joetheplumberfiles…proof_joetheplumber…finals_joetheplumber. I would name the file JTP_summer2012V1.indd. This naming convention tells me the client, the version of the newsletter, date and version. Do yourself a favor and keep a physical folder for your client and list any important filenames handwritten here…for quick reference. After your second set of revisions is received, save your file as JTP_summer2012V2.indd before you start work. Having that first version may prove helpful in case your client ever refers to this version at a later date or if your present file is ever corrupted or overwritten.

After the revision process, move your final “proof” version to the final folder you created earlier. You can move this file by simply renaming your final version JTP_summer2012FINAL.indd under the “final” folder. InDesign can do this process for you but it’s an extra set of steps but it’s great for prepping method for sending a disk to your company’s printer. For CS versions and higher, go to file, package file and follow the options available including exporting art files linked to the document and fonts. The folder can be duplicated, compressed and burned to disk but you should consider this process only when your shipping files out to other companies…this process used for the simple process of archiving will take up valuable hard drive space after a while and often the files are redundant if your doing this process every time you complete any project…especially when it comes to the process of exporting fonts and art.

Back up files. Decide when the process of files is necessary. At one point, my computer started to slow when faced with storing and retrieving files. I was working at a seasonal business part time and projects would change when the art was no longer applicable. Summer projects would backed up on a separate hard drive under folders with the following titles…SUMMER_Layouts2011…ART_summer2011…etc. So when the time came to retrieve this files and folders I would simply bring them back and rename them with the current date thus keeping the “original” files on the hard drive in case the day came when I would ever need to bring to another computer or review for a future ad campaign. Don’t be a victim of lost files…Back up your files. I once lost a years work when an IT person overwrote my entire drive…I was in the fetal position for days, overwhelmed with the possibility that all that hard work would never be regained. It was awful!

Other things to think about. Whatever naming convention you decide to use, be consistent. Don’t rely on time/date searches and file formats to find files in your system. If you’re working with other artists, make sure communicate the system so they use the same system or your system won’t function properly. If your colleague needs to use a separate hard drive, keep your own drive with all of your and her’s files on it, just in case the hard drive is ever lost stolen. The time you put into better organization pays in the long run in time, money and positive attitude.