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Folder Structure Tips for Designers

Does your desktop look like the above? If so, you need to organize your folder structure and bring some organization to your workflow… and probably your life. One of the things that slows down your productivity is a messy desktop filled with project shortcuts, icons and widgets. These tend to clutter your workspace and cause you to spend minutes sifting through trying to find your project files. Every semester, I introduce my Graphic Design for Print & Web program at Humber College to the essentials of folder structure, file naming conventions and how to optimize your workstation for efficiency and productivity. I’ve made some quick handouts for my students this semester, which you can also download from below. (Right-Click > Save Image As)

In addition to folder structure, I also go through organizing project folders, naming conventions for working documents and print-ready files, backing-up system and document files and packaging project files. Some tips and advice that I usually give my students are to:

Editable and Print-ready versions

Keep and editable document as well as print-ready document and PDF. It’s easier to have these files separate instead of having to open up your original file in order to create text to outlines, setup the proper PDF format and print settings, such as bleeds & crop marks when preparing a file to send off for print. Save your original file and an editable file within your native file folder structure. For example, “Design_Project_EDIT.indd” and “Design_Project_PRINT.indd”/”Design_Project_PRINT.PDF”. The “edit” file would contain all your linked files and live text while your “print” file would have those linked files become embedded, live text becomes outlined text, and bleeds and crop-marks would also be set to your printers specifications.

File Naming Conventions

I also advise my students to figure out a naming convention for their project files that works for them and helps them navigate through their projects quickly. Most students/designers will stop working on a project mid-way and then continue working on them at a later time. When continuing, they tend to save new versions of the document and this is where the confusion and clutter begins. I try to get my students to move away from naming their files in an unimaginative sequence, such as “Design_Project”, “Design_Project_2″, Design_Project_3” or “Design_Project_New”, Design_Project_Newer, “Design_Project_Newest”. It just get’s confusing in the end and takes up valuable space on their hard drive.

Label Folders

Take advantage of “labels” by colour coding your folders. OSX has some really cool features that help you organize your files and folders visually. Adding colour coded labels to your folders and files will help you find them much quicker than if you were to look for a file by name. Other related features that help you search for files on your computer are things like quick view, column views and customizing your sidebar via the Finder preferences.

Package Design Files

InDesign comes with a great packaging feature and I’ve heard that Adobe has introduced a packaging feature for Illustrator, which is only available for their “Cloud” subscribers… I know, it makes no sense but anyway, I’ve been manually packaging my files for years and the above diagrams display the way that I usually organize my files and folders so that I can transfer my files easily while keeping everything I need in order.

Back-Up Files

Back-up your files. Every semester, at least one student deals with a failed hard drive and they end up losing all their work. Some students even break down in tears when this happens, they even have to seek help with the school psychiatrist… ok, I’m exaggerating but failing hard drives are a common issue. With repeated saving of files, mounting and ejecting USB’s frequently and traveling with hard drives loosely in your backpack, it is always wise to back-up your files to a hard drive at home or in the office in case your storage device fails or files get corrupted. Another solution would be to signup for a Dropbox account or use some sort of cloud storage service. I personally use Dropbox and Google Drive. They both work great for what I need and it’s free for about 5GB of space. If you require more space, you can pay for more on a monthly or yearly basis.

In closing, do yourself a favour and start organizing your files and folders so that you can become a more productive and efficient designer. You’ll save a lot of time and money if you keep your workflow organized and clutter-free.

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