Proper Digital File Management

Organized and Well-Documented Source Files: The Underrated Money Saver

There are unspoken rules when it comes to creating, sharing and delivering source files. These rules, when correctly adhered to, could save your design team hours of head-scratching, and forego many a game of Content Layer Hide and Seek. Clarity is the key when it comes to shared design resources, because your team members don’t carry around a crystal ball and they can’t read your mind, especially when you’re on your off-the-grid vacay and client requests edits to their 300+ layer Illustrator file!

You may be asking yourself “What are these ‘Source Files’ Matt is talking about?”

Source files can come in many different forms, but this article will focus mainly on Adobe Illustrator (.ai) and Photoshop Documents (.psd). These two file formats are widely used when creating artwork, and are usually the master files to company logos, print collateral, posters, etc. But, while this article will focus mainly on these two file types, these rules can also serve as a guideline for almost anything you share. If you follow and understand the basic rules below you will save you and your design team a future headache and more than a few bucks in the process.

Ignore these rules and your designer may end up like this:

Crying Designer

Avoid unsightly pool of tears stains on your carpet with proper digital file management.

1) Name Your File Accordingly

Naming your file accordingly is the most important rule and your biggest time saver. If you share multiple files with your agency or co-worker make sure the file’s name is relevant to its content. Not doing this will result in cryptically names files and office wide confusion.

It’s also a good idea to place a version number of the file in its name. Something such as “CompanyName_ColorLogo_Version_1” would be a great habit to get into. Do not give in to the temptation of just placing the word “Final” at the end of a filename when the project is approved. We all know there will ALWAYS (always) be a revision of some sort. Just try naming the file exactly what it is and when it was created, that way if you ever need to revise this file you can make a copy and change the creation date.

2) Name Your Layers

As boring and obvious as this rule may sound, it seems to be the rule that people most often to ignore. It’s easy to see why – you’re in a creative mindset, you’re on a roll, in a groove, in the zone and little things like naming layers fall by the wayside. But there is nothing worse than opening a file and being met with 30 different layers all that are named, “Layer 1 copy copy copy”. This not only makes me shed a tear, but will cost real time trying to research and dissect how the file is put together and what layers contain the content needed.

I can’t name my layers now. I’m in the zone, man!
– Someone Eager to Eat Their Own Words

3) Group and Organize Layers

If your file has multiple layers and could be grouped, take the extra time to do so. It not only makes your company look more professional with the way your files are setup, but will definitely shave time off your budget. Just look at the project and separate the layers based on location, such as “Header” or “Main Image” and continue until you can’t simplify any more.

4) Collect Unused Styles and Images

After a design is approved, it’s always good practice to go through and delete the layers that were never used in order to clean it up. Leaving these unused styles and images adds unnecessary clutter to your files. If you feel like the unused layers or graphics could come into play in the future, by all means just place them in their own switched-off layer group.

5) Make Everything Easy to Find

Think of your source files as a stack of papers, how would you organize that? One of the most intuitive ways to do it is to color-code the different sections. This same idea can be utilized in most programs where you can specify a color to each layer. That way, when you look at your huge stack of layers (papers) you can pinpoint the content based on color.

All of these rules may seem like a pain but if the source files are created with these rules in mind, it can save you money in the long run. Not only will it save you money, but it will create better relationships with whom you share your files. Don’t be the person that the people you collaborate with have nightmares about. Integrate these five digital file management rules into your workflow and your files will be a time-saving joy to work and collaborate on.