How I organize my files

While I was in school, I tended to organize my files in a pretty haphazard way in general. I’d have a folder on the drive with my name on it, with folders within that folder named by project name, and just put whatever files belonged with a project into the appropriate project folder. That’s already a decent organizational system! I’ve seen desktops full of disorganized files and folders, so go me! It becomes increasingly important, once you start working on a variety of projects, to find an organizational system with which it will be easy to find documents — without resorting to a computer-wide search function.

How I organized my files then

One of my first jobs as a designer was for an automotive dealership group that comprised of more than 25 dealerships. Every month, we spent the first two weeks adapting the manufacturers’ advertisements to display on the dealership websites. Then we created sets of customized web banners (based on the manufacturer ads) to display across the web for the rest of the month.

Every month, the first two weeks were a race against the clock. We needed to get all of that material out quickly to maximize the dealerships’ digital activities and ROI. I quickly found out that I would need to organize my files in a way that would optimize my time spent on each project. Now I’ll be honest, it wasn’t even a great system. However, I did complete my projects more quickly than most of my co-workers, because I wasn’t all over the place.


Check me out in action, working my magic! The video above shows you how I would organize my files, but here’s a screen grab of it below if it flew by too fast for you:

how I organize my files - Groupe Gabriel

In essence, I had a folder (unseen here) called “projects” on my desktop that housed the array of car brands we worked with. Within each brand I organized each project by “date-type of project”. A “- design” folder houses my working files. In short:

projects > Hyundai > 201807-promo > working files and final files together along with a "- design" folder that housed source files from the manufacturer ads

I know. That “- design” folder wasn’t aptly named, in retrospect. But it worked for me then!

How I organize my files now

I use a similar system nowadays that goes a little further (and yes, I’m on Windows at home):

how I organize my files - now

This new folder infrastructure accomplishes the following:

  • I can manage iterations and working files in the WIP folder
  • I can document the process, from before to after the changes
  • I can easily refer to the source material (existing logos, texts, photography) which is provided by the client

This, in turn, helps me optimize my time and ensures that everything that belongs together is together.

Generally, the naming convention I stick to for my files goes like this:

YYYYMM client name project name what this is.file-format

Example: 201911 Gloss Dentists website homepage.indd

Over to you

This is the organizational structure that works for me on the projects I work on. I’ve butted heads with some previous co-workers a little on my folder organization and file naming convention. Everyone’s got a system that works for them more than someone else’s, obviously. Ultimately, though, I find that this one is pretty efficient for me. Rather than prescribing it to the world at large, I’d like to know if you have a specific information infrastructure that you’ve perfected. Let me know in the comments!