Creative files have a funny (and destructive) way of getting away from you. They’re all over – local drives, Dropbox, Google Drive, a digital asset management (DAM) platform. Maybe even multiple DAMs!
And wherever they are, they tend not to be well-organized.
Digital clutter shouldn’t be a big deal, but it creeps up on most of us. It slows us down, creates duplication, hinders collaboration and frustrates colleagues and contractors.
For example: One of your designers goes on vacation and hands off their in-progress InDesign files for another designer to complete. There’s just one problem – the links are broken and fonts are missing because the associated files are saved locally on the vacationing designer’s computer.
Now the project is taking twice the time to finish and holding up other projects in queue. Not good.
The longer you let your creative files pile up in digital disarray, the more daunting they are to clean up. Managing your work around that mess takes more and more of the time you’d normally spend getting things done.
Getting started is the hardest part, so let’s hop on the path to decluttered digital bliss.
It all starts with the right strategy. Organizational guru Marie Kondo’s method of tidying up calls for taking stock of what you’ve got before you start putting items in their appropriate places. She has you start with clothing, then books, etc. This is because clothing and books end up in various rooms throughout your home.
Same with your digital files. They’re probably in a number of locations.
Our advice: Start your digital decluttering journey by accounting for all your asset types, the channels they’re built for and the goal they’re attempting to accomplish. Then organize them the way that suits you and your colleagues best.
Find all the locations where assets might reside, then figure out the categories of asset types, channels, products or brands they should be organized under.
Put assets in one place where everyone can get them.
Putting things away requires having a place to put them. Before you say “Duh,” remember that not just any place will do – we recommend a single accessible, centralized location.
Many of us work all kinds of different places – in the office, at home, at a coffee shop. Wherever we’re creating, we need to make our work available to colleagues and collaborate with those who may not be nearby.
Without a central location, digital assets are hard to find or even disappear with employee churn. It also inhibits collaboration and brand consistency. Designers can’t readily access prior projects as a template, which impedes efforts to maintain brand consistency and save time.
Our advice: Find a cloud-based DAM for your assets. Deciding between file storage and DAM depends on your needs for collaboration, search, workflow management, integration and brand management features. If you’re not sure what you need, check out our guide on the differences between cloud storage and DAM.
Create a logical organizational framework.
Regretfully, your digital de-cluttering problems aren’t solved simply by putting files in the cloud. It’s like piling all your clothes in the closet – you’ll know your sweater is in there somewhere, but you won’t be able to find it quickly.
Creating a framework provides a logic others can follow and keeps everything organized. Establishing a folder structure – a documented, publicized structure – can do the trick. A good one makes it easy for everyone to know where to put files and where to find them.
Our advice: This is when your inventory audit will guide you. Once you know what kinds of files and assets you have, you can determine where they might go in a way that works for your business.
If you’re a large brand with many sub brands, you might want your top folder structure to be brands. Or, if cross-promotion is more of a driving force for how you work, then it might be better to organize folders by channel, e.g., social, banner ads and website images. The next folder level down might be project folders for each channel with another level devoted to process work, final files and resources.
The key will be to keep your folder structure as consistent as possible and customize only as needed. After all, you don’t want a bunch of empty or little-used folders muddling your structure.
Set everyone up for successful search.
An organized closet can be life-changing – no more digging through the dryer, wearing mismatched socks or searching for the final piece to complete the day’s look.
Imagine you were at home and could say, “Alexa, find my periwinkle sleeveless ruffle blouse” and *poof* it appears. That’s the power of adding metadata to your creative assets. It makes all your assets searchable for you and anyone else looking for them and alleviates asset requests to your creative team that eat up bandwidth and reduce productivity.
Our advice: Create a metadata schema. This defines which keywords you will use most often to help people find what they need.
To inform your schema, start by looking at the files you have and how they’re being used. Then put yourself in the shoes of the people searching your files. Host focus groups by department and interview them on their use cases. Compile your findings into a table, then include these with your brand guidelines.
If that sounds like a lot of work, look for storage and management solutions that have options to set custom dropdowns for metadata to save time. Some solutions, like Webdam, even use machine learning to automatically suggest the best keywords.
However you decide to approach metadata, just make sure you communicate what everyone can do to expedite search. A super-secret metadata schema won’t help anyone.
Here’s a sample schema to get you started:
Don’t call it what you want. Create a naming convention.
Let’s not force everyone to open files in order to figure out what they are. File names should be self-explanatory. And that means setting up a file-naming convention.
That may not sound sexy, but it will save everyone so much time. And the bigger your team is, the more time you’ll save. You might even get excited when you can figure out whether you need a particular based on its name.
Our advice: File-naming conventions should be specific to your business. And you need everyone to adopt the new naming convention.
- Get your team in the same (virtual) room and start with a bird’s eye view of what the team produces. If you work in marketing, start with the marketing channels you produce work for and customize the convention by channel. If you work in a consumer packaged goods company, maybe you organize your files by brand and then product.
- Create a formula that makes sense for each channel. You want your file names to be short and sweet, so pick the top three-to-five pieces of information to include in the file name, e.g., Channel-Title-ImageDetail. In the case of the images associated with this blog, for example, it would look like Blog-CreativeJoy-Hero.
- Document your naming convention and educate anyone touching creative files on how the convention works. As a best practice, add your file-naming convention to your brand guidelines.
Make your spring cleaning evergreen.
If you build it, they will not necessarily come. For all of the efforts you put into decluttering your digital professional life, it will only reap benefits if it’s documented and communicated. And then communicated some more.
Like having a house-full of kids (or a particularly absent-minded partner/roommate), you’ll have to tell everyone, repeatedly, where things go, why they go there, how to find them and how to help others help themselves to get the work-changing magic you’re seeking.
We know this spring cleaning of your creative files sounds daunting. But, listen, summer’s not that far off. Figure out the details now, then bring in a summer intern to help with the task of instituting it.