How Do You Organize Files?

How do you save/organize your files? Is it like a clothes drawer that everything gets tossed into one drawer? I hope not. I can’t tell you the number of people who tell me they are saving their files “in Flexi.” No – they are not. They are saving in Flexi’s default folder.

After years in the sign and design industry I have seen a great many ways to organize files. While the suggestions below are by no means the “right” way, it is a start for those without a place to start. Organization can range from very precise to downright random. Here are some suggestion about how to begin organizing your files.

It must first be stated that I organize files so that anyone can quickly figure out my system. I treat myself like the most “green” employee who is just learning the ropes. Why? Because during a busy week I can become just as inept as a new employee. Six months to year after the job has been completed – I can become just like that new employee in finding an old job. Sometimes your business may actually hire a new employee. Who wants that person to be asking you questions about file locations that only you know about. Organization saves you time and money. And – good file organization can get that job printing before you get off the phone with the customer.

First and foremost – sort all your files in One Top Folder – I use the simple name “Jobs.” This way a backup is simply a copy of one folder. Under that I have a folder for “A”, “B”, “C”…”X Y Z.” Inside each folder I make a folder for each customer with the starting letter – a Brown’s Landscaping folder under the “B” folder. Some customers are very simple and need only one folder. Other customers may have a folder for types of jobs or yearly projects.

A landscaper may have a folder for vehicles and a folder for each vehicle as well. Perhaps they do a home show and have a folder for that…by year. Perhaps they have lawn signs and need a folder for that. Then the customer wants business cards – folder; Placemat ads – folder. The more complicated the customer’s needs the more folders might be needed. Folders take up almost no room on your hard drive and digging into folders is fast when they are well organized. Think of it as a file cabinet as opposed to a stack of papers on the floor.
A few pointers:

  • Dates: Naming by date should use the Year-Month-Day format – 2021-05-18. This will allow name sorts to work as time sorts. American dating convention is poor – Month-Day-Year. This makes no sense. Avoid at all costs when naming by date.
  • Original Files: When getting files from customers & when buying clipart – place these files in a folder called “original art.” Only work with copies.
  • Artwork Folders: This is often not used in the sign industry, but in publishing circles artwork files linked into another file are often saved in a folder called “artwork.” The practice was also to save fonts on a “Fonts” folder as well. These folders and the original document are stored in a project folder. That project folder now has all that is needed to transport to another computer. This is less needed in the sign industry, but it is good to know about the practice and you may see files come from seasoned designers in this way.
  • Native Files: It can often be better to save native files to make sure you have full editing. For instance: If you use PhotoShop – save a PSD file. It will save all the editing fuctions – while a JPEG will be flat and lossy compression. Time marches on and many transferrable formats are still fully editable these day, so this tip is often no longer needed (looking at you AI vs. PDF.)
  • Save Version Numbers: As you are designing save each version with a suffix R01, R02, R03, etc. You will be surprised how many customers will ask to see the design three versions back because they just showed that one to their husband. When done – save the last one with the suffix [FINAL] to distinguish and make it easier to find.
  • Save a [PRINT] Version: Like the native file – sometimes a flattened or simplified version is needed, but the original might be needed for larger printouts. Other suggestions [WEB], [PROOF], etc.
    In the sign business, repeat business is far more profitable than new business – the design is done or mostly done for the next job. For this reason I suggest staying away from “year” folders. What year did we do that job in?
  • Network: I suggest files be stored on a network drive. Make all computers connected and always open and save to this one location. Computers often crash because the operating system keeps eating away at one disk sector (I know – SSD drives – things change.) When one computer goes down – a network drive will keep business moving forward on other computers. AND back up that drive regularly and offsite – cloud backup, etc.
  • Fonts: Find out how your design software manages fonts – most use Windows installed fonts. Make a backup of the fonts folder – put it on the network and copy to other design computers to have cnsistant font installations. If your font usage is extreme – you may look into font management software.

In closing, think about how you will be searching for files three years from now. Think about how your company workflow identifies clients (I have seen quite a few companies that use work order numbers for file folders.) Treat yourself as your most clueless employee and make your file structure easy to explain to that employee. And keep in mind that most sign company assets are their design files. Back up. Back up. Back up.