The clocks went forward last weekend, and it’s a perfect reminder that summer is on the way. Also, it’s time for spring cleaning! Donating or recycling stuff you don’t need, getting rid of clutter and giving cupboards a clear out can be weirdly satisfying.
Anyway, if you’re a designer, you have probably encountered this at one point in your career.
So while we make jokes about not labeling folders, files or layers within a work document correctly, but the truth is that we should always try to organise design work correctly.
There are a Million Reasons Why It Doesn’t Happen
Typically, the final few days or weeks of any project are pretty ‘scrappy’. Last minute changes to the design are implemented based on unforeseen technical constraints, and adjustments and compromises impact the design. This has occurred in every project I have worked on, so I would assume that it’s pretty normal.
When I worked in an agency, projects would overlap to an extent. The final touches would be happening on one project, while the initial designs were being created for the next one. Designers didn’t have the luxury of down time in order to organise their work, they were just expected to do it along the way.
An organisation isn’t going to ask you to make time to organise your design work. Managers (particularly those that don’t have backgrounds in designer) have – at least in my experience – expected the designers to have a system for staying organised. If you don’t have a system in your company, it’s up to you to create one.
Why Organise Design Work
With the chaos that comes with the last few weeks of a big project, organisation is an easy thing to set aside in favour of getting the project done on time. We’ve all been there. Organising design files takes time and discipline, but in the grand scheme of things, when deliverables are more important, why spend your time doing it at all?
- If something happens and you need to suddenly leave the office for a few weeks, the other designers on your team might need to find something.
- If you move to a different company or a different team, the new designer may need to find the files you were working on.
- You will spend less time searching through folders for an old file if someone asks for it.
- It will give you a sense of control and order across not just your design work, but inspire the same with other designers on the team.
How to Organise Design Work
There are 2 separate categories when it comes to organising design files – the folder structure, and the actual files themselves. The folder system I have used since my agency days is loosely based on the following:
- Create a folder for each client that you are working on
- Within each client folder, there might be different projects that you are working on at different times. This could be a revised navigation, or a new feature. Clearly name the different projects.
- Within each project, there will be another set of subfolders. This might be something like:
- Research (for wireframes, sketches, workshops etc)
- Assets (logos, design guidelines, photography)
- Design Working (the working files)
- Design Final (where you place the final output)
This folder structure has served me well through the years, but it’s just one side of the story. On the other hand, every designer should spend getting their Sketch files in order – particularly if they plan on sharing them with other designers. With this in mind – here are 5 ideas to get you started with your design file spring clean:
1. Schedule Time for Clean Up
Put aside 1 hour at the end of every week to clean up your design files and organise everything. If you don’t have a shared drive to organise, spend time tidying up your active Sketch or Photoshop files, or even the files that build up on your desktop. Get into the habit of structuring your digital workspace.
2. Create a Shared System
If you don’t already have a good system for sharing the teams design work across your internal network, set one up. Create a proposal for how to structure design files over the internal network, and get the other designers to support it. Having consistency across the team will also make it easier for others to find what they need, if someone needs to take unexpected leave.
3. Organise Iterations In The Working Folder
Every designer has a different approach to iterating, and asking a designer to change their approach is crossing a line into micromanaging. I would advocate for allowing a designer to keep the approach they find most productive, but to label work accordingly. We’ve all experienced the following:
There is no way to predict the number of iterations a design project will get, so use numbers to differentiate the files until you realise your final version.
4. Prioritise Cleanup of Final Files
When you approach the end of a design project, schedule time to make a tidy final design file. Whether it’s an artboard in Sketch with everything, or a PDF of illustration work, create an asset that you can share with another designer at a moments notice. It shouldn’t include research or iterations, this is a final design file, and should only include the minimum of what is required
5. Discard Unnecessary Files
So here’s the final part of the puzzle – get rid of any files you don’t need. Designers go through dozens of iterations, and most of them are just discovering the right approach. In my experience, I have never needed to go back and present iterations after a project has been implemented. If you want to hang on to a few iterations in case, that’s up to you – but go through the unnecessary files and tidy them up. Keep the shared drive free of clutter to make the necessary files easier to find.
That’s all you need to do – start thinking strategically about how to store work, and make sure the work that is stored is easily shared between the team and with future colleagues. My file system isn’t perfect, but I advise you to find a system that works for your workplace, and will hopefully inspire you to get started.
Happy spring cleaning!