Design hack: Creating a file structure

Even though I’ve been using a computer since the late 90’s, and I’ve been documenting my creative projects since the internet made it possible. I’ve only learned to be organized with my digital files 5 years ago. Thanks to Adobe After Effects.

For those of you who don’t know, After Effects (AE) is a software to make animations and visual effects.

I learned about AE through one of my best friends back in 2012. And a few months later I created my first little video project. I made my own illustrations and icons and used a few external plugins.

Little did I know, if I try to open that file today, I wouldn’t be able to edit it, because it would be missing a lot of files. This happened because the source of my files was coming from different folders on my computer. And now, having a different computer, I no longer have the same folders.

Through the pain of opening old projects, I learned that I needed to have a better project-file structure with proper name conventions, and saving versions.

Here is what I learned:

Learning point #1: Don’t use default names! – really! it takes no time to properly name an image, a layer or a folder. This will save you time when you want to revisit your project and understand what each file is and why you used it.

Learning point #2: Stick to a file structure and use it for everything! – this will save you time when you open old folders, whether you work on illustration, web design, or video editing, keep a healthy file structure.

Learning point #3: Keep it clean! – remove old versions, temporary files, and random files. How many times, I’ve opened an old folder and it has documents with 10 different useless versions (i.e. title-v1-final.x, title_V2-test.x, etc). Stick to your versions while you work on your project. But after you finish it, delete all previous versions and rename your file to title.x. It’s also a good habit to name everything inside the project folder with the same name, or at least, include the same word. For example client-title.x, client-title-asset.x, and so on.

Really, even if you don’t use complex software like After Effects, make the good habit of organizing your digital folders. Or else, you would find yourself swimming in your desktop trying to figure out which files you can throw into the trash can, and which ones are good to save.

By keeping a good habit of properly naming your files and project assets, you would never run the risk of deleting an important file by mistake, and you will also save some disk space in your computer.

Before I start a project, whether it’s a simple a research document, a Photoshop file, or an After Effects video. I start by creating a folder inside of my portfolio folder of the current year (Portfolio2018). Depending on the type of project I go into the right folder (Portfolio2018/Illustrations). Then I create a new folder (Portfolio2018/Illustrations/ProjectName), and finally, I create my project file folder structure:

  • ProjectNameFolder:
    • Assets (This includes all necessary assets for the project)
      • Imgs (Images folder)
        • Raw (Original files, i.e. AI or PSD files)
        • Final (Final files with proper name conventions)
      • Sound (Sound files)
        • Raw (Non-edited sound files)
        • Final (Edited files with proper name conventions)
    • Resources (Inspiration files, or attachments)
    • Script or Readme file (Original file where it has the idea, script or contract)
    • Output (Folder which includes the final output of the file, PDF, PNG, MOV, etc)
    • FinalFileName.doc (The file that I will be working on – this file links inside every other folder inside ‘ProjectNameFolder’)

This way, when I finish my project, I ZIP the ‘ProjectNameFolder’ and save it to my backup in the cloud. Next time I want to open this file I won’t have any problems, because all the required files are inside a single place.

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