I think it is safe to say that every designer out there has a huge amount of files on their computer. It just comes with the territory. From stock files to client files, our computers are over run with files both big and small. Not having some sort of organized system in place can quickly lead to lost files, headaches, and even the occasional accidental delete. While every one has their own method of doing this, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and practices on organizing graphic design files.
The methods below are documents from a Mac perspective. That said, many of the below methods can still be applied in Windows. To do some of these things in Windows however, you may need to download some additional applications.
I would also appreciate it if you shared how your organized your designs files. If you have a organization method that has proved to be exceptionally useful, tell us about it in the comments section below.
Change Icons for Frequently Used Folders
Being that we are designers, it only makes since that we are visual thinkers. I don’t just mean we think creatively, but that we learn and see things in a more visual manner than most people. It is this theory that led me try out replacing some of my most commonly visited folders with with some bold icons.
My thoughts on this are that since I am a visual person, I am more likely to quickly glance at and remember folder locations that have some sort of bold icon associated with them rather than a basic folder icon. I know it doesn’t usually take too terribly long to find folders that you frequently use, but you would be surprised at just how much faster this method works. It seems to me if you have only a few bold images associated with common folders, you can find those folders much more quickly with a visual scan.
Obviously this method won’t work if you do it for all of your folders, as that would defeat the purpose. What I am suggesting is to do it only for your top four or five folder that you use the most. For me it is the following:
- Design Resources – This folder holds all of my stock images, icons, PSD template, etc.
- Blog Images – I do a lot of linkbait articles and this is where I store all the images and folders associated with various clients and articles.
- Client Work – This one is a little self explanatory. This is were al my paid and client design work goes.
- Personal Projects – I run a number of other sites and businesses, this folder is where I can them organized.
I’m not suggesting everyone use this format, but I think a lot of you probably have something similar in place already. If you don’t, using the above list could be a good start to helping you organize or re-organize you design files.
Before I changed the icons on my top four folders, the looked like the image below. They had the same color and look to all of my other folders. While I could find the files by looking for them, I couldn’t just do a quick visual scan to find the folder I wanted.
Surely you can see how much easier and faster it would be to navigate to these folders now that they stand out a bit more. Over time you will easily associate said image to the folder and you will be able to find the folder you are looking for without even thinking about it.
How to Change Folder Icons on a Mac
To change the folder icons on a Mac it is really just a simple matter of copy and paste. Check out the directions below:
Select the volume, application, folder, or file whose icon you want to stamp onto another, just click the icon to select it.
From the File menu, choose Get Info or press Command-I to open the Info window.
Click the icon in the upper-left corner of the Info window to select it.
From the Edit menu, choose Copy or press Command-C.
Select the volume, application, folder, or file whose icon you want to replace.
From the File menu, choose Get Info or press Command-I.
Click the icon in the upper-left corner.
From the Edit menu, choose Paste or press Command-V to replace the icon.
Organizing Your Stock Graphics
I use a lot of stock graphics. From vector files to photography to web elements, I have a lot of stock files. I have so much stock work it feels like I have bought every file off iStock Photo. In order to eliminate hunting for the right photo or graphic when I need it, I make it a point to keep my stock folder super organized. Every time I buy or download a new resources, I immediately put it in to the corresponding folder. This way I can find it right away.
Some people like to keep stock images associated with client work in the same general file with the rest of the clients files. If you only ever plan on using those stock files for that project, then this is perfectly fine. But, if you plan on keeping the resource filed away for future use, then this is a poor means of organizing your stock resources.
In the section above you will notice that I have a “Design Resource” folder. Inside of that folder I have several stock folders. Rather than have a single stock folder with all of my stock resources in it, I separate things up a bit. Below is a list of folders I have in my Design Resource folder:
- Stock Photography
- Vector Files
- Colors and Patterns
I won’t go into detail how I organize the inside of each folder, but I will give you some tips and suggestions on a few of the files based on my own personal organization method. Here are how I keep the inside of some of these folders organized:
This folder is pretty easy to keep organized. I usually just create a new folder for each icon set I buy or download. The only unique thing I may do here is if the icon set is a mini set, say 16×16 icons or something, I will usually mention that in the files name. For example, a folder of mini icons would read like:
I title the folder “mini” at the start because I like to keep my folders organized alphabetically. With “mini” at the start of the title, all of my “mini” icon folders end up in the same place. Yes, I could create a “mini icon” folder to keep them all in, but that would just result in an additional folder to click through which isn’t really necessary in my opinion.
This folder is probably the most organized out of all of my design resources folders. I have a lot of stock photos and don’t want to hunt for them when I want them. Inside this folder I have a ton of category type folders. These folders are named similar to categories that you would find on stock photography sites. The amount of folders in this section grows based on the images that I acquire, but as of current, I currently have the following folders inside of my stock photography folder:
- Specialty Papers
- Blank Photos
Using Mac Color Labels
If you aren’t into changing folder icons, but still want some way to visually organize and separate your files, you can always use the Macs built in color labeling system. The App Storm blog has a great article on this where they talk about it a little more in depth. The idea is the same as with changing the icons, with the exception that it is a little more global. You will have to create a default set of labels that you can apply to a variety of your folders.
To set the labels all you have to do is open the Finder Preference screen. To do this open any Finder window, click on Finder in the menu bar, then click on Preferences. You can then set your globally labeling system accordingly. If you are really anal, you can even setup your iCal labels to match colors with your folder labels.
Assigning labels to a folder or files is as easy as Control clicking on a folder.