File naming conventions for creatives

This is the first proper blog post I’ve written in 21 months, and what a riveting post at that!

It’s only within the last year or so where I’ve had a proper way to name files and structure project folders. I’ve always kept things pretty organised (I’ve never been one of those ‘chuck everything on the desktop’ types) but my conventions were always pretty basic until I read up on the matter.

I’ll save structuring project folders for some time in the future otherwise that would be far too much excitement in one post.

This post is all about keeping things nice and consistent and organised. Does the below image look all too familiar? If so then this post is for you.

Bad file naming

What I like to include in filenames

Bear in mind that the conventions I’m discussing are mainly just what I use for files that need to go through multiple iterations before it is approved by the client… such as a logo, brochure design or concept for a website homepage as a few examples.

If it were a case of a client sending me their copy or images to use for a project, then I wouldn’t exactly be renaming each of their files like in the following examples… that would just be a tad unsavoury.

Also notice how I use hyphens instead of spaces in filenames. I think it may be my frontend-dev background that gives me this pet-hate of people doing otherwise. In short, ever notice in the address bar in your browser there’s loads of ugly ‘%20’ action going on in there? Yeah, that! I also keep all filenames lowercase. The way I see it, I don’t wanna be worrying about grammar for filenames, I leave that for any actual content.

I’ve played about with some different combinations based on what I’ve read about other designers doing, and here’s what I prefer to include in my filenames:

  1. Job number
  2. Client name
  3. Project name
  4. What the file is
  5. Whether it’s a concept or not
  6. Round / version numbers

Job number

A great tip I once read was to use your accounting software (if you have any that is, I use Freshbooks) to generate the job number. With each job, I set up a quote and then use the quote’s unique ID as the job number.

I’ll include the job number in the name for the main project folder as well as any documents that go through multiple iterations… so that means concepts aswell as, for example, versions of a brochure once I get to the artworking stage (I like to save lots of versions as backups for safekeeping). This makes things easier if you need to search your computer for a specific job, because you can search by the job number.

The latest job number I’ve been working on lately is ‘0000148’… so let’s use that in our example shall we.

Client name

I include the client’s company name in the file to help me differentiate the file from similar jobs that I’ve done for different clients. I tend to be super anal about it and always take the name from the address of the client’s website… that way I avoid situations where I’ve worded the company name differently between jobs (e.g. ‘do I include the Ltd or not?’, or ‘do I use their full company name or the abbreviated version?’)… consistency is what it’s all about people!

So as an example, if I were to ever end up doing any design work for Clipper Teas (dream client) then I’d Google their company name and see their URL is www.clipper-teas.co.uk… and then grab the ‘clipper-teas’ bit and use that as my client name in the project folder / filenames.

So our filename so far is…

0000148-clipper-teas.

(see I told you this would be exciting).

Project name

For the project name, I’ll come up with some kind of brief description. We don’t need to worry too much about obsessive consistency with what to name projects, because every project is different when you work on a wide range of stuff like myself… it’s when giving the project a name that I like to let my hair down (figuratively speaking). This is more for mine and the client’s reference rather than keeping things super-organised, and I’ll let the job number worry about being unique and all that.

So let’s say Clipper have asked me to give their logo a bit of a refresh (e.g. not a full redesign) as well as redesign their website homepage. I could name the project something like ‘logo-refresh-web-redesign’.

That gives us a filename like so

0000148-clipper-teas-logo-refresh-web-redesign.

What the file is

If you’re only designing one thing for a project (e.g. just a logo) then feel free to skip this step.

In my example project, I’m refreshing a logo and redesigning the website homepage… so let’s pretend I’m working on the logo first (as I would be if it were real life) and use that as our example file. So I would simply include ‘logo’ in the filename.

Giving us…

0000148-clipper-teas-logo-refresh-web-redesign-logo.

When it came to working on the website homepage, I would use something like ‘web-homepage’ in place of ‘logo’.

Whether it’s a concept or not

I’ll have concepts in one folder, and a separate folder for when I start artworking (e.g. for a brochure or book) or simply tidying up approved concepts (e.g. a logo). So while I’m revising a concept, I’ll include ‘concept’ in the filename.

Once the concept has been approved by the client, I’ll save it as a new file (in a different folder) and remove ‘concept’ from the filename. I’ll also reset the round and version numbers back to ‘01’ (more about those later).

So our example filename now looks like so

0000148-clipper-teas-logo-refresh-web-redesign-logo-concept.

Round / version numbers

These are you secret weapons to avoid falling into the trap of adding ‘final’ to the end of your filename only to find yourself working on yet more iterations afterwards, resulting in the infamous ‘logo-final-final-new-2.jpg’ situation.

A ‘round’ constitutes as each time you run a design by the client for feedback, and a ‘version’ is more for your own reference. As mentioned earlier, I like to save quite a lot of versions because it makes it easier to revert back to earlier designs should I need to.

So I might be working on the first round of a design (before the client has seen anything) but the third version of the file, that would give ‘r01-v03’ in the filename. I like to add preceding zeros to all numbers just incase they end up going to double-digits (I’m that obsessive I like to keep them as double-digits all the time rather than switching from single to double… yuck!). God help you if you ever reach triple digits…

Note that each time you start a new round of changes, the version number goes back to 1 (or ‘01’ in my case)… so continuing from the last example, the second round would be ‘r02-v01’.

Ta-daaa

0000148-clipper-teas-logo-refresh-web-redesign-logo-concept-r01-v01.

Here is how our masterpiece of a filename looks now that we’re ready to start work on it!

‘That is one king-sized filename!’ you might be screaming… and yes it does look needlessly long, but having conventions like this helps to keep me super organised. I know exactly which project a file belongs to and it’s effortless figuring out which file is the latest version. It’s by going with bad practices like ‘logo-final-final-new-2.jpg’ etc that you’ll be more prone to sending the wrong version of a brochure to print, or the wrong website homepage to be built by the developer…

Date or no date?

A lot of people like to include the date that the file was created in the filename. I used to do this myself, but I found my filenames were getting way too long… like, RIDICULOUSLY long.

Not only that, but the creation date is stored in the metadata of the file anyway… this can be lost (I think) should you need to copy / paste the file for whatever reason… but, despite me being so obsessive when it comes to being organised, I can’t exactly say I’m unable to sleep at night if I’m unsure of the precise date that a certain file was created on my computer.

In conclusion

Remember, you don’t need to name your files exactly like I do… do whatever works best for yourself, just be sure to keep things *consistent* and *organised*!

I imagine I’ll continue to refine my naming conventions as time goes on. Maybe in years to come I’ll look back at this post and think “what on Earth was I thinking…”

Check out my graphic design work and hire me!

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