This Old In-house: A File By Any Other Name…

Designers frequently need to pull files from old projects when working on new assignments that either require repurposing a past piece, reusing assets from archived files or revising and reprinting a previously produced job.

Given the frequency of having to unearth these docs, it’s in every in-house department’s best interest to speed up the process by creating and implementing an effective system for naming their files. There’s no bigger time-suck for a designer than having to tool around messy servers for a needle in their digital haystack.


Some best business practices regarding file naming conventions are:

  • Study how you and your colleagues search for files and make sure to include that in the file name. Do you search by client, project description, project type, date?
  • Avoid characters that conflict with the PC platform – your files may be backed up on the PC side and if improperly named would wreak havoc with that system.
  • Create abbreviations for often used descriptions such as project types (“bro” for brochure, “tad” for trade ad etc.)
  • Test your proposed convention before rolling it out.
  • Create an instructional document describing how files should be named for easy reference.
  • Follow the convention religiously.
  • Expect and allow for evolution.
  • Don’t use “final” – this designation often means different things to different people and you can fall into the trap of having a “final_final” or “final_final_final” none of which gives anyone a true idea of which file is the most current. This holds true with dates too if a file is worked on multiple times on the same day.

A typical naming convention includes:

design dept. project number_client_client project number_abbreviated project description (this may include product or service name)_project type_stage of development(comp, mechanical etc.)_version or option_option version

For example:

5389_Sales_S395_applejuicelaunch_bro(short for brochure)_comp_A_v1

Happy hunting…

6 thoughts on “This Old In-house: A File By Any Other Name…

  1. LeeAnn Eddins

    I work for a very large institution and have used a filing code for all projects for years, on both the digital files and hard copy files. It’s saved my hiney more times than I can count as well as hours digging in the files.

    It’s a simple convention to begin with, basically a number that is unique to that project, and we assign new numbers to versions of the project that may be updated years later.

    The convention is an alpha numeric… that way things are automatically alphabetized by client and then numerated according to year and serial number, followed by a brief description.

    For example: “CHI 10-472 Bro-Adjusting to Burn Injury” means a brochure for the Children’s Hospital about burn trauma, done in 2010, probably toward the third quarter of the year, (since we turn about 650 projects per year for about 60 different units in the hospital and college of medicine). Every file and folder bears at least the job number.

    When we are very, very diligent, a small indicia bearing the job number is printed on the back of the piece in an inconspicuous spot. We don’t always remember to do that, but it’s very handy to have when someone brings in an old brochure with markups all over to revise and reprint.

    It’s also handy to have these numbers and use them for time capture… but that’s another post!

    1. Karen

      Yep, in our in-house shop for a large university, we use a similar, but simplified, system and it works great. We’ve been using it for more than 30 years, predating computers.

      We use the following info:
      year, month, unique job number, and then an abbreviated, but descriptive, project name. Any one of these terms can be used for searching. Completed job files are (hopefully) stripped of extraneous and redundant files and moved to an online archive area of our server.

      For example:
      11-00154 Engr Open House Broch
      A brochure job initiated by the Engineering Dept. in January of 2011 for their open house. It was the 54th job opened that month.

      We also print the job number plus the quantity (for example: 11-00154 / 2M) on the back of all pieces, in tiny type.

      We also keep a spread sheet list of all the jobs by name, number, client and other relevant info. This can also be easily searched.

      We don’t charge back any more…thank goodness! That was another kettle of fish…!

  2. Kevin

    Great suggestions. Especially useful when a new designer comes on board and is not familiar with the new environment.
    We also try to use the corporate shorthand already in place by other departments, such as DAL1 for our Dallas store which our business and operations departments office use for charge codes, etc.
    Also, we use a variety of models in our imagery, so we assign them personas. So instead of looking for shots of that-tall-guy-with-black-hair, we assign him a persona, like “Steve.” We also make sure to include persona names in the image file metadata for easier searching in Bridge.

  3. Micah

    I work for a large healthcare system as well. We’ve tried using job numbers in the past and it seemed to just confuse things more.

    What we’ve moved to more recently is just a very organized folder structure within our server. For example…

    Projects/Cardiology/Brochures/CVU Visitation – 2010.indd

    We do keep a spreadsheet with other info such as, requested by, cost center, quantity, price and PO#, but instead of an identifying job number it’s by short description.