Organization for Designers


Organization. Left-brainers love it. Right-brainers hate it. If you’re a graphic designer an easy guess is that you are a right-brain thinker. What is this left-brain, right-brain stuff? Experimentation has shown that the two hemispheres, of the brain are responsible for different manners of thinking. The left brain is generally logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective, and looks at the parts of problem. The right brain prefers to be random, intuitive, holistic, synthesizing, subjective, and looks at the whole of the problem.

Go to to find out what part of the brain you identify with.

Being creative and being organized are not exclusive of each other and keeping yourself organized will show clients that you are serious and professional. It will also make it much easier to navigate the files for a project, or troubleshoot once the project is out of your hands.

This organization is demonstrated on a Windows PC but the concepts can be applied to any platform.

On a computer you have a variety of tools available to organize your files, the mainstream methods being the use of folders and filenames and extensions. Using these tools in conjunction with each other, organization is possible. There is no need to go and buy fancy software (although that will be discussed later), all the tools you need are already on your computer.

Files, folders, extensions

The most rudimentary organization done on your computer is the use of filenames. Outside of computers that run on punch cards, every computer now uses filenames for each file. How long can your filenames be? If you are running a modern computer, running either Windows XP or Apple OS X, you can name them up to 255 characters long. On both platforms, spaces can be used and outside of a few select characters, you can use what ever you want. If you are running Windows Millennium Edition, or any previous version of Windows operating system, you are limited to 8 characters. That requires some ingenious mnemonics and other (human) memory tools to allow you to describe what that file is.

With the ability to put 255 characters into the filename, a fair amount of detail can be used in your file names. Rather can calling your file “Picture1.jpg” or “Book.indd” which are vague, specific formatting of each filename can be used to give more information to the designer, by only looking at the name.

OSA Fall 2006 Brochure mechanical 02 02 2006 1337.indd

To the casual viewer this filename makes no sense. But when broken down, this filename gives a great amount of detail about the file before having to open it.

OSA is an acronym for the client. This is the Office of Student Activities. These should be easy to recognize.

Fall 2006 Brochure is a descriptive name for the project. Is it a poster, flier, brochure?

Mechanical is the typography of file. No, not the file type. It’s another descriptor of the file.

02 02 2006 is the last date that project was worked on. There will be multiple projects with different dates.

1337 is the last time that the project was worked on. 24-hour time has been used because a color “:” is not allowed in more file names.

.indd is the file extension assigned by the program or operating system. This is an InDesign file.


This is a part of the file name that will be specific to each organization. In a Student Affairs Office, the filename acronyms that have been decided on are OSA for Office of Student Activities and OJA is the Office of Judicial Affairs. This is something that you have to decide on.

Descriptive Name

The descriptive name is specific to the project. Is it a brochure, a poster, a flier? What distinguishes this brochure, poster or flier from any other project from that office?

At this point we have the files separated by Office and Individual Project names.

File topography

The topography of the file will let an organized designer know what part of the project the file is from. Mechanicals are the page layouts. This allows other graphic designers to know what this file is.

One might be thinking: What about the file extension? On the Apple operating systems, file extensions are hidden by the operating system. While the icon might give an idea of what the file extension is this is definitive.

File Dating / Version Control

When projects are getting approved, there is a good chance that changes made could be undone the next day, hour, even minute. That can make keeping the changes and versions of the files difficult to control. What happens if your boss asks you to make a change, then they look at it again and make some more changes, but then after looking at it a third time, they want to “undo” some of the changes that they made before?

By adding the last date edited and the 24 hour 4-digit time code on each file, the version of the file is much more accurate than OSA Fall Brochure 2.indd. If the file will only be edited once during the day, you can just leave it at the date.

File Extensions

A file extension is generally a set of 3 characters that follows a period at the end of a file name. The file extension tells the operating system what type of file it is. A .doc file extension is a Document file extension created by Microsoft Word. An .indd file extension is an InDesign Document file. File extension by default are turned on in a Windows machine, but off on an Apple.

Now a file has been separated by Office, Individual Project name, File Typography, Version, and the File Extension. This is the most finite level of naming that will be used here.


Folders are virtual ways of corralling groups of files. Like a manila folders holding multiple pieces of paper, Folders hold related files. At a minimum, each project should have a folder. This will help you differentiate one project from another.

Nested Folder Structure

For any project that is being built in page layout software, a little folder organization can greatly increase the speed of your workflow. Inside the “master” folder for the project, the creation of some subfolders will help to further organize the materials that are required for the project.

Projects consist of a variety of file types: EPS (Encapsulated Post Script), TIFF (Tagged Image File Format), Mechanicals and Fonts. These aren’t the only files that you will be creating/using, but they are a good base to start talking about subfolders.


With the understanding that changes should be saved over time to create version of the project, the Mechanical folder holds all the page layouts from the initial concept to the final approved version. Remember that the latest date and latest time is the most recent file.


The originals folder holds the raw images, freshly scanned in. Saving your originals is important because if the client decides through the proofing process that they want to undo a change to a picture or vector graphic, you are able to from the beginning rather than trying to undo changes and then redo others. This is one of the only folders where file types will intermingle.


This folder holds all the color corrected images. Don’t crop them; don’t resize them, just color corrected.


All raster images (images made up of individual pixels, not scalable) that have been cropped down and saved as TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) files will go in this folder. Raster images in your layout will be stored here.


All vector images (images made up of lines, infinitely scalable) will be stored here. When working in the illustration software such as Adobe’s Illustrator or Macromedia’s Freehand, the artwork will be saved as a proprietary format. To be placed in your project, the images must be an EPS (Encapsulated Postscript) file.


Fonts are a tricky master. Everyone has some standard fonts, but they might not have the same version as you do. So even the plain vanilla fonts that you use in a document should be put in here. A service bureau will load your fonts when dealing with your job.


When working with clients, sometimes they would prefer an electronic proof rather than a printed piece. In this case, a PDF (Portable Document File) is optimal. It will contain all the necessary information to show the client their project, without them having to have the TIFF, EPS or font files. If the PDF is going to be transmitted over the internet though, the higher resolution of the project’s image elements may make it to large to email successfully. When saving a PDF for web transmission, the quality of the images is lower to achieve a smaller sized file. When getting a file ready to send to the printer, a PDF can also be used, although the highest quality is necessary. To avoid confusion as to which file is which, the low-quality vs. high-quality, any PDF file that is going to be transmitted over the internet should be saved to the Output folder.


The Printer folder is where the job is packaged up for sending to the vendor or service bureau. Most modern page layout software has a function that will allow all the pieces of the project to be collected, or packaged together, including the fonts and images.

@ the Printer

When sending your file to the printer, be sure and remember to include at a minimum the Printer, EPS, TIFF, Fonts and Mechanical folders. That way if they run into any problems, they might be able to correct them without having to contact you.

If you have used good naming conventions for your files, as well as kept them consistent, clients and vendors will get use to the way that you have your files organized making business easier for everyone.

High tech

There are programs that control the versioning of your images and projects. These usually come bundled with creative software packages and are for operations where multiple designers are manipulating the same layout. These software packages generally “tag” the file with who has “checked out” the file and when it is “checked in.” It compares the date of the incoming files “check out” time to see if it is the most current version.

Very soon, I believe, a revolution from the internet will be coming to your desktop, allowing you to “tag” files with keywords that are familiar and make sense to you. While this would seem an ideal way of tracking information with in a project, the problem lies in the fact that one person has made the “rule” system but another person has to interpret it.

That being said, any system that is not used consistently will result in the same problem.


While some of the items outlined here may not apply to your specific job, the maintenance of good organization will allow easier navigation of projects as well as the elimination of points of confusion. As a reforming right-brainer, I can attest to how easy it is to get and keep a system with a little discipline.