Folder structure best practices may not be the first thing on your mind when you’re working alone or with a limited number of assets, but when you’re working with bigger teams and projects, effective file structure organization can be essential to your workflow. In fact, folder hierarchy can save your team time, energy, and frustration by making everything easy to store and easy to find.
Since we’re digital asset management pros, we’ve seen many approaches to folder structure. In our experience, a pyramid folder structure is a solid option for teams in all industries. However, if you and your colleagues find another approach that works better for you, go for it. The real key to success is consistency.
Here are some tips for file structure best practices to set yourself up for success.
If you’ve ever clicked on an ad or email button only to find yourself on a webpage with a URL riddled with percent symbols, you’ve seen firsthand how one system (most likely Google) handles spaces. That is to say, technology and spaces don’t always mesh well.
This may not be an issue if you save a file to your machine with some spaces. However, try uploading that same file to a server or a DAM system, and things can get a little messy. Not all operating systems recognize spaces in the same way, which can lead to some issues. Files can become corrupted and even unretrievable as a result of having spaces in the file name.
This is the reason that many business folder structure templates dictate that dashes or underscores be used instead of spaces. It’s just a little bit cleaner.
However, spaces also improve file name legibility for readers with dyslexia or poor vision. And most operating systems have advanced to be able to handle them just fine. So, if underscores are giving your colleague a headache, your team may make the decision to switch to spaces. Just know that you may have issues when using the folder structure in a different instance.
It’s also important to note that placing a space, underscore, or other special character at the beginning of a folder name will force the folder to “float” to the top of alphabetically sorted lists. Some people name files in this way to ensure that one folder appears before the other folders. However, this trick can lead to problems since the folder does not appear in its usual place. For example, someone browsing for the “Projects” folder may miss the “_Projects” folder at the top of the list expecting to see it between the “Marketing” and “Research” folders. They could then end up creating a duplicate “Projects” folder without the underscore in front, leading to competing folders.
The best way to avoid issues with special characters is to iron out a naming convention for all folders. This will ensure that everyone on your team is following the same folder structure best practices, and that consistency will ensure nothing gets lost.
One folder structure best practice is to avoid having folders that compete with one another.
Try not to create folders with overlapping categories. Instead, create folders which are distinct from one another, and use nesting to arrange them as needed.
For example, if you have a top-level folder called “Pictures” and another top level folder called “People,” you probably don’t want to copy a picture of a person into both folders. Instead eliminate one folder or the other, or place one folder inside of the other. For example, the “Pictures” folder could go inside the “People” folder.
A broad topic name is fine for a folder, so long as more specific folders are nested within. This makes it easy to find a path to a needed asset, and it also makes it crystal-clear where your colleagues should save new assets within the folder structure.
This is what separates elevates folder structure from a process to an art form. When you identify the need to create new folders, don’t just do it for the one you’ll need first. Plan ahead. Build out that structure for all the folders you’ll need. Save yourself time in the long run, avoid confusion, and usher in a golden age of tidy folder structure.
If the existing folder structure you use already follows a standard practice of nested subfolders, go ahead and recreate that structure for your new folder.
You can also save everyone on your team time by creating a “template” — a group of empty folders and subfolders that follow the folder structure you’d like to maintain throughout all projects. This will allow you to quickly copy and paste the template of subfolders into new folders, rather than manually creating each subfolder. For example, every folder created inside the “Projects” folder could use a template of “Artwork”, “Layout”, “Fonts,” and “Text” subfolders.
Just make sure that these folders are identified as template folders, otherwise, you may have teammates filling them up, which would defeat the purpose.
Think file organization is a beautiful thing? Just wait until you see how your team can organize, manage, and distribute fonts.
Sometimes, it can feel uncomfortable to scrap disorganized folders. Maybe you don’t want to offend whoever made them, or you just know that taking on the project or reorganizing all those files could potentially be a Herculean task.
However, a disorganized folder structure can cause creative chaos for your whole team. It also sets a bad example for how your colleagues should organize folders, which can lead to them creating more messy folders.
We recommend a fresh start. Make a project out of moving existing items into the correct place within your newly established folder structure. We also recommend setting a cutoff date, at which point the old location will either become a read-only archive or be deleted.
There’s an art to folder hierarchy and organization, no doubt about it. However, as technology evolves, the tools we use to create campaigns become increasingly automated. In other words, the burden of flawlessly executing folder structure can be lifted.
While traditional DAM tools and workflow techniques relied heavily on folder organization, there’s a new era of tools that streamline the process. Extensis Connect allows your entire team to find exactly what they need lightning-fast — with a little help from AI-generated smart tags, regardless of how files are organized.
Even as tools we use become more capable, organized folder structures provide a sense of calm and increases discoverability any time you’re working with a server. It’s also supportive for those colleagues who prefer working with this form of local organization, and it also empowers people to know exactly where files should be saved for future use.
Your reward for scrolling all the way to the end is this precious cat. Yes! (Fist bump.)