Fantastically Creative but Hopelessly Organized? - Extensis.com

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Fantastically Creative but Hopelessly Organized?

Thursday March 26th, 2009 by Richard Bamford

One of the things that they don’t teach at art college or design school is that when you graduate and finally get into the commercial world of design and business that a large and frustrating part of your working life will be spent searching for files.

Whether you’re looking for files to send off to a customer in servicing requests or looking for files that a colleague had created, the fact is that a large amount of valuable time is spent searching for these ‘digital assets’. What’s even tougher for creative folk (the people typically responsible for creating these files) is that as a task, being organized doesn’t come easy.

I’ve heard it mentioned before how really creative people have really messy desks and even messier desktops. The irony is that whilst every computer user knows that it’s quite sensible and logical to save files with some sort of structured file name and folder hierarchy, creative people aren’t particularly interested – whilst they’ve had first hand experience of the pain of disorganization and even had those flashes of logic wanting to be organized, the problem is inherent within the biological make-up that being organized is something that is quite literally one of the things furthest away from their thoughts. Couple this fact with the popular belief that databases are boring and the that meta-data has no listing in creative users vocabulary and I’m sure that the majority of creative people will want to leave the room or fall asleep when it comes to hearing about Digital Asset Management (DAM) software.Right brain vs. left brain

Neural scientists have documented how the left hand side of the brain is the logical side and how the right side is the creative side. It is also suggested that each of us naturally prefers one side of the brain over the other. Whilst there are a number of online tests and theories to support this, one certain way to discover which way you swing is to think to the time you used your computer and to what steps you completed when you last went through the simple process of saving a file.

I’ve made my own observations over the past decade of working with different customers and witnessing the way in which creative computer users save, re-save, duplicate and then try and organize and distribute their files. It’s interesting to sit with users being fantastically creative in their creative applications (performing right brain intensive tasks) to have their logical left brain desert them when it comes to saving the file as ‘logo.eps’ – “Well clearly ‘logo.eps’ might be a good name but what are you going to call tomorrow’s logo file – ‘logo2.eps’?” Indeed, with some users you can almost hear the gears in their head grind together as they try to engage the left side of their brain.

Saving a file shouldn’t be a hassle. Indeed, when you’re working alone a good structured file naming convention is fairly easy to decide upon. The problems with saving files however is despite best intentions you can find yourself again in an unstructured mess where the logic initially deployed fails because it’s been too structured or too rigid. A good system of managing files should continually evolve in a controlled fashion being able be adaptable to the changes placed upon it.

The other requirement of a good DAM system is that should be able to control and guide the human logic used to reference the files. The benefit here is in automating the filename. This might seem like an absurdly trivial task but later on will prove to be at the foundation for any good system. Keeping things simple will also benefit all those who come into contact with the system. Automating the filename (and controlling the logic on input will also benefit in the longer term since human logic not only differs from user to user but individually human logic can change on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis. I’ve seen creative users sit down using Monday’s logic on Monday to save the file but then on Tuesday (using Tuesday’s logic) be completely lost when they’ve wanted to retrieve the file. Automating the addition of metadata to files will help to guide human logic and in time, your customers both internally and externally will grow to appreciate the subtleties you decide upon.

When it comes to other metadata, a good DAM system should allow you to reference files in a way that makes sense to those using it. Whilst you could easily add all of the metadata simply as ‘keywords’ there are many benefits to be had in using custom fields of metadata. This is essential when your need to refer to files using proper nouns or by product codes, customer names or job numbers. Further more, whilst those who have just started to nod-off at the mention of metadata, one quick way of getting started with Portfolio to make sense of your :C drive or Documents/Images folder or network share is to turn on an option in the Portfolio preferences to build keywords automatically from the path. In this way it’s possible to get started within minutes of installing the software to finding real efficiencies in saving time without having to learn any fancy new tricks.

Digital Asset Management systems like Portfolio are after all designed for the right-brain dominant creative within all of us.