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I have a significantly large amount of files on my computer that I need for work and/or future reference.

I am terrible at keeping them organized. My computer is a mess. I believe this is because I simply cannot find a good system to stick to. (I am super organized in the real world, where I have a good system.)

I have tried to find advice for a good organization system online, but haven't found any I could use– one specifically for designers.

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Modern image/assets saving workflow for Print and Digital using Adobe CC See my answer for some sample file structures! – Ovaryraptor Jan 5 '18 at 22:24
  • A comment rather than an answer because I think this is personal to some extent. I file all my running work via by client (folders) using a clear name and date heir-achy / job number. I then have a creative (NAS drive) archive where I categorise all my creative (e.g. vector, animation, logos, illustration, textures etc) and pull out the best work into a running folio for inspiration if I'm tired or having a blank day. I also have 3rd party ref in here - anything I spot that takes my fancy. Worked for 20 years now. Getting big though! – Applefanboy Jan 11 '18 at 19:28
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Take a look at some related questions:

What is your file naming convention you use for version control?

What is the ideal way to archive drafts of logos and general graphic design pieces?

Regardless if you are saving your work in the cloud or locally you simply need to create the proper folders.

The structure depends on your actual workflow

The main two folders I would have are

  • Clients
  • Stock images

It could be something like this (As it is a little complex to format using the froum's design tools I am posting an image:

enter image description here

If you are storing images for reference, you can organized for example:


Vector images

  • Icons
  • Cartoons
  • Illustrations

Photography

  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Surreal
  • Movies
  • Artists
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It shouldn't be especially difficult to drag the images to proper folders. There's already given some suggestions in another answer.

It shouldn't...but:

  • you will break existing links as soon as you move something which is linked in another file
  • the same file should reside in several folders (source, customer, subject, format, special content 1, special content 2...) Multiple copies waste space and really create a mess if one is edited without renaming.

One solution is to get a file organizer. Plenty of them are available for image files (=wide variety of formats supported for fast preview). They offer a possiblity to create virtual folders and you can drag your image to all relevant folders. The file itself do not move, only a link is added to the database.

In image files there's metadata fields which can have keywords. They are useful for content specifying, but not necessarily for business things, because the keywords follow the image when the image is copied to elsewhere. Good image file manager allows to insert also the wanted keywords easily. The wanted virtual folder names can be inserted automatically.

You can take a freeware (all of them are not really freeware, free version allows only a limited number of images, say 10000) to see what this is. Check for example Daminion.

Most advanced file managers are integrated to the file system. They handle also the version management.

File manager is one trap more - a program, which you need after starting to use it. It's as difficult to get rid of it as stopping to use Photoshop after having thousands of PSDs. Altough a database specialist in theory could extract the database content, you as ordinary user are like never having had the file manager after you stop using it. You have the files, but not the virtual folders. To be able to find your files in the day when the file manager isn't available, you should still have some basic foldering system. (you for example must switch your disks to another machine after a fatal breakdown)

You can avoid to become dependent if you use your own virtual foldering. Windows allows you to create file shortcuts which do not need much space. A shortcut can easily be copied by dragging into as many folders as you want. Only keep the virtual folders in different drives than the file and it's shortcut.

Virtual foldering with shortcuts does not allow easy multi-criteria searches and do not show previews of other than common formats which windows knows, like JPG. But it does not cost money and want money for updates.

Virtual foldering with shortcuts has a disadvantage. Whe you Place a file in InDesign, the file selector doesn't show the preview. Fortunately you can work around; simply drag the shortcut to the pasteboard from Windows file explorer.

Shortcuts update automatically, if you move a file in Windows.

NOTE: This all is NOT independent on your workflow, the need of working as a group and your backup system. Proper design really pays off. Negotiate with a local it specialist.

  • Most operating systems can make virtual folders – joojaa Jan 6 '18 at 14:12
  • @joojaa Maybe, but I do not want to save files in virtual folders, I want to save shortcuts to real folders. There can be an underhood ocean of possiblities which are available for programmers and for those who read, speak, write and yodel perfectly command line language. I stay in the practical graphic user interface level. – user287001 Jan 7 '18 at 2:07

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