March 9, 2017
Be a pro at organizing your folder structure & hierarchy
Best Practices on how to set up an organized folder structure
When a folder hierarchy is shared between multiple people or departments (such as a shared file server), things often get messy because everyone thinks about organizing and finding files in different ways. This article takes an in-depth look at why folder hierarchies are important and provides best practices for folder organization.
Below is a list of folder organization best practices that has been expanded from the original article, 5 Tips for Setting up an Organized Folder Structure.
1. Create a Folder Template
Create an empty group of folders and subfolders as a template if the same subfolders will be used throughout the folder structure, or if you anticipate creating folders in the future that need a common group of subfolders. This will allow you to quickly copy and paste the template of subfolders into new folders instead of manually creating each subfolder. For example, every folder created inside the “Projects” folder could use a template of “Artwork”, “Layout”, “Fonts” and “Text” subfolders.
2. Determine Folder Direction
Do you create a “2017” folder inside of the “Events” folder, or create an “Events” folder inside of the “2017” folder? The answer to this question usually depends on how people will browse your folder structure and how often new folders will need to be created.
3. Determine Level of Granularity
It may be unrealistic to create every single folder that will ever be needed up front, so there will usually be a level at which users can create their own subfolders. A good approach is to determine the first two, three or four levels in the hierarchy and then let users create subfolders for the lower levels. For example, you could have a folder called “Projects” where users would could create subfolders as needed.
4. Don’t “Float” Folders
Placing a space, underscore, or other special characters at the beginning of a folder name will force the folder to “float” to the top of alphabetically sorted lists. 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, and end up creating a duplicate “Projects” folder without the underscore in front.
5. Don’t Use Mac-specific Options
The Mac OS Finder lets OS X users do cool things like apply color labels to folders and apply custom icons to folders instead of using the generic folder icon. People may become accustomed to seeing this on the Mac, or rely on it assuming that windows users can see it too. Also, keep in mind that the following characters are allowed on Mac, but not on Windows: / : * ? “ < > | [ ] & $
6. Use Folder Names to Apply Keywords
Some digital asset management systems and search tools will generate keywords based on the folders where files are stored. When setting up your folder structure think about keywords that would be applied based on folder names. For example, a file in a folder called “Holiday Party” inside the “Events” folder will appear in search results for “holiday”, “party”, or “events”.
7. Avoid Redundancy Traps
Try not to create folders with overlapping categories. 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.
8. Create a Cheat Sheet
Document your folder hierarchy rules and conventions. You don’t need to create anything complex, just a listing of what goes at each level of the hierarchy along with a list of “DOs” and “DON’Ts” based on these best practices.
9. Consider Starting Over
Start fresh with a new, clean, and well-planned folder structure if your existing folder structure is too disorganized. This can be done by moving existing items into the correct place within the new structure, or by choosing a cutoff date at which point the old location becomes a read-only archive where any changes must be copied to the new location.
These best practices can apply to anyone, but the real power is combining the above tips with a digital asset management system to get the best of both words – browsing and searching. There may be exceptions to these recommendations based on your workflow, so don’t be afraid to stray from these points and do what works best.
Let us know how you organize your folders and subfolders. Share your folder structure examples and tips in the comments section below. Also, download our free DAM Best Practices Guide for a comprehensive look at folder organization plus a complete best practices frame work for digital asset management.