There is nothing that drives me crazier than poor file management. It is one of the most crucial tools you can have and is often overlooked. The following structure reflects the various stages of your project and explains why I set my folders up this way.
I have a master folder called 'Freelance' where all my design files are stored. Each client has their own folder with brand assets, working files and production files in it. You can also organize your files by Project or Job Number but I've found that separating the folders by Client ensures that you always have the correct documents to pull from and reference to. Even if I'm feeling lazy one night I'll make sure to save any work in this folder for quick navigation.
Within each client folder I break out the process into four stages and separate folders. It's important to have a number in front of the title so your folders stay in this order.
This folder stores Brand Guidelines, Photos, Logos, Icons and anything the client gives you. I also place the initial consultation pdf, the agreed upon scope of work and the estimated cost here.
Any file in which I am exploring aesthetic or layout for design direction goes into a Working folder. This folder is broken into subfolders with the project name as a title… 'Branding', 'Business Card', 'Brochure'. These folders will fill up quickly so it's best to have a file naming structure in place too.
When I'm ready to show design direction or get approval on a proof I export jpgs from the Working files and place them into a branded presentation document. I only export jpgs at this stage so the file cannot be opened back up in Illustrator for the client to steal. The client will receive versions of a PDF (v1, v2, v3) and so on while I continually add pages to my InDesign document to keep track of everything that was presented. This folder has a subfolder called 'Links' for the exported jpgs.
All final files ready for press are stored here and also shared with the client.
After a project has completely wrapped up I move the entire Client folder to a Completed folder. This way it keeps my active folder clean with current projects and clients. If the client decides in a few months or year that they need another collateral piece it's easy to pull up all the assets and past pieces
Why you'll love this system:
You'll save time
Every time you stop your process to find that one image or that one pantone color you interrupt the flow of your work. Having an organized file system will save you tons of time! Remember not to have TOO many subfolders though. That can be just as horrible as having none.
You'll feel in control (especially if someone is looking over your shoulder)
We've all had those moments where you just cannot find the file you were working on and when you do find it, it's in the most bizarre place. This file structure is like organizing your home - you'll know where everything is in a snap!
It makes sense
Even if you come down with amnesia you'll be able to navigate this structure. It's easy to find what you need by asking yourself 'what client is this for?' 'Is this a final file or a working file?'
Teams are built on organization!
If you are co-designing or need to share your files with another designer it's best to be organized. Don't forget to name your files properly either!
See also: Finish Projects Correctly
Computer Image from Death to the Stock Photo