Hyphens and Underscores in File Names

This could save you several seconds of grief each year.

Caveat: The use-case in this article is desktop-only, therefore the experiment may not work on your touchscreen.

If you’re like a lot of designers, you use underscores and only underscores in your file names. But I’m here to tell you to stop that. There’s a better way. If you use a Wacom tablet then this won’t matter to you — changing file names is an arduous task — no way around it. But if you use a mouse or trackpad for computing, the hyphen is a game-changer.

Let’s perform an experiment.

Double-click to highlight the words below:

Now, double-click to highlight the words below:

Did you catch the difference in interaction? The underscores cause everything in their path to be chosen, whereas hyphens allow each word to be be highlighted individually. This is useful. This could save you several seconds of grief each year. Here’s how:

Say you write your file names like I do. That is, by entity:

1. Client Name: Nike (Name is often abbreviated)
2. Descriptive Title:
3. Client Round: r3
4. Internal Direction:

Separating each of these entities with a hyphen allows you to double-click and highlight only that entity. With underscores-only, you need to enlist the painstaking process of precisely positioning your cursor at the beginning of the entity, then dragging your blue selector to the end of the entity. That, my designer friend, is what we in the industry call poor user-experience aka a pain in the butt.

By separating entities with a hyphen, you can select and edit each with a simple double-click. And, by separating words within an entity with underscores, you can painlessly highlight all words to edit.

To prove how much better my way is, let’s take a look at two real-world examples. In both cases, each entity of the file name is changed.

Just Underscores
25.1 seconds

Underscores-only is slowwwwww.

Hyphens & Underscores
10.6 seconds

Hyphens work in harmony with underscores!

Do you see what’s happening? The Hyphens & Underscores combo dominates Just Underscores like Usain Bolt racing a graphic designer who sits down for a living. It’s like UConn women’s basketball. It’s like having Bill Russell in your Finder. It’s like Bob Ross playing Thomas Kinkade in one-on-one painting.

Here’s the Deal

A world where people use hyphens & underscores to write file names is a world where user-experience thrives. This is a small, tiny, miniscule thing, but often the game is won in the trenches of minutia. Jump in the bunker, fire away, and get the victory!

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