File Management for Designers

A simple yet comprehensive organizational system

Client projects have lots of moving pieces. I’m a designer on Creative Engineering at Google, which works with Google PMMs (Product Marketing Managers) to create websites and digital experiences. We ourselves are comprised of several creative and development agencies, and work with both internal product teams and other external agencies.

As such, our projects can become extremely complex, and require strong organizational infrastructure on every level. This is my organizational system.

Benefits

I use this organizational system to accomplish the following:

  • Manage iterations
  • Document the entire design process
  • Share WIP and deliverable vector files & exports
  • Track and share outlinks

Example: Android Things

androidthings.withgoogle.com

I’ll use the Android Things project (Q1-Q2 2018) as an example to walk you through my organizational system. This project was complex in the following ways:

  • Our team picked up the project where another creative agency left off.
  • We had two launch stages with completely different designs.
  • We frequently shared files with our client (the Android Things strategy team), the photo rep agency Apostrophe, and the prop studio Figure Plant.
  • We had three designers on this account: Laura Polkus, Andres Acero, and myself.

Masterdoc

At the start of every project, I create a “masterdoc” in Google Docs where I curate all relevant outlinks for the project. This includes links to briefs, decks, references, inspiration, Gallery projects, etc.

I prefer masterdocs over browser bookmarks for the following reasons:

  • Sharing & collaboration—I want the whole team to have access to the same resources.
  • Writing — I want to keep notes and deadlines in the same place as my outlinks.
  • Hierarchy—When using browser bookmarks, it can be cumbersome to deal with heavily-nested folders. I prefer scanning a doc.

Directory structure

After I make the masterdoc, I create a new directory in Google Drive for the project. I use Backup and Sync, so this directory is auto-synced with my local machine. This lets me quickly share Drive links for particular files directly from Finder.

I initialize every new project directory with the following sub-directories:

  • _masterfiles — All vector files (.sketch, .ai, .psd, etc.)
  • before/after—Screenshots of production/live site
  • assets—Logos, colors, etc. (usually provided by client)
  • deliverables—Complete handoff directory (for client & dev)
  • mocks—Iterations/exports (named v1 & v2 above)

Screenshots

For redesigns, it’s important to document the existing website to reference in a future case study or portfolio presentation. I recommend using a Chrome extension that allows you to take 1-click whole-page screenshots. If you forget to take screenshots beforehand, you might have some luck with the Wayback Machine.

After your site launches, take screenshots of the live site. If the UI is motion-heavy, create a video walkthrough. I use the Material Resizer to quickly capture responsive views.


Export naming

I categorize my exports by UI page type. The directory names correspond 1-to-1 with the page names in my master Sketch file.

Within each page type directory, I number every iteration sequentially. There’s no need for fancy naming schema! If you need to, you can star specific iterations or note them in your masterdoc.

I export every idea try — even the bad ones. This has the following benefits:

  • Documents the entire design process
  • Preserves past iterations without cluttering my master vector files
  • Provides a quick response to “Have you tried…?” questions from client

Your structure

This is the organizational structure that works for me. Rather than prescribing it to you, I hope this gives you the insight to create a system that works for you.

Neil Shankar is a designer on Creative Engineering at Google, embedded through Left Field Labs. Follow @tallneil on Medium | Twitter | Dribbble.