Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Designers beware of… filing systems.

When your design operation starts to go well and there are more and more customers with new projects, you will see two things:

1. You need to keep a record of your work, most of the time, digital files, digital images and all other recording materials and 2. You'll need an easy way to identify and find such materials.

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, it is very important to keep track of your projects in a database or some sort of tracking system. Such system should hold information about the location of the actual digital files of each project, and the files should be stored in an orderly fashion in said location.

Here's my method:

I organize the files by customer, so first I decide the biggest criteria to divide them, for example, country and create a folder for each country I work with. Inside each country folder I create folders for each of the customers. Then, inside each customer's folder, I create new folders according to new criteria, for instance, types of projects, sizes, media… Here's an example:

It's crucial to be consistent with your filing system and train your staff on how to file correctly. This will save you precious time when trying to locate files for an especific project (or an angry customer on the phone who claims you messed up a whole nutritional table) and it's also very valuable once you start implementing an automatic backup system.

I guess it goes without saying that backing up your files is imperative not only to have access to them, but to ensure their protection against plagiarism. There are multiple digital storage devices out there, even companies who'll do it for you following a specific method.

Now, you should come up with a way to name your digital files as well. For instance: CUSTOMER_TYPE OF JOB_TOPIC_SIZE_VERSION
"Strawberry_package.ai" just won't cut it in the long run. I also found that saving the previous versions in separate files is useful due to the fact that sometimes customers can't make up their minds about an idea. Though sometimes this uses a lot of hard drive space, you can delete them once the customer has final approved one.

In order to help yourself (or your staff) remember to file all related materials both physical and digital, I suggest you start using checklists that describe your process thorougly. These cognitive devices help people track the different steps they need to take to finish a project and store it effectively. I am a rather forgetful person, and these checklists helped me be on top of things handling a large volume of projects.

It's useful to file the checklists with the materials of the project. For instance, you can have a checklist to use when receiving materials from the customer, to check that everything you need to start working is included, and one that describes the internal design process.

Checklists call for thorough thinking, though, you don't want to have so many checklists that all your day goes by filling them out, just enough to ensure that everything is under control. Also, if your operation is bigger, like part of an in-house design team, there might be checklists for different parts of the projects, or checklists to communicate with other departments, so analyze your process before implementing too many controls.

If the department is just starting out, start small, using a checklist to control a small portion of the process. Avoid going electronic at first. I found that an electronic checklist will only work if it has been previously tested with pen and paper.

It all has to do with being in control of your operation and being aware of what's happening with each of the projects and their related materials, but keep it simple.

In short:

- Store digital files in identifyable folders.
- Store physical materials in identifyable devices also.
- Be smart about naming your digital files.
- Create checklists to add control points to certain steps of your process.

All the best!

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