The importance of file names

Order! Order!

Image by harry harris (Licence)

I would like to begin this post by quoting one of my favorite writers and speakers from the game industry, Ernest W. Adams:

“Bad Designer, No Twinkie!”

So why a quote like this? Because every time someone is being lazy and naming their work files incorrectly and inconsistently, a piece of me dies inside. It also slows down the work flow and may even disrupt the whole project. And that turns me to a very sad panda.

Naming work files correctly is important

Once again: Naming your work files correctly is important.

Unless you are a one man company and have some mystic way to remember the location or versions of your work documents in the following years or even the next week to come, I would strongly recommend taking a little bit of your precious time and think about this.

I know that there may be people out there who stumble upon this post and say, “I know everything about naming my files, and writing about so self-evident matter is useless and waste of time”. Well you may pat yourselves in the back and congratulate yourselves because you are in a rare crowd. What I have run into is that many people don’t understand the importance of this matter.

I work as an art director in an ad agency, so many files come and go through my hands, i.e. my email. Mostly the track I see is lousy. If people understood how much time (read: money) would be spared and how much wrong decisions wouldn’t be made for correct file management, we wouldn’t have these kinds of problems.


Okay, here’s a revelation. The most important reason I think it is important to name your file consistently, is that you and someone else than you may easily find and continue work with them in the future.

When your colleague leaves to a honeymoon to a remote island in Bermuda where 3G isn’t working, would you prefer she left a good source material for you to take care of while she’s gone? Would you like to know that the layout version you are working with is the latest one of your client’s super important new website?

When a graphic designer gives his web page layouts to coder, do you think the code guy is happy if the files are named idiotically? Same applies to the layer naming, like in Photoshop. It doesn’t make things easier or faster if you’re having layer names like “layer_[number]_copy_copy_FINAL.filext” waiting for the next person in the project work flow.

Here’s a couple of suggestions I have tried to pursue in making my life happier with correct file naming:

  1. Name your files comprehensibly. Don’t use names like company-pix_Summer2008-LRG.filext. How can someone even come up with a filename like this – except maybe those guys who name their online game avatars something like Naz<Qul666_bleedR. Keep your civil and work life separated I say!
  2. Try to summarize in the file name the core of the document and just the core. Sometimes operating systems may not understand long file names and usually people won’t either. Nowadays you can add a lot of meta data into your documents. That’s the correct way you may add more information to single document if needed, and I strongly recommend you to teach yourself to this. If you are learning the use of graphic design tools like one of Adobe’s, the guys from the development team didn’t put the “file info” part without a reason. If you are sending your files forward, please attach even your basic contact information – that you hopefully already have in your email signature. ‘They’ will thank you in the end.
  3. Be consistent in your naming, don’t always change the way you name your files. Do it the same way every time so your colleagues won’t get confused and may search your database always the same.
  4. Keep a good document tree. This also helps. For example your clients logo could be found in an address company name > graphics > logo > companyname_logo_rgb.filext.

I hope there’s no one that finds this post useful, that you already know all this. But I still believe that 80% of you are living in self-deception. I wouldn’t be spending my valuable time in writing this post if I hadn’t so many times come across situations where some one should’ve used some time in naming their files.

The next email I’ll get containing files to be used in some project, may just be from you.


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