How to name your files

how to name your files - no order

how to name your files – no order

Houston, we have a problem….

Have you ever find yourself looking for that presentation you did a few months ago?

Yes, that one with the great images and full of keywords. The one that got you that job…

Or have you started at a new job and you need to find some files for a client.
You ask around and the only answer you get is ” it’s in the external hard drive”?

You know the client, the date, the type of file… but there are hundreds of files that fit the same description.

Or (and I swear, this is the last example) have you been working in group where everyone name their files in a way that they think is the right one, or they just call them “asdf” (which incidentally is old Norse for “you are never going to find me”) knowing that they can find it later because…. well…. they know how they work and they have a “system”?

It happened to me

Well, those three things happened to me in the first month at a new job.
I wanted to show my new colleagues a presentation I did on newsletters, but it took me more than 2 hours to find it, and I am really organised with my files, just not this one.
My problem was that I forgot to add the word “newsletter” to the name. Instead, I called it “Email Presentation”.

The other 2 examples go hand in hand. A client misplaced the video files from a focus group that took place long ago. Al the information I had was the name of the client, the file type and that they were from sometime around summer last year.

No Clear Folder Name

No Clear Folder Name

It was almost impossible to find. All the folders were called “fg3XXXX” where XXXX was the client’s name or initials and “fg” stands for Focus Group. The number 3 was the only logical element in the name: the third focus group of the project.

I found the files by sorting out what was (most likely) not the files I needed. Then, it was just a quick check of the metadata to see the date and then checking that they were, in fact, the focus group they were looking for!

And the third case… well… We are a small company with freelance consultants working for us. They do the tests and then it is up to me to convert all the files from Morae (which deserves a whole article by its own) and back them up, just in case that next year someone wants to take a look at them again. But the consultants just need those 8 files this week, and they will delete them afterwards. And the client will have only the 8 files to deal with once the project is done. So that amazing asdf1, asdf2, asdf3, asdf4…. asdf8 system, for them makes sense.
But for me is a little piece of hell.

…Along Comes The DAM System

(DAM means Digital Asset Management)

So one day I decided to change all that.. It hasn’t been easy, but so far it is working.
My experience as a photographer for the last 12 years has helped me figure out a system.

I am not talking about keywords, metadata and search queries. I will talk only about the most basic and overlooked way to organise your files: The File Name!

It is a 2 step process. The first one is easy bit a little long to explain. The second one is the difficult one to execute.

Step 1, Choose a naming convention

File Naming Convention

File Naming Convention

The first step is to decide on one file naming convention (I told you it was easy).
Choose a system that you can follow. Using full names, while practical, it could be a little… sloppy.
Calling the files: “Eye Tracking Fruit Company New Website Martin” does tell me that is a Eye Tracking test, for The Fruit Company’s new website and that the user (or maybe the consultant) is called Martin.
And yes, I can see on the metadata when was the file created and get some more information about it…

But what if the file was converted at a later date?
and what if there is another Martin? Or if we do another test for them, for the same website, but with other goals?
Well, I settle down for one simple system:

Start With The Folders

“YYMMDD Client (Project)” for the folders. If the test expands for more than one day, I use YYMM Client instead and inside this folder, depending on the size of the project, I will either put the files right into it or create subfolders for each day: YYMMDD Client (Project)”).
I only add the project when there are different projects for the same client at the same time.
To follow up on the Fruit Company example, the folder names would look something like this:
130115 Fruit Company (Eye Tracking)

Continue With The Files

The file names will follow a similar convention as the folders: YYMMDD (Project) Client Test # UserName
This will give me all the information I need to know about the file just by looking at the name.

After following this simple rule, our files would look like this:

  • 130115 ET FruitCompany 1 Jen
  • 130115 ET FruitCompany 2 maria
  • 130116 ET FruitCompany 3 Steve
  • 130116 ET FruitCompany……

I have considered adding the name of the consultant as well, but so far, I haven’t found any situation in which that will be necessary.
Why only 2 digits per year?
Because I like to keep names short. And I don’t think that any folder I have now will still be in use in 100 years.

Other Details

One other thing that I like to use different shortcuts for the different tests:
ET: Eyetracking
FG: Focus Group
CS: Card Sorting
RT: Remote Test
If the file doesn’t have any shortcut it means that it is a traditional Think Aloud test.

Step 2: Be consistent!

This is not as easy as it sound.

Always using this name convention is not easy.
Now, trying to get everyone in the company onboard (including freelance consultants) can be a little more complicated. I use post its next to the computer at our lab with hints and instructions.
It has been a long road, but at least I manage to get some “consistency” in the folder names (not always the files)

We keep the same names on our computers, our back up, on dropbox and when we deliver to our clients.

We’ve put together an infographic to illustrate this article.
Text and concept: Lucas Wxyz
Graphics: Liga Baltmane

Hope you enjoyed it

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