In a business world that's almost entirely online and digitized, it’s important to be organized. That, however, is easier said than done. Odds are that your computer’s file folders are full of random downloads and duplicate files with names like “logo.jpg,” “IMG_745873.tiff,” or “FoundersBrunch2017JohnandKimSmiles0023.jpeg.” If this is what your hard drive looks like, it’s likely that your organization’s digital library is similar, if not worse.
If your downloads folder is cluttered, you’ve probably cleaned it out several times and found it took longer than you expected. This is most likely because your files aren’t in any kind of order and different versions of the same file have the same name with a (1) at the end as the only differentiator. To know what needed to stay and what needed to go, you may have had to open each file, look at it, and decide if it was still relevant. Even if you only have a hundred files, this could take several hours every time you do it. Now imagine doing that for your brand’s entire digital archive of assets!
Consistently naming your files using defined standards is the first step in getting your digital asset library organized on an asset-by-asset basis. It’s the easiest way to quickly get things in the right place and enable effective search for your end-users. Developing, applying, and maintaining file naming conventions is difficult to do, though. In this article, we outline the best practices for naming and organizing your digital assets.
Common File Naming Questions
There are several common questions people ask about file naming (per Google Search Console) that we’ll answer while covering this subject. The questions are:
- When is a file name too long?
- How should I format file names?
- What are file name sequence numbers and extensions?
- Can a file name start with a number?
- What makes a file name invalid?
- How many different parts should a file name have?
- How do I rename files in bulk?
These questions can be grouped into three main categories: 1) Building a file naming convention, 2) applying new and improved file names to assets, and 3) managing file names. No matter where in this process you find yourself, none of these categories is mutually exclusive. Each one affects the other directly. If your end-users aren’t using your file naming convention, it likely has some problems that need to be addressed. If you’re having trouble managing assets using file names, they probably haven’t been applied correctly.
File Naming Best Practices
1. Building a File Naming Convention.
- Identify your core file types and use cases. Within your digital asset management (DAM) program, you may have many separate teams using different file types across dissimilar use cases. Different types of files may need to have slight variations in file naming conventions. To ensure these issues are addressed, every team should have a representative in the stakeholder group that's building the convention.
- Identify your core components. There are standard components that every file name shares. These include creation date, sequence number, and file extension. Other than these, determine what other elements you need in your file names. These can include creator name or initials, location, project name or number, channel or use, and/or version number.
- Limit the number of components. While you’ll need some kind of descriptor in your file name, always limit the number of components to 4-5, including the standard ones. Different types of files may need different components. Be sure to prioritize simplicity when developing file names, especially if your organization is also implementing metadata tags and descriptions. In general, file names shouldn't be over 25 characters long in any use case. Otherwise, many of your systems won’t recognize the assets.
2. Applying New & Improved File Names
- Use underscores and capitalization, not special characters. As you’ll see in the example below, each component in the file name is separated by an underscore and each component is capitalized (as necessary). This simply makes your file names easier to read and decipher than a file named “20220214leadershipbrunchjohnsmith0001.jpg”. Beyond underscores (or dashes), do not use special characters such as accent marks, punctuation, and other symbols found above the numbers on your keyboard (@ # $ % ^ & *).
- Batch rename files using Adobe Bridge, PhotoMechanic, or your DAM platform. These tools allow you to quickly rename whole folders full of files, making it easy to rename new files as they are ingested into your DAM system. These tools also give users a preview of what the new file names will look like, making quality control simple. With some DAM platforms, you can even set file naming conventions in the software, ensuring that your users stick to your standard.
- Almost always put creation date first, starting with the year. The reason for this is simple and practical. When files are organized into folders, they are sorted by their name. When the file name starts with a number, they are sorted numerically, with the lowest numbers being first in line. If these numbers are the date starting with the year, which means the oldest assets will be at the top. You can easily switch the default around to show the newest assets first, making finding new assets easy on users. Otherwise, assets will be sorted alphabetically, meaning sorting through them will be much more difficult for users.
3. Using & Managing File Names
- Document your file naming conventions and make the information easy to access. Document all relevant digital asset management standards in one place that's accessible to everyone in your organization. Be sure to use real-world examples as much as possible. A visual example is always the best way to ensure your end-users understand how to name assets correctly. The format below is an easy-to-understand visualization:
- Match your descriptive keywords with your taxonomy and controlled vocabularies. For example, if a sports team uses “Action” as one of their file naming components, the terms used to fill that field shouldn’t be random or up to the user naming the asset. The options for this field should be a predetermined list of keywords that match the organizational language already in use. Otherwise, the sports team could end up with images showing a quarterback passing a football named “20211231_Throw_PD_0001.jpg” and “20211231_Pass_JS_0001.jpg”. This would hurt the searchability of the assets because users would need to guess which action word the photographer used to name them.
Naming digital assets is a science that's more complicated than many typically assume. Using these best practices, however, your team will have an easier time, no matter your industry or use case, building, applying, and managing easy-to-understand file names. Adopting them will also eliminate the need for time-consuming file reorganization projects. If your team needs help implementing these best practices or cleaning up a messy pile of inconsistently named files, contact Stacks. We’d love to help!