How to Name Files Intelligently for Your Creative Projects

December 19, 2013
2 minute read

All of us have experienced it at one time or another. You search for a missing file that you need like yesterday or you have an important customer on the phone for what seems like hours, while you looked for a status report. A typical project requires you to deal with many different files with data coming at you from all directions. Some files are temporary, but others you will need to store for use at a later date.

In addition, if you collaborate on projects and store files on a shared drive or server, it is paramount that you organize electronic files correctly. Failure to label and store files/documents in an organized manner can confuse you as well as other people and end up wasting your time and the time of others.

You must name files intelligently, systematically, and logically. Here are some points to consider when naming files for your projects.

Storage versus organization

It helps to understand project file management by defining two important concepts: storage and organization. Storage refers to the process of handling files, including:

  • Deciding what goes in a folder
  • The naming protocol for folders
  • Designing a folder hierarchy

Organization describes the categorization of files based on content, usage, or value—it makes it easy for users to find all files.

Start the organization process by giving careful consideration to the source and types of files/documents that will be generated by the project. Identify the most common files /documents, the method of generation, and how they are generated and received.

Determining what metadata to collect

The key is to determine what metadata to collect and use in file names. The metadata will provide identifiers that ensure your files meet usefulness, accountability, and other criteria. Common metadata includes the following items:

  • Project title
  • Year, month, and date of creation
  • Description of content (i.e., “ ABC media kit”)
  • Project number
  • Name of creator
  • Version number
  • Metadata should be reflected in the manner your business uses and accesses information.
  • Use unique names



It’s critical that you give your files distinctive names, especially when copying to a server and using them in a collaborative setting. Duplicate file names can lead to a number of problems, including the possibility of mistakenly overwriting the file and the risk of losing all of your data.

Here are hints for making up one-of-a-kind names:

  •  Employ only alpha-numeric characters. Do not use special characters, such as- $ %? / & ^ # . \ : < >
  • Represent spaces by using dashes (-) and underscores (_).
  • Employ leading zeros when using the numbers 0-9 to enhance sorting and file management.
  • Make the file name as short as possible and indicates what the file contains so that it is obvious to anyone accessing the file. At the end of the name, always include the three-character file extension preceded by a period, such as .doc or .jpg.
  • Consistency and natural order
  • Always use a consistent protocol for naming files—including file metadata.  Consistency not only makes it easier to manage files but also helps any legal requirements by assuring records are properly organized, accessible, trustworthy, and complete.
  • To assure all the files will fall in chronological order when you sort files by name, use date identifiers at the beginning of file names.
  • Develop a file naming policy that is simple and fosters consistent use. Remember, the file name needs to make sense for you, team members, or any person who accesses the file. The title should outlast the file creator. When nesting files within a folder, employ the same system you use for naming root files.

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