File names can jeopardize your workflow – here's what you can do

I´m quite sure you've experienced this on many occasions. You download an interesting or important file somewhere. When you save it, you see that it has a meaningless file name consisting of a seemingly endless sequence of numbers and letters. Because you are in a hurry, you simply store the file – and, poof, it has disappeared into the digital nirvana of your hard disk.

In this article, we explain how you as a content creator can support your colleagues to do their job more efficiently. We draw insights from the realm of creative applications. But the topic has relevance also in enterprise areas like sales, marketing, product management, HR, and legal.

Bad filenames harm your workflow and SEO

If you don't take care to filenames, your workflow does. Just think of an InDesign layout in which many images and graphics have been placed. Now you are presented with the task of getting the file ready for printing, using the Links panel in InDesign. So, you need to check, if all the links to the image and graphics files are correct. In this case, it is very helpful when the file names are meaningful and well-structured to avoid unnecessary searching.

OK, now you might say that the desire and need for clear file names is just one of these human things. Far from it, search engines also attach importance to consistent, meaningful, and well-defined file names. Google offers a multi-page document on how file names should look so that visibility in Google increases. So it is of huge importance to a company to get this right.

How to get a handle on the chaos

So, the big question is how to get a handle on the chaos. The solution is to develop a file naming convention that describes exactly what file names should look like throughout the company.

Without a proper file naming convention, the workflow suffers a domino effect of inefficiencies. Searching for files becomes a time-consuming endeavor, leading to frustration and creative blocks.

A file name is not just a label; it's the first line of communication. Defined properly, it can tell your colleagues at a glance, what the file is about, what stage of the process it's in, and how it fits into the overall project. For example, a name like "BrandX_Logo_Draft_v2.0_April2023.psd" immediately communicates much more than a nondescript "File1.psd".

Follow the step-by-step guide below to define a sophisticated and workable file naming convention:

  • Select descriptive elements:
    Choose elements that describe the file, such as project name, date, version, or content keywords. Also talk to other departments to understand their needs.
  • Avoid special characters:
    Avoid using special characters like &, %, $, #, or symbols that can cause compatibility issues or confusion. Stick to alphanumeric characters (letters and numbers).
  • Include date information:
    If applicable, include date information using a standardized format (e.g., YYYY-MM-DD) for easy sorting. This format also avoids issues with the different date formats in the US and Europe. Some love to start the filename with the date. However, the files are then sorted by date in directories, but it´s a total mix-up of projects.
  • Incorporate project or category:
    Include project names or category abbreviations to group related files together.
  • Use it for version control:
    If necessary, add version numbers to differentiate between file revisions.
  • Establish a logical order:
    Decide on the sequence in which elements will appear in the filename (e.g., project-date-description-version).
  • Use a consistent format:
    Decide on a consistent format, whether it's using dashes or spaces to separate elements.
  • Consider the length:
    Keep filenames reasonably short to avoid truncation in some systems. As a rule of thumb, they should be no longer than 30 characters.
  • Test and validate:
    Create a few sample filenames based on your convention and test them to ensure they meet your requirements.
  • Consider future scalability:
    Think about how the convention will scale as your projects or file volumes grow.
  • Document guidelines:
    Create documentation or guidelines explaining the naming convention for all users who will have to follow it.
  • Regularly review and update:
    Periodically review and update the naming convention to accommodate changes in your workflow or requirements.
  • Backup plan for mistakes:
    Develop a plan for correcting mistakes in filenames without disrupting your organization.
  • Train your colleagues:
    Educate team members on the importance of the naming convention and how to implement it effectively.
  • Seek feedback:
    Continuously gather feedback from users to identify any issues or improvements needed in the naming convention.
  • Enforce compliance:
    Encourage users to adhere to the convention consistently and enforce it if necessary to maintain order.

A sound file naming convention has a number of benefits

You're right, this is boring work – and it is. But first, it is (accept some maintenance) a one-time endeavor. And secondly, you, your entire company plus external stakeholders can enjoy a number of benefits – here´s just a few examples:

A gateway to collaboration and Integration

In an era where collaborative projects are the norm, a file naming convention is a gateway to seamless collaboration. It ensures that everyone, from designers to sales representatives, speaks the same language when it comes to files. This uniformity is particularly crucial when files move between departments or when integrating different software environments.

Version control helps to navigate the timeline of revisions

A critical aspect of file naming in both creative and enterprise settings is version control. Names that include version numbers, dates, or stages of completion help in tracking the evolution of a file. It prevents the confusion of working on outdated versions and ensures that the most current and accurate information is always at hand.

Boosting Efficiency and Reducing Costs

A streamlined file naming system directly impacts the bottom line by reducing the time spent on file management and retrieval. This efficiency translates into cost savings, as less time is wasted on administrative tasks, allowing more time for core activities that drive revenue and innovation. It also prevents files from disappearing and no longer being found.

The Psychological Impact: Reducing Stress and Fostering Creativity

Cluttered and disorganized digital environments can lead to increased stress and decreased creativity. A clear file naming convention helps in creating a more organized and less overwhelming workspace. This clarity aids in reducing mental clutter, allowing creatives and enterprise professionals alike to focus on their core tasks with a clearer mind.

I have a DAM – why I should care?

Yes, that's a tempting argument – the DAM system will sort it out. What do you have it for?

A DAM system actually helps to ensure that even badly named files will no longer get lost. But even a powerful DAM benefits from good file names when it comes to make its user´s life easier.

This is all the more true as digital asset management is increasingly becoming a pervasive application thanks to CI-HUB Connector – across all programs and all departments. It would be a missed opportunity to make the work of your colleagues and partners even easier and more secure.

Conclusion: A foundation for success

In conclusion, a well-defined file naming convention is more than a mere organizational tool. It's a foundation for efficient workflows, effective collaboration, and a healthy work environment.

Whether you're a graphic designer working on the next big ad campaign or a legal professional handling sensitive case files, the way you name your files can significantly impact your efficiency, accuracy, and overall success.

By embracing a structured approach to file naming, both creatives and enterprise professionals can unlock greater productivity and pave the way for a more streamlined and stress-free work life.

PS: In a more general blog post, we explained how efficient file management helps designers in getting things done. We also covered how companies can leverage digital asset management in a Microsoft environment.

Interested to learn more? Check our website for comprehensive information about how you can integrate CI HUB Connector into your company´s software environment. But why not immediately start to enjoy seamless and efficient digital asset management, that everyone can access and control? Take your productivity to the next level – try CI HUB Connector for free.

Article by
Stefan Horst

As an external communications consultant and content expert for tech companies, Stefan Horst has been active in the world of marketing, publishing and print for several decades. He has worked for Adobe, Agfa, Philips, Extensis and WoodWing, among others. Currently, in addition to CI HUB, he works for Zaikio, Impressed and others.