If you've ever lost an hour to searching for a logo or image file that you just had but now couldn't find to save your life, then you know why project file organization is critical.

In the Cloud

First thing's first: the best organization in the world won't save you from a dead hard drive, so make sure that all of your work is automatically backed up. As of now, a few popular cloud options with free tiers include Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box.com. There are also options like Tonido where you can use a different computer as your central file repository; just be sure to have a solid backup plan in place for that computer.

File Organization

Here's my favorite way to organize my presentation files:

YYYY-MM Project Name
 └ Assets
     └ Brand Materials
     └ Photos
     └ Videos
     └ Fonts
     └ Other
         └ [filename.mp3]
 └ Presentation
     └ Archive
         └ [filename v1.key]
         └ [filename v2.key]
     └ Mood Board
     └ Brainstorm
     └ Wireframe
     └ Exports
         └ PDF
         └ PPTX
     └ [filename v3.key]
 └ Notes
     └ [filename.txt]

A few notes:

  • "YYYY-MM" or Year Dash Month formatting will automatically sort your project folders by date of completion (2014-01, 2014-02, 2014-03, 2015-01, 2018-03). If you, instead, named this MM-YYYY, all projects that you completed across the years for each month would be grouped together (01-2014, 01-2015, 02-2014, 03-2014, 03-2018), etc.
  • Assets: files that you will use in your final presentation.
  • Brand Materials: logos, color palettes, or any other visual materials you have for your project.
  • Mood Board: generally a presentation file where I have collected visual inspiration for my presentation. An upcoming post will detail this process.
  • Brainstorm: contains a digitized copy of any post-its I used in the brainstorming process. You can read more about why and how I use post-its here.
  • Wireframe: where I store a roughed in outline of my presentation. This is created in presentation format and slides contain only the topic to be discussed on that slide. I'll often include visual descriptors or additional talking points in the Presenter Notes. This is essentially the first version (or v1) of my presentation that all future versions are built on. A future post will outline the wireframe creation process.
  • Exports: where I store as many formats of the final presentation as possible. Since my core presentation is usually in Keynote format, this will include a .pdf and .pptx file at minimum.  
  • Notes: where you can include a document where you can jot down notes that come to you as you're in the design process. It may be easier to keep this in .txt format so that you can open it quickly and edit it from your computer, a phone, etc.
  • I like to include a version "v" at the end of my current file. Each time I decide that I would like to make a significant change to my presentation, I'll copy-paste my file and then update the v-number. The previous file or files ultimately go into the "Archive" folder.

"Wow, that seems like it'll take a long time to create for each project", you might be thinking. Fair enough, but here's a tip to pretty much eliminate that time investment: if you create your folder structure once and keep a blank framework somewhere, you can just copy-paste the blank set of folders each time you start a new project. To make it especially easy, I've zipped up a template folder structure for you here.

Zipped project hierarchy for you: enjoy!

Above all else, take some time and intentionally think through what system you'd like to use; you should be spending your energy creating beautiful presentations, not searching for lost files.