Developing a Sensible Folder Structure

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of directors, designers and creatives and found that each tend to have their own “housekeeping” processes. Everyone organizes files and folders differently, which is fine. If a certain way works for you, keep doing what you’re doing. However, if you find yourself constantly searching for files, or are working with a number of team members, a sensible folder structure will save a lot of headache finding project files and may help streamline your workflow.

Ways Not to Do Things

Because there are so many different way to organize folders, it’s tough to jump in and finally decide on one system. I have had a number of folder systems since leaving college. Each one was a little better than the last, but none have been truly efficient. I have projects from college organized in a totally different struture than I use today, so I decided to leave all of those previous projects in place as is, and start fresh from here forward.

Web designers and developers will have slightly different structures than print designers due to the folders necessary for HTML development. Since I do both (and often for the same client), I tried to find a way to share at least the upper-level folders. Previously my main root folders were art, docs, print and www with clients names in each. As you might guess, I would have a “client xyz” in four places. This created many more folders than necessary and didn’t help much when searching. This model was also a nightmare when creating test servers for web projects. I would receive errors that a site root already existed, or a project was nested within another defined site. There had to be a better way.

Starting Fresh

I began by making a list of common folders for any given project, and the different ways those could be labeled.

As you can see, there are a lot of different possibilities– from files provided by clients, to estimates, invoices and contracts (docs) all the way to video work.  Also, there are multiple ways to label the same folder (art/work in progress/source/working files etc), which depends entirely on your preference. Each project isn’t going to require all of these folders, but it’s a safe bet that a number of these folders will be in the structure. Knowing this allowed me to create a blank skeleton that could be copied at the onset of a new project. My initial structure begins with a folder called “Projects” (this is of course up to you), from there I separate client work from personal work. Here is what I’ve created…

Projects/clients/<client name>/<date_or_jobID>/
Projects/personal/<project name>/<date_or_projID>/

(the brackets in the above example indicate this info would be unique.)

I keep a folder in place that is generic (as above) so I can always just copy and paste this skeleton to save time. Inside of the projID folder are five additional folders

  • docs
  • print
  • source
  • reference
  • www
  • docs contains estimates, invoices, project scope, client communications, etc– text and word documents.
  • print contains InDesign files, packages and other final files that would go to the printer.
  • source contains art files such as concepts, scans, photos (personally shot, stock and client provided), working files.
  • reference is the research phase of the project– mood-boards, color-palettes, examples, etc.
  • www contains all files for building the site.
  • Folders inside www include, but are not limited to: css, img, scripts/js, media, includes, docs, xml.

As you can see, at the same level as Clents and Personal I have a folder called Assets. Assets contains global files that are used on almost all web projects. These file include generic .htaccess files, global CSS reset files, and common scripts (latest JQuery and the like). This folder is just below my server root folder, so referencing them in every project is easier. Also, If necessary,  I have one place I can drag those global files from, into the client’s www/css folder.

File Naming

I’ve named files many, many ways, and version control applications can certainly help keep files straight, especially when multiple designers or developers are working on a project. Generally when working alone, I include the date in the file name as a personal housekeeping measure, along with a descriptor (such as aboutus-011010.psd – I avoid spaces in file names as a general rule, especially for web folders and files). I don’t need to identify the client in the file name at this point because everything has been grouped by client, then by specific project. This has helped ease confusion greatly. When I reach a high number of files in a directory (such as old concepts and previous versions of files), I tend to move them to a folder on their own to keep things a little more organized. This folder is typically called something like old (original I know).


While there are hundreds of ways to organize a folder structure, this is the way I’ve found to best keep things organized for the time being. I hope this article has given you some ideas on how to wrangle in your project files and keep things more organized. I would be very interested to hear how you manage your folder structure, maybe my process can be cleaned up some. Post your structure or process in the comments section. If you have comments or questions, or know of a related article, please don’t hesitate to post a link.

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4 Responses to “Developing a Sensible Folder Structure”

  1. trent says, or rather, writes:

    Thanks for keeping the conversation going. Version control apps can be extremely helpful and efficient. These also bypass having to have unique, date-appended file names. I’ll definitely check out your article and add my thoughts.

  2. Kenneth van Rumste says, or rather, writes:

    I recently wrote a blog post on this topic, I think you forget an important thing like versioning with svn or git.

    Read more about Manage your directory structure for development

  3. Scott says, or rather, writes:

    It’s good to see the blogging continue. I hope all is well.

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