Monday, 23 September 2013

File Organization, Level: OCD

A large part of my job at Swagger is trying to organize our massive library of footage, photos, music, and media into some sort of intuitive system that allows us to easily find the files we’re looking for inside of our 60TB (and growing) database. This is no easy task, and if I didn’t find such satisfaction in seeing nice, neat file structure fall into place I’m not sure I’d still have my sanity.

Despite the daunting nature that is file organization, staying organized in a chaotic work environment is arguably the most important thing one can do to make sure their workflow and efficiency are interrupted as little as possible.

Imagine a scenario in which a client has asked for a video update because their video is becoming dated and you now need to locate the project file in order to swap out the old assets with new assets. In a perfect world you’d open up that project file that hasn’t been touched since 2011 and every clip, graphic, sound bite, and photo would all still be connected; no re-linking required. Unfortunately, you probably don’t live in that perfect world. Best case scenario you can reconnect most of the files in one go, worst case you’re looking at a sea of “Media Offline” graphics that may even have been deleted.

My hope is that I can help you avoid this disaster. While my examples will be relative mostly to video, you can apply these type of tips to any sort of organization. There are a few simple, if not slightly monotonous, tricks that can help you make sure that whether you’re revisiting a project next month or next year all the files will be right where you left them.

First and foremost is some sort of file structure or hierarchy. To create this simply think of what kind of files you usually encounter when working on a project: Do you handle a lot of RAW or transcoded footage?  How often do you use VO or stock music? Stock photos? Do you often have a lot of client assets such as logos? Do you create your own graphics? All of these things could warrant their own folders or subfolders if they’re used often enough. The trick here is balance: too few folders and you’re not effectively separating the different elements, but too many folders and the project can become cluttered and difficult to navigate. More than ten sub folders in any given folder is probably pushing the limits of effective organization.

You may be thinking that this isn’t necessary as long as you know where and how the project is saved. While this is slightly true, you’d be better off creating a file management template that was standard in your workplace and that is universal, so that anyone could open up the project, find that dated graphic, and replace it with the new one. After all, you never know when a client might need that update, you could be on vacation or out sick, possibly delaying the client’s needs and maybe even losing their business if the situation cannot be resolved.

Probably just as important is file naming. A folder full of files named ‘fnapd937.jpg’ or ‘’ is about as useful as [insert clever metaphor here]. Even worse is a folder full of ‘Tom_Robbins_LT_FIXED’ and ‘Tom_Robbins_LT_FIXED-2’ or even ‘Tom_Robbins_LT_FIXED-UPDATED’. Even this paragraph is becoming a nightmare! Naming can be handled in the same way that file structure is. For graphics, consider something like ‘Client_Name_Subject_Name_LT_Rev1’ with each subsequent revision of that lower third being called ‘Rev2’, ‘Rev3’, and so on. While these file names are still long only one character will change with each revision, allowing for easy identification of which file is the most recent.

The priority with this type of system is making sure that when you move a project file to a different location all the files associated with that project also move. Like all rules, however, this can certainly be broken at times. Perhaps you use a lot of stock content in your work and it’s not advantageous to have it all spread out over your client files. In this instance it would probably be better to create a stock content folder and then link to it from inside of your editing software. This allows you to organize all of your stock content while also making sure it’s easily accessible. And added bonus is that this cuts down on storage as well, since you won’t have to make duplicates of the content to store in each project it’s used for.

It’s easy to work on a project and not keep track of organization, telling yourself the whole way that you’ll take care of it eventually. That’s the problem though: you will eventually have to take care of it. Whether it’s today or in a year is up to you, but try to remember that the longer you wait the more unfamiliar you’ll be with the project when you finally do revisit it. I hope that these few tips help you keep your files a little more organized than they previously were.

What kind of organization do you use in your workflow? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you ran into an organization nightmare? What’s a common organization technique that your feel is underutilized or overrated?

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