Untitled folder.
Sitting there, staring at you.
Waiting for you to start, to build a library.
Where to begin?

Deciding on a sound folder structure is central to helping your users find what they need. They will be thinking through a logical path as they browse the library, and they will hope to see that trail replicated in the folder structure. The folder organization is also key when it comes to rights and permissions - keeping users away from what they do not need! Having a smart folder structure allows you to make sure only the right folks access the right files. It also means that only usable, cleared and approved files are accessible, preventing mishaps and mix-ups down the line.

First off, there is more than one “right” way to set up your library. More than one way that will work for your company, your department, and your users. Now is the time to think this through and make a blueprint.

We believe the best way to start planning out your folder structure is to begin with the end users. Think about who will make up the majority of your users, and consider what their thought process will be when they are trying to find something in your library. What are they going to need first? Where will they try to start? What makes sense for them? It might not be the same way you would think about it.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and other members of your team;

  • Will your users drill down through folders, like a trail of breadcrumbs until they find the file they want? Or will they just start searching terms from the top level of the folder structure? If your users are confident searchers, then a simple shallow structure is all you need. If they prefer to click logically through folders while browsing the contents, a more detailed structure would be helpful for them supported by metadata.

  • How is your company’s website organized? Is it done in a way that could also make sense for a library? This is a common way to start.

  • Who needs access to what? There may be certain assets that only a specific group needs or is allowed to use. You might group those files and folders together in a particular area in your library. Make sure to edit the folder permissions accordingly.

  • How technical do you need your folders to be? Will your users be concerned with file size and what type of media the file should be used in? Different file formats? If so, putting those files in aptly named folders would help. Or are the users savvy enough to look for the specs they need within the metadata? In that case the files can sit together under a more descriptive folder name eliminating an unnecessary level of foldering.

You may find you have two main categories of content - product images and lifestyle images, for example – in which case you’ll want two top level, or ‘parent’ folders. The first parent folder would focus on the products and how they need to be separated; subfolders could include product title, size and color. The other path would cater more to the subject matter of photos. If they are lifestyle shots, they can be divided into descriptive folders.

Perhaps your company has products that change annually or every few years, where the model year is of paramount importance. You may even have supporting images that are tied in with a specific product. If so, it would make sense for your top level to be the year, followed by the model type at the next level, and on down through more descriptive subfolders.

Or does your business revolve around geographic photos? Try starting with the countries or states they represent and then get more specific, with regions or cities as your next folder level, moving onto descriptive content at the lower levels.

Example of a folder structure suitable for a college or university;

Brand Identity
    Logos
    Fonts
    Guidelines

Approved Photography
    Alumni
    Athletics
    Campus Beauty
    Faculty (past and present)
    Students

Programs

Videos

Documents and Forms

Media type is important when it comes to your logos. Do you need those broken out into separate folders for print, web, etc? Or do your users need the size information instead of media destination? You may have several different iterations of your logo – for black and white printing, for spot or full-color printing, for web use only, or for video. And you almost certainly have more than one kind of logo; icon, wordmark, strapline. Consider logotype, lock-ups, and text-only logos, as well as logos for sub-brands or product models. Decide which way of organizing would be most helpful for your team. You don’t want to run a web-only logo in a print ad! A robust DAM will allow you to nest multi-formats of the same logotype together and allow the downloader to choose what they need.

Should your text documents, print layouts, web layouts and images live in separate folder structures or together? Keeping working files in one spot could be helpful if certain teams work in specific areas. For working folders, does your company operate by job number or code? You may start with that designation and move deeper with the type of files – text docs, working layouts, final mechanicals, or printed PDFs. Or are there folks in charge of the images, gatekeeping what goes into the image library and monitoring usage and expirations? Using folders to limit permissions and separating workflow is useful in these situations.

As you start to finalize your folder structure, you have two options for building the media library. The first is to create your folders locally on your computer, fill them with content and then upload when you are done. Or you can build the folder structure directly withing your DAM application, uploading the content into the folders later.

No one likes looking at a blank piece of paper or a blank folder structure, figuring out where to start, waiting for inspiration to hit. It is a lot to think about. You can always make additions and edits as you start thinking about the content and continue to learn how your team members work. You will make changes no doubt, but involve your information managers now with the questions raised above and get to work.