An organizational starter kit for your design projects
Organize your design documents so you can manage projects with precision
Though file management is typically behind the scenes work, it is important not to overlook why digital organization is so essential to one’s success. Rarely do we see the backend of how designers get from point A to point B, and point B to the final product.
But truthfully, arriving at point A — the foundation — is paramount. It’s basically the equivalent of yeast for an immaculately baked bread. Without it, the final product might turn out…alright…but it could have been a whole lot tastier had you spent more time on the fundamentals.
Let’s be real, we know you’re guilty of copping a sourdough starter kit at some point over the last few months. So, let’s imagine that that is what these structural suggestions are for you: an organizational starter kit. An oooey gooey fluffy wuffy framework for project file management when collaborating with clients or a team of designers.
Disclaimer: this method applies to those working in a Sprint Format and is based on my own experiences, though I am confident it can apply to more extensive projects.
Why hello there you bright-minded little beauty. I assume you’ve stumbled across this article because you are looking for guidance on how to properly organize the plethora of design documents and meeting artifacts that you accumulate when working with a client. Perhaps you are just beginning your journey as a designer or perhaps you are well-versed in the space but have decided it’s time to throw some digital feng-shui into the mix. Whatever the case may be, I’m here to help you succeed.
Having recently graduated from the UX Design program at Flatiron School in Chicago, I gained a lot of experience structuring folders, files, data, and design work. As I discovered during several mockup projects as well as handoffs to real clients, it is extremely vital to keep your documents well organized and properly labeled from the get-go.
There is no rubric or official guidebook for this, so I thought it might be valuable to share my method to the madness. I am aware that many prefer having their own method of doing things so I encourage you to customize these suggestions to your liking and see what works best for you and the particular clients you might be working with.
Now allow me to introduce myself, as I will be acting as your personal Marie Kondo for the remainder of this article; a virtual organizational consultant for all your project filling needs. I’m Courtney, a User Experience Designer, charcuterie board lover, and organizational freak.
My car’s center console might not be so telling of my OC organizational tendencies (just ask Ilza Schlesinger), but my digital libraries and desktop folders might.
So before we dive in, go grab a coffee or tea, maybe a mdwtr, reishi, some lion’s mane, or really whatever you need to get the juices flowing. It’s organization time b**ches.
Let’s do this
Tools to Elevate Your Organization
You’ll need 4 ingredients to make internal organization and client collaboration seamless.
- A cloud-based storage system that updates in real-time
- I.e. google drive, dropbox, etc
- The reason I love google drive is that it has a solid amount of storage for free and it can seamlessly sync with your desktop and back up your files.
2. A communication channel, or multiple, to ensure that you and your client can get a hold of each other. If you choose to use a channel like Slack, you’ll be able to link your google drive and folders directly to your account, making everything very accessible.
- I.e. Gmail, WhatsApp, Slack
- Make sure you and your client agree on which platform(s) you will be using to communicate and be sure to address their expectations. Set boundaries and office hours with your client early on.
3. A task management tool to manage internal deadlines
- I personally love Airtable and Trello, but there are several others like Monday, Asana, etc.
- This will help you and your team stay on top of deadlines and it gives a nice visual of where you’re currently at in the design process
4. Your badass self
Now that you’ve got these tools in your toolkit, you can move on to do the heavy lifting.
Table of Contents
I am a firm advocate for workflow optimization and I have a penchant for improving internal processes, both in my personal and professional life. I am constantly on the lookout for platforms, programs, and services that can automate tasks, improve functionality, and plain and simple make my life easier.
That’s why I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an accessible, concise, and unambiguous table of contents. Guidebook, Reference Guide, TOC, what have you — it’s crucial. This must be made available to your clients and all team members you’ll be working with on said project.
I personally enjoy making these in a google doc as soon as I am assigned a project. If you are vaguely familiar with core documents that will be touched up and passed off to the client before, during, and after the length of the project, this should be relatively easy for you.
When possible, be sure to provide hyperlinks that redirect directly to that specific document. This makes navigation that much more effortless.
I created a TOC template that contains a fully fleshed out list of folders which I will be referencing below. Feel free to make a copy or download and customize it.
Folder Naming Conventions and Labeling
Rule #1: if you are working with a team of designers establishing and agreeing upon file naming conventions is absolutely critical to keep your processes simplified and easily accessible. Whether you label by date, number, the order of importance, or alphabetically, you MUST be consistent. It will help you differentiate the file contents.
Internally, have some sort of guidelines or reference point that explains how to label, etc. For example, if you’re labeling your folders by order of importance or order of operations at which they were carried out (i.e. research → wireframes → prototype),
discuss if you’d like to label with letters (a, b, c, d, or A, B, C, D) or numbers (01, 02, 03, 04, or 1, 2, 3, 4, or 1., 2., 3., 4.) and so on and so forth. Numbers make things easier to navigate instead of just ordering alphabetically, which can be confusing for those who don’t know what they are searching for.
If you are having incoming data, articles, or interviews coming in weekly, I suggest creating a folder for each and labeling by date or type. For example, if the research is coming in every week, label it by week. If the research pertains to specific categories (certain features, pages, or elements) you can label it that way → i.e. Homepage, Discover, Login, Search, etc.
Whether you have 10 screens or 100, the same labeling rules apply. Perhaps you’ll want to number and then categorize your folders by the core screens (i.e. what pages lie at the bottom or top of your nav). This is a whole ‘nother ball game, so I’ll be writing about it in another article *coming soon*.
Folder Structure and Hierarchy
Now it’s time to order your project folders. If the naming conventions listed below don’t ring true to you, or if you discover a way to combine them, by all means, do so. Below is a snapshot of the folders I’ll be dissecting.
01 — Client Resources
This is where all existing materials that the client provides prior to the project start date (and during) are located. Feel free to title this Pre Project, Incoming, etc. May contain (but not limited to):
- Brand book
- Business plan
- Logos and other company proprietary images
- Past Interviews & Findings
- Product info and Product Roadmap
- Research, Data & Statistics
- Sales Pitch Deck
- Screenshots, etc.
- Target User Info
02 — Research & Synthesis
This folder contains a few different types of research such as:
- I.e. Competitors, market trends
It also contains other information, including:
- Interviews (Audio Recordings, Notes, Quotes, Transcripts)
- Interview Materials (Script, Plan)
- Surveys (Google Form, Survey Plan, etc.)
- Synthesis (Affinity Mapping, Priority Matrices, Competitive Analysis, Customer Journey Maps, Design Principles, Interview Summary, Personas, Problem Statement, Survey Results Summary, Task Flows)
03 — Concept Ideation and Testing
This folder is compiled of your initial concepts, sketches, and concept tests
- Concepts and 6–8–5 sketches
- Concept Testing Summary
- Converged Concept (Narrowing the scope)
04 — Wireframes & Prototypes
- Screen Flows — these don’t have to contain all scenarios and edge cases unless specifically asked for by the client. Generally, the happy path or completing the most vital tasks within the user flow is important to include as it provides a valuable structure for the devs and UI team.
- Paper Prototype / Low Fidelity
- Mid and High Fidelity versions of the prototype
- Low-High Fidel Wireframes — LABELING IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE!
05 — Meeting Artifacts
This is where all presentation decks, meeting notes, and workshop activities will be shared.
- Meeting Notes and Feedback
- Presentation Decks
- Workshop Activity Artifacts
06 — Final deliverables
This is where your team’s final designs will be found. Final Deliverables & UI + Dev Handoffs could be combined if that makes more sense for you. Can also be titled Post, Outgoing…you get the point.
- Final Wireframes
- Interactive prototype (provide direct link)
- Video walkthrough of the product
07 — UI + Dev Handoffs
This will make the developers and UI teams lives a hell of a lot easier. Depending on the scope of the project, this folder might contain different contents or be considered nonessential (but it doesn’t hurt to have).
- Annotated wireframes
- Design assets (fonts, style guides, wireframe kits, etc.)
- Site Map
Let me play that back for you in full…
I created a compressed ZIP file that contains all the folders listed above to help you get started. Before downloading, please be aware that…
- I left the client resources folder blank as that is something that will be given to you by your client
- By way of design, the subfolders (folders within each folder) are organized by alphabet, though they are not numbered or dated. They absolutely should be categorized beyond alphabetically, but I wanted to give you flexibility and decide how you would like to have that done
- There will likely be subfolders within these subfolders — that’s on you to create and consolidate
What to Include vs. Exclude
Just remember, what you are presenting to your client might look different from what you and your design team are sharing internally.
Of course, this varies depending on the client and what their expectations are. Be sure to bring this up during your first meeting or via email communication early on so you know whether your client wants every single bit of info (even the scrappy stuff before you polish it to make it aesthetic and digestible), or if they want the bare bones and polished files.
Engagement with and handoffs to clients carry invisible layers of responsibility, requiring designers to be meticulous and concise when documenting and communicating.
Expertise in organizing might as well be synonymous with professionalism. Understanding how to structure your work can make liaison with clients smooth like butter.
I hope this starter kit will help you avoid this…