It’s no secret that content is ruling the marketing landscape, driven by data. Data that changes and evolves daily and sometimes instantly, pushing agencies to react faster, and create content more efficiently in order to stay competitive.
Assets organization then becomes not only something we wish we could do, but a central aspect of business.
The most structured companies usually have a DAM (Digital Assets Management), a sort of system to organize media assets. The term is quite broad actually, and it might define very different software solutions; from a simple user digital photography library like Lightroom, to enterprise content management.
The best systems out there have core capabilities linked to cloud storage, safety layers, logic that define how assets are shared and even brand management features.
But no matter how good your DAM or system is, if people in your organization don’t use it or know how to use it, it will be pretty useless. It happened to us that we had clients who had the most expensive DAMs in the market. They shared some credentials to access it and work on some projects, but we couldn’t find anything there, because the people in charge of populating the DAM didn’t do it properly.
Organization is not (only) about the tool
Organizing our assets is the first step towards creative workflow automation, archival and backups, and usage tracking.
Many people believe that getting a DAM is the solution to all problems, but usually software comes with a logic. A group of people thought about a certain use, and that logic is embedded in the way the software works. Sometimes that logic is so straightforward, that instead of the user operating the software, it feels like the software is operating the user.
It is more important to build organizational skills and strategies first. If you and your organization have good practices while organizing your media and assets, it will be much easier to implement or create a tool that makes your life easier.
Let’s work on that. How do we find a method to organize our stuff?
Folder structures: Folders vs metadata
Skeuomorphism is a term that comes from the realm of user interface design. Back in the origins of computer designs, the engineers had the problem to make users simply visualize and describe interface objects, because they are just zeroes and ones on a computer. The solution was to mimic their real-world counterparts in how they appear and/or how the user interacts with them.
That’s how folders were born. The closest to a file that we could imagine back then was a paper document, that goes into a folder, and folders go into trays or cabinets, etc. Folder structures or tree structures were the first way that we had to organize digital assets. But the truth is that in the computer, there are no folders. There’s information, and attributes for that information. This information is usually called “metadata”.
Metadata is a term to describe data that talks about other data. With the evolution of systems, metadata started to get standardized and slowly incorporated into files and systems. Today metadata can be a better tool for organization, but it takes a bit of skill to use it. When using services on the cloud for example, using metadata can be super powerful to create different types of organization according to different users.
The main advantage of using metadata is that, unlike folders, tags and attributes can create different groups. For example, photographs can be grouped by date, but they can also be grouped by location, by photographer, or by project. These attributes can be metadata that every single photograph can have embedded on the file. Folders can be nested, but they cannot be rearranged.
A folder structure could nest these attributes, creating groups within groups. In this case, folders within folders
You could organize photographs in a folder structure like this:
But you could also organize it differently, like this:
If this information is not only on the folder, but also on the metadata, then things can be easier.
This is our advice: if you’re at the beginning of the road, start thinking about folder structures, but never forget the availability of metadata. Defining a folder structure is a great way to start with the right foot.
The criteria to define these folder structures should be functional to your needs. Let’s understand some criteria to define our structures.
Look for patterns
There’s a good adage that says: the best way to learn is by finding the patterns in repetition. If you want to find a system that works for you, then the first thing you need to do is to find patterns in your work. Some patterns are common for everyone in the creative sector. Some others are very specific to your type of work, complexity, and even style.
An important and interesting classification depends on who needs to access certain files. With current systems like NAS or Cloud services, you can grant or deny access to folders to certain people. Take this into consideration if you’re dealing with sensitive data, or many different stakeholders. Grouping assets by access is one of the first considerations to make when creating folder structures.
A first categorization could be by department: Copywriting, Graphic design, Video, Photography. These could be your first root folders. This way, you could give access to photographers only to the photography folder, without complicating things too much for them by showing them unnecessary folders and information.
Type of files
Creatives work with very different kinds of files. Probably no other sector is more transversal in the type of files involved in a project. Creatives work with text files, images, photographs, video clips, sound clips, 3d files, scripts, point clouds, shaders, materials, configuration files, presets, etc.
On top of that, they work with project files of different editing and processing suites. Depending on the use of media files and assets you are accustomed to, your folder structure will take this classification into account.
Working files vs definitive files
When you work on creative projects, no matter if you work with photographs, videos, 3D or vector files, chances are that you will have raw files, intermediate files and final files (deliverables). The first classification of materials could be this one. We will dedicate a full article to naming files (how to name files in a creative agency – taxonomy 101), but if you think about a first and functional way to group files, then these three categories could be useful.
Specific vs recursive assets
This categorization is more personal, and dependant on your work.
Let’s use an example: Imagine an agency that works with video content. Every new client has a new campaign. The agency is recognized by a specific type of content, so there’s a high rotation of clients looking for their style.
Each project is unique on its own, right? Then the assets are project specific. It might seem like it on a first look, but if you look deeper you will realize there are certain patterns, certain behaviors that repeat in time.
When you create assets or you need them specifically for a single project, these are Project specific. For example, let’s imagine an event campaign. For an event campaign some deliverables will be made for different media: Banners, square, and portrait mode for stories.
To create those deliverables, your vendor will need some things from you: the copy, the date of the event, some images from previous events to work with. They will also need the logo of the company and the sponsors of the event, the branding manuals of the client, and some other assets. Group these assets or cluster them together by type.
If we have a recurring client, all the branding assets from such client will be recursive, and therefore they should be in a library. It should be easy to find them and they should be ready for the next project.
Adobe has a tool to create libraries that can be shared with other professionals that work on the Adobe account. A good start to tackle the problem, as long as everyone is working in the Adobe environment.
If the event is a one time thing, then most of the assets will be project specific, and should be gathered together. But chances are you will reuse assets over and over, like color palettes, logos, branding assets, soundbits or sound effects, and other elements. In that case it makes sense to create a sort of repository, a proprietary library, where several team members can pick up and reuse the materials.
Building a library
If you think about it, the road to optimization is to look for recursive elements in your workflow. That will become your original structure, your starting point to create your own structure.
Organize these libraries in a way that relates with real work. We’ve seen in this article how access, file type, and usage of files can and should influence your assets structure. Once you found your system, it is now time to populate those folders with files.
Naming each asset the right way is paramount to make a library usable and useful. But naming files though it’s an art on it’s own. In the next article we will go in depth into naming strategies, and how to make them work for us.