The names of people, places, and things help us understand and navigate the world. The same holds true in digital environments, where descriptive names allow files to be easily understood, located, and retrieved.
Everything from file folder directories to collaborative work tools are more effective if their digital files have thoughtful and appropriate names. So it should come as no surprise that strong file naming conventions also help maximize the power and efficiency of a digital asset management (DAM) platform.
What are file naming conventions?
File naming conventions are frameworks for naming digital files in a descriptive, accurate, and consistent manner. They provide valuable information about what the file contains and how it relates to others in the system so that opening the file isn’t the only way to understand what is inside. Further, they support file organization, findability, and preservation.
Although there are limitless ways to design a file naming convention system, it must be agreed upon and diligently used by everyone who is creating, locating, or using the files. So in any file naming convention strategy, consistency is key!
Tips for enforcing proper file naming conventions
File names can include any information that will make each file unique and easily distinguished from one another. Some elements that are often captured in file names include:
- A unique identifier: project name, number, or creator; or product ID or SKU
- Date: including the year, month, and day
- Location: city, region, or country, etc.
- Description: what the file is or about
Although there are many ways to build a file naming convention strategy, there are several best practices that are important to follow:
- Select your descriptive elements wisely: use terms that will be easily understood by your users now, and well into the future.
- Use YYYYMMDD or YYMMDD for dates: this format is an international standard and will allow files to be sorted chronologically — especially if the date is located at the beginning of the file.
- Keep it concise: if possible, avoid using small words like “a”, “the”, “of”, and “to”, and use standard abbreviations.
- Avoid special characters: characters such as ! ? @ # $ ~ ^ & % * ` ; < > , ' " | [ ] and ( ) should not be used because they can have a special meaning to the operating system.
- Decide if spaces are permitted: Although there isn’t a golden rule around the use of spaces, many sources (such as Stanford and Princeton libraries) recommend using hyphens, underscores, or no separation at all, instead.
- Use title case: capitalize just the first letter of all principal words.
- Include version numbers: if files will have multiple iterations, using V1, V2, V3, V3.1 etc. will make their names unique.
- Create a guide: document the rules in your file naming convention framework, along with samples. Make the guide readily available to everyone that uses the files, and offer training if necessary. This will help ensure that your strategy is consistently applied and understood by all users.
- Consider where the name will appear: file names might appear externally in locations such as a portal, embed code, or share link. Consider where your files will be used and how the naming convention will be interpreted by someone outside of your company.
Here are a few examples of what effective file names look like:
File naming conventions as a way of life
How files are named and organized has a huge impact on their ability to be found, used, and preserved. In a DAM platform, the file name is an essential piece of metadata that supports system organization, drives search performance, and helps ensure that shared assets are easily understood. So make a consistent file naming methodology a way of life! You won’t regret it.
For more on maintaining and promoting a digital asset management system, check out The Essential Guide for DAM Admins.