There are many blog posts, message threads, and ad-hoc conversations about how to name files and folders and how to structure them into a folder hierarchy. I found myself flipping through my notes recently and wanted to shared them with you.

What’s in a Name

A successful naming convention will provide you with a kind of unique identification for each digital asset. It will also help prevent users from storing two files with the same name in the same location, reducing the risk of duplicate files. The key concept behind establishing a file naming convention is that file names should work with both Windows and Mac operating systems. It should also allow storage of multiple versions of a file in the same folder (version 1, version 2, etc.). The structure of the file name should also tell users something about that asset, such as the creation date, its creator, or the type of file it is, etc. Also important is ensuring that the convention is platform independent. This will allow files to exist on their own, regardless of what database or DAM currently or eventually manage them.

Folder and file names should only use:

•   A through Z (small case and capitalization are both acceptable)
•   Numbers 0 through 9.
•   Underscores and dashes

There are several restrictions to consider before designing a naming convention. One such restriction is the characters to avoid. For example, “Matzen(me)” includes parentheses characters that should be removed or replaced.

ILLEGAL characters include:

•   ? [ ] / \ = + < > ; : " , | * ( )
•   spaces within the folder and file name

AVOID the following characters:

•   @ # $ % ^ & ~ ‘

The following ILLEGAL characters are accessed from key-combinations in the Mac or Windows operating systems and should be avoided:

•   ß © ∆ ∫ √ ¢ ∞ ™ &nbsp;é ü î è – ≠ … (ellipsis) – (en dash) — (em dash) • (bullet)

Another aspect to consider is the length of a name. Best practices dictate that a file path (including names of folders and files) should be less than 256 characters, Microsoft Windows’ character count limit. This becomes tricky with deeply nested folder structures. Naming is an art and a science!

Every Asset Has a Place

Using folders to classify content is an easy way to categorize files by person, subject, or date. A good folder architecture will help users to quickly collect and organize files while also allowing them to easily navigate to the files in the future.

Folders whose meaning overlaps should be avoided because it may lead to folks mis-categorizing their assets impacting findability and management. Storing the same PowerPoint file in both a top level folder called “Presentations” and another top level folder called “Favorites” will be confusing and could lead to duplicate files or, worse case, two different files with the same name. In such cases, one of the two files should be eliminated and consideration should be given to placing one folder inside the other.

Also up for consideration is templatizing folder structures if they will be repeated in the folder hierarchy. This will allow you to quickly copy and paste the template where it is needed instead of manually creating each folder individually. While working in publishing, I developed an automation to build job folders. The templated folder structure would change depending on where I pointed the script.

The way to successfully manage your folder structure is to be consistent with your information architecture. Your folder structure will grow and evolve over time. Setting up this governance early is much easier than applying one at a later time.


Set up or cleaning up file and folder names and structures before migrating to a DAM system. When you get down to it, these aspects are foundational to DAM. Whether you have a DAM system to keep track of your files, ensuring your valuable intellectual property is well structured reduces the effort it takes to manage files throughout their digital lifecycle. Cheaper too!


Riecks, David. “Filenames as a Strategy to Managing Your Image Assets.” Controlled Vocabulary. Accessed May 6, 2023. http://www.controlledvocabulary.com/imagedatabases/filenaming.html.

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