Designers: The Ultimate Archive Librarians

I used Microsoft Excel to create a searchable database in order to quickly locate client files in my 300 DVD archive.

I used Microsoft Excel to create a searchable database in order to quickly locate client files in my 300 DVD archive.

One of the first, and most important, things I learned when I entered my career as a designer was the need to keep all the materials I created for each client and project. I also needed to manage that material over time.  When I worked for other agencies, I marveled at how poorly they archived their work.  They were always digging through stuff, trying to find something.  So much time was wasted doing that. 

I vowed that I would do better when I started my own creative agency.

Thankfully, the age of digital began long before I opened my doors and initiated the search for clients, so I had it easy.  Early on, I decided the best archival tools for digital materials was something called the Iomega ZIP-drive--does anyone remember that?  It used removable discs that looked a lot like oversized 3.5 diskettes. I had one ZIP-drive in every workstation, and each drive had 250MB capacity which felt enormous at the time.  We used them for both data storage and for transporting files to vendors, particularly print vendors.

In the early 2000s, writable DVDs, with 4.7GB capacity, came on to the market and we moved away from ZIP-drives which never got beyond 750MB of storage. During that transition, we copied all our data off the ZIP-drives and on to DVDs. Writable DVDs really changed everything for us. Also, at nearly the same time, FTP (file transfer protocol) became available which allowed us to move anything larger than 10MB over the internet to vendors equipped with FTP servers.  This made a huge difference in how we handled our publications work along with those notorious last-minute changes--"quick, change the Pantone color from 468 to 469!"

Today, I still use writable DVDs (standard and Blue-Ray) which brings me to how I manage the massive amount of materials on those DVDs.  The total number of DVDs I have to keep track of is around 300 or so, each containing hundreds of files going back a number of years.  So how do I know where to find something in that proverbial haystack?

From the start, and without input from anyone, I decided to explore the idea of maintaining a searchable database; something similar to SQL, but easier to create, manage and use.  I went to a piece of software I already had: Microsoft Excel.  I simply created a single page spreadsheet containing the following columns, 1) name of client, 2). name of project, 3) metadata of project, 4). date of project, 5) any special attributes, and last 6) DVD number (each of the DVDs has a special tracking number).  I then saved the Excel file as a query database file format.

The searchable spreadsheet, acting as a database, has worked great over the years.  I open it, simply type in a search query and the information I want comes up along with the DVD number.  It is not unusual for an old client or even a vendor to contact me asking for materials several years old.  'Do you have it?' they timidly ask. 'Yes, I answer.' I find it within minutes and happily email it off to them. The really amazing thing is, the Excel database file I use today in Excel 2016 is nearly identical to the very first version of it I made using Office 97-98.

One very important thing I should mention is, each numbered DVD in my archive is duplicated (a backup) which means I actually have over 600 DVDs.  Duplicating or cloning materials has always been important to me.  Each computer workstation has two harddrives on it--the primary C:/ drive which is then cloned over to a second bootable D:/ drive.  Harddrive crashes or viruses never worry me.  Also, do not believe the stories about CDs and DVDs going "bad".  I have never had one go "bad" on me.  It is also a good idea to keep your DVDs in a dark, temperature-controlled space--I do.

In addition to my digital archive, I also maintain an archive of physical items such as printed incentives (cups, cigarette lighters, etc.), imprinted caps and apparel, print materials (brochures, magazines), packaging, wine bottles and just about anything else designed by my firm. I don't send those out to anyone. Clients HAVE asked (some demanded), but the answer is always NO.

Archiving is an art and I personally feel that every designer needs to be proficient at it.