Designing with Conventions in Mind

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Categories: General

What is a naming convention?

A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms, or criteria, often taking the form of a custom.

Why conventions are good

  • Often easy to use
  • They usually follow a standard and are wildly adopted
  • Gives a community structure
  • Gives context

Why they can be bad
If used in the context of a team or community, everyone has to use it or it has no lasting effect.

Where do they work?

Conventions exist for many different scenarios. I will talk quickly about Naming conventions. A convention does not have to be complicated but has to be adopted by everyone.

Managing files on a personal computer can be different than managing files on a server.

A personal computer means individuality and free, though, working from a server means you are exposed to other people and how they think a file or folder should be named.

Regardless of how you work, you should make it a habit to name your files and folders with enough information that they can be used by someone who has not used them.

Naming folders as Client Name – Identifier – Year is a good practice, at a glance you know who it’s for, what you are doing, and when you did it.

Personally, I like to keep the same folder for every project.

Client Name – Identifier – Year
– _content
– _design
– _resources

Every folder has an obvious job. It makes it easy to package up the project and hand it off it needed. If you are working off of a server then it’s easy enough for other people to figure out where files might go.

I find at times you get an email with content. The document is named website content September 20.docx it would make sense to rename this to Client Name – Content v3 – Sept 20 2010.docx.

Whatever you choose has to be remembered and followed through with. Clear naming allows you to search for files, find files and avoid the hassle of opening a bunch of random files in the hopes you find what you want.

Design Files

I know when I work on Photoshop or Illustrator I can get away with not labeling my layers or groups but I am the only one who has to figure it out. Take the time to label and Group accordingly. Include all linked files or embed them. Include all fonts (legal). When the file opens on another person’s computer you have to give them EVERYTHING.


All modern MVC frameworks use naming conventions whether you are a Ruby or PHP developer. Trying to go against the convention means you are forcing yourself to work harder. Making your code harder to read for others.

Naming conventions are also important for CSS and how you can read a style sheet. Creating a class called box is not specific. Being descriptive without going over the top is best. Naming it content-box might be more fitting. Because CSS works on inheriting properties your naming is extremely important.

If you can understand how the stylesheet works by reading it then you will reduce the amount of time you spend figuring it out and also prevent someone from being lazy and creating a new style that is probably duplicated.

Adam Patterson

Adam Patterson

User Interface Designer & Developer with a background in UX. I have spent 5 years as a professionally certified bicycle mechanic and ride year-round.

I am a husband and father of two, I enjoy photography, music, movies, coffee, and good food.

You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!