Often when you design something to be used on the web or in a document, you may decide later to use the same design on something else, or have the work translated for use in a different country. Repurposing existing work for another deliverable is a great way not only to make better use of your design budget, it helps you achieve a consistent look and feel across projects.

Making sure designs can be used for different deliverables, in different languages, and across multiple media means having to do some up-front planning and having to keep your projects organized. Following are a few things that you should consider either for your own design work, or for you to request of the freelancers or other designers who work on projects for you.

Rules of good design housekeeping

  • Layers: Use layers! Each element should be on a separate layer. Placing multiple elements in a single layer is acceptable as long as they do not overlap. If there are more than 2 layers in a file, name them so the next designer who works with the file will know what things are, and use layer groups whenever it makes sense to do so.
  • Background: You will very frequently be asked for the ability to move things around or even separate things from the background. Never flatten the image or add any elements directly onto the background layer. (This is especially important for when you repurpose an image for use on the web or in a presentation.)
  • Placing images in InDesign: If you create the graphic elements in Photoshop or another tool and then place them into InDesign to create the finished piece, bring those images in as separate elements. Is there a textured background, several logos, and a main design motif? Each should be a separate link.
  • Text: Make sure that text is retained as text — avoid rasterizing it.  If you are using InDesign in conjunction with a design tool like Illustrator or Photoshop, it’s best to do all the text layout in InDesign.
  • Logos and icons: In Photoshop, keep logos and icons on separate layers so it is easy to move them around, replace them, or remove them.
  • Source files: When you supply source files, be sure to include everything needed to make changes to the piece. If the background was created in Photoshop, figures in Illustrator, and text layout in InDesign — then all those source files should be included in your packaged “production kit.”

Also see my tips about creating graphics for use in PowerPoint.

The moral of the story

Apply some good design housekeeping to keep your files client- and rush-project-ready. I know:  it’s hard to take the time to do things like name layers when we’re in a hurry! But there’s no better way to annoy a client than to make it impossible to merely move a logo over an inch because it’s been embedded into the background of an image. Even for those “we need it twenty minutes ago!” rush projects, keep your files organized as you work, or plan on time after the deliverable is sent off to clean up the files. Your clients, localization companies, and any designers that have to edit the file later will thank you.

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