Artists are often pegged as “messy creatives.” And while graphic designers are certainly artists, there isn’t much room to be messy, per se. In order to be a successful graphic designer, you need to be systematic and organized. Here are a few techniques you can try:

1. Keep a Clean Office

The first step is to keep a neat, organized workspace. There’s ample research to suggest that your physical environment has a direct impact on your mental headspace. If you’re working in a messy space that’s full of clutter, your brain is overloaded with stimuli and has a hard time focusing on the actual work at hand.

Go through your office and take inventory of every item you have. (Start in one corner and work your way around the room.) If the item doesn’t (a) help you be more productive or (b) bring you some degree of joy/creativity, it needs to go. A minimalist office is best.

Pay especially close attention to your desk. It’s easy to accumulate stacks of paper, trinkets, old coffee cups, staplers, cords, lamps, etc. But consider how much of these require direct access. Removing unnecessary items from your desk gives you a clean slate to work with (and fewer distractions to draw your eyes away from what you’re working on).

2. Eliminate Computer Desktop Clutter

Having a clean physical desktop is just the start. You also need a clean computer desktop. Avoid using your desktop as your primary file storage system. Instead, treat it like a holding cell for downloads and files until you find a permanent home for them.

It’s a good idea to clean off your desktop at the end of each day by dragging all files to a permanent folder or the trash bin. You should only have a few icons for regularly used apps and one to three folders. If you have anything more than this on your desktop, it’s probably a sign that you don’t have a well-optimized system.

3. Invest in Digital Storage

The year is 2021 – not 2011. If you’re still storing all of your files on your computer hard drive, you’re making a massive mistake. Not only is this inefficient, but it’s a huge security concern. All it takes is one hack, virus, or system crash and you could lose everything.

A cloud storage drive is an absolute necessity. For one, it enhances your security. But even more importantly, it gives you a way to store files in such a way that you aren’t tied to one specific computer or hard drive. Once you go to the cloud, you can access your files from anywhere. That’s a major perk!

4. Create a Filing System

You can think of a cloud storage drive as a physical library for your files. But it’s not enough to just have a library. You also need a system for organizing all of your files in that library. (Otherwise, it’s just one big mess.)

You’ll have to decide what system you want to use. It should be something that works with the way your brain processes information and/or how you handle projects. For example, you might want a folder for each client you work with. Then inside of each folder, there’s a subfolder for each project. Inside each project subfolder, there are additional folders for different file types, etc. It’s your call – just make sure there’s a clear, documented system.

5. Automate With Zapier

If you’ve never used Zapier, now is a great time to start. In the most basic sense, Zapier is a platform that connects and integrates different unrelated tools to create automated workflows that keep you organized and productive. For example, you can integrate your email with Slack, or your favorite graphic design tool with your favorite email platform. There are literally thousands of integrations available.

Putting It All Together

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of being organized. The label of “messy creative” is more a caricature of a graphic designer than anything else. If you study the most successful professionals in this industry, you’ll find that they almost always have documented systems and orderly processes that allow them to be both creative and productive. Thus, if you want to be a more successful graphic designer, you’ll need your own plan. Use this article as a springboard for doing bigger and better things!

About the Author

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Mirko Humbert

Mirko Humbert is the editor-in-chief and main author of Designer Daily and Typography Daily. He is also a graphic designer and the founder of WP Expert.