My job is to organize department shared drives - which often contain hundreds of thousands of documents (mostly Word documents, but also spreadsheets and media). I'm quickly coming to the realization that traditional records management teachings - that files should be organized by organizational functions (the major activities that take place in the organization) - might not provide sufficient guidance, and in some cases, might actually give rise to poor design. For example, functions can be so abstract that they might have conceptual overlap - which makes it hard for the searcher to know which function-based folder to open for a particular item.
Instead, I'm thinking that usability principles might prove a better guide for organizing folders. In About Face 2.0: The Essentials of Interaction Design, Cooper, et al. argue that "abstract hierarchies are very difficult for users to successfully navigate, except where they're based on user mental models, and the categories are truly mutually exclusive." They later go on to explain that deeply nested hierarchies are at odds with people's mental models.
With this in mind, I've developed three principles to guide my clean-up efforts:
- Try to stick with the folder structure that people have already developed (thereby sticking to their mental models).
- Limit subfolders to three levels deep (folder; subfolders, and sub-subfolders).
- Mutually exclusive folders. This goal can be facilitated by having all folders of the same type (ie. all folders are projects; all folders represent years).
Does anyone have thoughts on these principles?