Why force folders to sort? Whether you like it or not, Microsoft Outlook imposes sorting on FileSite’s folders: an alpha-numeric sorted order.
The sorting order is a design point for document management systems: I’ve incorporated it in Cersys DMS tune-ups and deployments for almost five years now, and I’ve been using it in email and network folders for much longer.
Consciously manipulating something’s location in an alphabetic list is not a new or unique idea – take the classic telephone-book listings like AAA Best Taxi.
Keep reading to see particular design aspects to consider.
The business reason – to appear at the top of the phone list – gets carried across in the design of workspaces in iManage WorkSite. It is most convenient to refer to items at the top of the list, whether you are choosing a taxi company or an email filing folder. There are additional reasons to manipulate names of folders into a position within a workspace:
- Multi-lingual deployments with uni-lingual users. If a matter/file/project is opened in London, your firm’s guidelines would probably assign standard English-language folder names. If a similar matter is opened in Montreal, it may have standard French folder names. By forcing the order of workspace folders, you can make it easier to locate folders that may not have similar names – e.g. the Correspondence folder is always first in the list, or “Pleadings” is always 05 regardless of language.
- Usability – speed. Simplify the physical work of a drag and drop by putting the most commonly-used folder at the top of the list. Because you can count on that folder being at the top, there’s no interruption of having to read the folder names to see where it should land.
- Usability – standardization. Some firms allow “top level” folders to be created by users, while others lock down that level. If the standard folders have a special prefix to move them to the top of the sorted list, it can be much easier to navigate any given workspace.
Here is the general ordering as imposed on FileSite by Outlook.
- Non-alphanumeric characters come before numbers. Personally I like the following: . ( – ~
- Numbers come before letters
- Letters come last
Working with numbers
If you only ever have nine-or-fewer top level folders, single-digit numeric prefixes work nicely. To save horizontal space, use only one space to separate the prefix from the rest of the name.
If the folders may get into double-digits, be forewarned that numbers do not sort based on their numeric value. Instead the prefix is strictly alphabetized – e.g. these numeric prefixes sort as follows. As you can see, a leading zero provides a more numeric-looking sort.
Using standard numeric prefixes may break down as a system if your firm has any optional top-level folders. Say there are folders used only by litigation, or IP: perhaps you assign separate numeric ranges of prefixes. However, this breaks down the clean 1 2 3 4 5 look, instead leaving gaps such as 01 02 03 31 32 55 56. Alternatively, you have two folders prefixed with the same number? Also an unattractive result
Avoid these prefixes
When designing folder names for network shares, there are more restrictions. But even with iManage, I recommend that you don’t use the asterisk * as a prefix… because it’s a wildcard and therefore too hard to use as a search criterion.
Use anything except for the following “reserved characters”:
< (less than)
> (greater than)
” (double quote)
/ (forward slash)
| (vertical bar or pipe)
? (question mark)
So “tilde” ~ works, as does “octothorpe” #, “dollar sign” $, etc. (based on Naming a Top File or Folder | SlawTips.)