Image scanned from some really old reference material I inherited from my grandfather.
Source unknown. Circa the 1930s or 40s.

What every designer needs

The best piece of advise I ever got from design school was to start up something called a “swipe file”. Basically, it’s a file folder full of bits and pieces of things that either inspire you or might prove useful insight for future projects. Need a fresh new colour scheme for a project? Check the swipe file. Need a background pattern? Check the swipe file. Never designed a three panel brochure before? Check the swipe file before proceeding.

Now just a quick note. It’s called a swipe file, but please understand, it’s only supposed to be for inspiration, not outright copying (i.e. theft). Swipe file was the name my college Computer Graphics prof called it, and I have yet to come up with a better name for it.

My swipe file is getting a little long in the tooth, and is using somewhat outdated technology. Remember, I’m old school. The Internet was really only just starting up and digital technology was just coming into its own when I started as a designer 17 years ago. My swipe file is just a bunch of real papers stuffed in real file folders. Time for a change.

Enter Evernote

Today, designers have plenty of options for storing little snippets of things that might one day prove useful. And there are a lot of ways young designers can find inspiration and tutorials (blogs, Twitter, and other social media).

I’ve been trying out Evernote since last January. Evernote is primarily used for note taking, but I’ve been using it as a catchall storage system for any tutorials, images, and top-ten-best-of-lists I find on the Internet. Both mobile and desktop variants of Evernote seem to mesh well with my Internet habits. I’ve even managed to get most of my old Google Reader starred items into Evernote, and with some trickery, can get my StumbleUpon likes into Evernote as well. Now if only I can get my Twitter likes into Evernote and we’d be all set! (Turns out this was pretty easy. All I had to do was use the email feature of Evernote and just email the tweets I want to file away. I can even specify what notebook I want the tweets to be stored in. Sweet!)

Unfortunately, since I have used Evernote as a catchall, it isn’t well organized and there’s no tags associated with any of it. Methinks that has got to change.

I also want to try and get my analog swipe file into my digital one. Taking snapshots of everything and then uploading them to Evernote should be a breeze (thank God and Steve Jobs for iPhones!).

Organizing all the notes though, should prove quite the task! Especially tagging. Tagging everything with key words (especially the images) would be really handy, but I have to agree with my wife – tagging sucks. Over the years, I have learned to be pretty organized and anal-retentive, but the idea of tagging hundreds of different links, articles, and images does not sound like my idea of fun.

The good news is I like to keep a pretty simple, yet thorough, filing system for things, so hopefully I won’t have to rely on tagging so much as well curated and easy to make sense of notebook labels.

Wrapping up

I’ll post an update as to how the whole Evernote swipe file reorganization goes and any helpful hints I’ve learned about organizing large volumes of stuff. Anybody with any hints of their own can leave them in the comments section. [Evernote for iOS]

For further reading check out these links:

Wikipedia’s article on swipe files.

More on Evernote can be found here.