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6 Basic Rules for Tidying Up Your DAM

Maddie Synoground

By Maddy Synoground | Mar 07, 2022

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Organization consultant and New York Times bestselling author Marie Kondo has made a business out of helping people organize and declutter their lives. From her bestselling book, The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up, to her popular Netflix series, Tidying Up, she’s discovered the secret to long-lasting organization and helped people live more fully, with less. Her KonMari Method is simple: keep only the things that “spark joy,” and get rid of everything else. Since many of our everyday activities and belongings are virtual instead of physical, how can we apply this methodology to our digital lives? With the help of the KonMari Method, we’ve taken the six basic rules of tidying up and applied them to digital photos, videos, and other creative assets, to help you keep your DAM (digital asset management) programs healthy, relevant, and organized.

Marie Kondo's 6 Basic Rules of Tidying Up

Rule # 1 “Commit yourself to tidying up”

Tidying up requires time and effort, and before you begin the process of decluttering your digital library, it’s important to comprehend the scope of the undertaking and the commitment it will take to plan, implement, and document it for the future. This is probably the hardest and most important step in the process. Here are a few questions to ask to better understand your library, your role, and the investment needed:

What’s your ultimate goal?

We’ll dig more into this in rule #2, but first, decide where you want the clutter to go. Do you want to get rid of it, or is it simply time to move these assets out of the active library and into an archive?

How much time and effort will it take?

If a similar project hasn't been completed in your organization before, you might not know how big or small a project like this can be. To better understand the level of investment, take a holistic look at your active library and all its digital assets. Consider the total number of assets, the types of assets, and the reasons for keeping them active, removing them, or archiving them. Understanding these basics will give you valuable insight into how big, small, or complicated the project might be.

Does my organization have an archive?

If the answer is no, jump to rule #2!

If the answer is yes, what's its purpose? There are numerous types of archives, created for a multitude of reasons. Understanding why your organization has one is crucial in determining what gets archived and when. You may also find that there are some best practices already in place and a clear roadmap to follow.

Is the archive accessible?

If it’s cloud-based, then it will function differently than one that’s on a corporate hard drive. For example, some DAM platforms have built-in archival capabilities, such as setting expiration dates that mark assets as archived on a specific date, making them unavailable to certain users, but still accessible on the same platform.

Rule #2 “Imagine your ideal lifestyle.”

This next rule is about knowing your use case and determining the goals for your digital library. To determine what a successful library looks like for your organization, here are a few questions to get you started:

Do you need more storage space?

The incentive to declutter a library is often the limitations of storage space. Maybe there just isn't enough. If space is all you need, the archive should be accessible, as assets are moving there simply to make room for newer assets. If storage isn’t your concern, and other reasons affect the archival of assets, it won’t need to be as accessible and more questions will need to be answered to determine the overall purpose of the archive. Additionally, the cost of storage is often less than we think it will be, and depending on your DAM platform, adding more can be quick, easy, and cost-effective.

Are the assets outdated or no longer usable?

In other words, what is the purpose of your DAM platform? If it’s intended for final, current assets only, it's time to move obsolete assets out of it and into the archive. Additionally, some assets need to be archived due to usage expirations or outdated branding. Determining the use case on an asset-by-asset basis can help focus the purposes of both your active library and the archive.

Do you have a historical archive? If not, do you need one?

For many brands, their core values and brand identity reside in their historical assets. Think of the polar bear that first appeared in Coca-Cola’s ads in 1922—it was bold, attention-grabbing, and led to many donations to polar bear conservation groups by the company. To this day, the polar bear is used sporadically in some of Coca-Cola’s print advertising. Maintaining an active archive for old assets can play a major role in ensuring brand identity and consistency. Think about whether this might be the case for your organization and how accessible these assets need to be.

There are many reasons for cleaning out a library. Understanding your organization’s goals for its active library and archive will help you create a clear roadmap for long-term health and success. If your organization needs an archive, but you’re unsure what kind, read more here about the different types of digital asset archives.

Rule #3 “Finish discarding first.”

One of the biggest challenges in decluttering any digital library is determining the immediate and future need of assets. Deciding if and when you'll need something in the future is very difficult since we often don’t know the historical significance of something until much later. While there isn’t a straightforward answer to this question, we’ve come up with a few ways to help you cull down your assets. Thankfully, this process can start when an asset is created instead of waiting until the archival stage. Culling is the process of objectively finding and discarding bad, blurry, or irrelevant items in a gallery. The next step is to subjectively choose the best, most representative images or assets from a campaign or project. Be sure to consider quality and size requirements as well as the current and future relevance of an asset in regards to your brand’s messaging, core values, and intended audience. Implementing this step before assets make it to the DAM will save time, space, and headaches down the road.

If you’re well past this point and assets are already published to your DAM system that need culling, here are a few questions to ask:

Does the asset stand on its own?

Will someone looking at this asset ten, twenty, or even thirty years from now know what it is without context? Of course, context should already be embedded in your metadata, but asking this question will help you cull many assets and slim down both your active library and your archive.

How many assets are similar to this one?

Deduplicating your assets is one of the hardest things to do, primarily because there aren’t a lot of reliable technologies and products to help and much of the work has to be done manually. For example, when you’re culling images from an event, you’ll often find images that aren’t exact duplicates, but equally portray what's happening. If the same angle of a particular person was successfully captured in five different photos, keep one or two of the strongest ones and get rid of the rest.

Many DAM platforms have deduplication features to help you find similar file names and images that look almost identical but might be cropped differently or saved in a different format.

Rule #4 “Tidy by category, not by location.”

This rule is about collecting items in one location to get a holistic view of what you have. Just like going through household items by category, doing this helps you comprehend the structure of your digital library and the different categories it can be broken into. For example, start with all design assets, find and cull duplicates, isolate ones with outdated branding, and then repeat with the other categories. Painting a clear picture of what assets are and how they’re sorted expedites the archival process and ensures no asset is missed.

Rule # 5 “Follow the right order.”

This rule is the most subjective one and, therefore, the easiest to get stuck on. When determining the right time to archive or remove an asset from your library, it’s important to know the purpose of your assets and how often they’re used, shared, and downloaded. Many DAM platforms have built-in reporting dashboards to give you a number of insights into your assets. You can learn things like the last time an asset was downloaded, the number of times it was downloaded and viewed, and how often an asset or similar one is searched for. If an asset was downloaded numerous times in the last three months, it’s probably safe to assume it’s still relevant and should remain active. Similarly, if an asset hasn’t been touched in over three years, the decision to archive or remove it might be much easier knowing it hasn’t been relevant in some time. Looking at patterns and usage of your assets can tell their story and help you decide their current value in the DAM.

Once you’ve developed some good best practices around the timing of removing or archiving assets, build out a DAM-specific workflow to future-proof this process. Here is an example of a workflow that can be customized to your use case:

Example Workflow

Asset Creation > Cull > Finalize > Apply Metadata > Upload to DAM > Publish > Archive

Be sure to thoroughly document what each phase looks like for your organization and to always include relevant metadata that might affect its usage and archival, such as rights management information.

Rule #6 “Ask yourself if it sparks joy”

According to Kondo, this rule is about whether keeping or discarding something will “spark joy.” Although it might seem silly to apply this to your digital assets, it’s a good starting point in determining their current and future value. By asking this question, you can better evaluate the significance of your assets, both in the present and in the future. At this stage, you can take all the answers to the questions asked about your assets previously and determine their ultimate value and relevance to the DAM program and your organization as a whole.

By following these six rules for tidying up your DAM, you can get your organization on the right track to better managing, maintaining, and preserving your digital photos, videos, and other creative assets, without the clutter. The bonus rule, (TBD on Marie Kondo’s approval!) is to document every step of the process and create best practices for your organization. You’ll thank yourself later!
Learn more about how Stacks can help your organization better organize and declutter your DAM platforms. Our team of DAM experts is happy to help!

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