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Working with Complex Layer Structures in Photoshop

As the creative director of a small marketing and design agency, there’s nothing that gets me more fired up than when my design team gets lazy. No, I’m not talking about the kind of lazy having to do with daydreaming or making friends on Facebook. I’m talking about layer organization. Without it, workflow is hindered, team members become frustrated, and time and money go right down the chute.

Having never attended a design class in my life (I’m a geographer by trade - strange, I know), I learned these principles through a lot of trial and error. Early on, like many artists out there, my file structures were a complete disaster. My layers palette consisted of a massive stack of items numbered one to one-hundred-and-something – and, they were out of order. Finding a particular element required endless turning on and off of layers until I found the correct layer. Not exactly a streamlined process.

I can’t recall exactly when I had the epiphany, but I gradually began naming layers. It started basic at first, but then became somewhat of an obsession of mine. Eventually, Adobe released a new version of Photoshop that introduced groups, which enables you to organize layers into folders. This made it even easier because now I could lump various sections of the website (header, body, columns, footers, etc.) into clear, segmented groups. This not only made it visibly easier to comprehend a massive layer palette, but it also made it easier to work with large sections of a website (moving, copying, activating, deactivating, etc.).

Layer Structure

Working with a team of designers, coders, programmers, and content integrators makes file organization even more important. It’s critical to have an organizational policy in place so your team spends less time on layer translation and more time accomplishing their specific tasks. Also, let me be clear that good layer management doesn't only apply to designing websites in Photoshop. My team at HighRock applies these same organizational principals to all projects and applications. However, websites typically require many more layers than other projects.

By no means am I saying that I have all of the answers. That’s why I’m asking you to send in recommendations / best practices of what works best in your organization.