How to Find Older Files in Figma (and Other SaaS Apps)

Figma is great for collaboration. And one of the challenges when collaborating with others — especially when working with highly generative teams larger than two people — is that lots of stuff accrues quickly, making it difficult to find things later. Figma has gotten better about this, but I still have a hard time locating older files.

I posed this observation yesterday on Twitter and got several useful replies. Christian Bergstrom suggested using naming conventions for files and folders. In my experience, naming conventions do help, but they present challenges of their own.

The foremost challenge is compliance: people — especially those in a hurry — tend to be lax about file names. The likelihood that the convention will be honored decreases with every person added to the team. And exceptions undermine trust in the system, leading to more laxity. A vicious cycle ensues.

Matt Vestengen-Cox offered a different approach:

In other words, @coxy suggests establishing a personal hybrid between Figma’s filesystem and the local filesystem. This is feasible because Figma exposes URLs for files, so you can address them directly from outside the application.

I haven’t tried this approach yet, but it strikes me as a good compromise. I already have local folders for all my projects, with sub-folders inside each for things like assets and images, working files, final deliverables, etc. Furthermore, I’ve used this pattern for years. It’d be easy to drag Figma links to these folders alongside documents and files, where I already know where to find things.

Downsides: For one, this approach isn’t automatic. I must drag each item I want to recall into my filesystem. (Which might actually be an upside, as this will reduce clutter.) But this approach also doesn’t bring new remote files to my awareness: It’s up to me to keep both systems in sync. Still, it seems like a good compromise.

I’m already using a similar hybrid approach with OneNote. Although Obsidian is my primary note-taking app these days, I still use OneNote for handwritten notes. One of the reasons why I like OneNote is that every note has a URL. I can paste those URLs into other apps, including Obsidian. I can’t search inside the content of OneNote notes from Obsidian, but links are often enough to get me what I need.

Yes, it takes additional effort. Effective personal information management requires ongoing maintenance. The perfect, all-encompassing system doesn’t exist. In anything but the simplest cases, your system will include a variety of apps. Some will be local, others cloud-based. Each app will have its own “filesystem” equivalent. Some will make finding and managing information easier than others.

You can achieve a degree of coherence, wholeness, and findability — but it’ll be up to you to build ties between disparate systems, and to maintain the integrity of those ties. So, here’s a criterion when evaluating an app for your system: does it allow you to easily reference individual items from other apps? I.e., can you drop a link to a file to your local filesystem?

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