Unfortunate misconceptions about folders and files

folder icon file managementI’d always wondered why people have such difficulty understanding folder and file management. It wasn’t because their lives were disorganized. It’s because they have a basic misconception. Their visual image of a “file” is a manila file folder. Picture the boss asking his secretary to bring him “the Anderson file.” Of course, it is actually a “folder” full of papers. A recent client enlightened me to this error when she asked, “A file is the same as a folder, right?” No! I wanted to draw pictures to change her mental model of a file and a folder.

The next concept that is hard for some to understand is the subdivision of folders. When I say “subfolder” to a client, I still don’t convey something meaningful. I have some examples, and I hope one of them will ring a bell. 1) I suggest thinking of the list of folders as if it were an outline—the kind we learned to create when we were in junior high. Each new level is indented. 2) I suggest an organizational chart or a family tree, but such charts are usually laid out on paper differently from the folders and subfolders.

Do you have any helpful analogies?