Building a custom file taxonomy for your digital asset library is one of the biggest milestones when implementing and launching a digital asset management solution for your team.

When done right, organizing and finding digital assets becomes a breeze.  But where to start, and how do you make sure you create a DAM taxonomy that is tailored to your team's exact needs? Let's begin with the basics. 

What is taxonomy?

Taxonomy is the scheme of classification used to categorize and organize digital assets. It is the data structure on which a DAM must be built to make assets findable through searching and filtering. With that in mind, building a tailor-made taxonomy is the first priority when implementing a DAM system.

Taxonomy consists of descriptive terms used to label assets to make them findable. These descriptive terms make up a specific vocabulary used to describe your team's digital assets, and it's this consistent naming system that is used to tag, organize, and find content.

The controlled vocabulary of taxonomy as well as description, date, and usage information, are considered metadata—defined as data used to describe other data.

What does a DAM taxonomy actually look like?

A taxonomy system comes in all shapes and sizes, as they inevitably have to align with the unique needs of a business. Yet there are general best practices. Below you can find an example from a Bynder DAM portal and how the taxonomy structure on the navigation bar looks to a typical user:

Asset overview2x customlarge Asset overview2x customlarge Asset overview2x customlarge Asset overview2x customlarge Your guide to building a digital asset library taxonomy

Game of Thrones fan? Click here for our illustrative taxonomy example inspired by the hit fantasy series.

What are some best practices when building a taxonomy?

A common approach to taxonomy is to create a nested taxonomy, which is a hierarchy of parent categories containing multiple levels of subcategories—such as in a computer folder structure. Users are only able to access subfolders by first clicking into the parent folder and high-level subfolders that contain them.

A more recent approach to taxonomy is to create a flat structure that supports multi-faceted searching, which is conducted by applying any combination of facets, or filters, to narrow down the results in the DAM.

  • An example of multi-faceted search is the “Tools” tab in Google Images search. Here you can apply any number of filters (i.e. size, type, usage rights) to your query to retrieve the most accurate results.
Taxonomy filter Taxonomy filter Taxonomy filter Taxonomy filter Your guide to building a digital asset library taxonomy

Filters used in a DAM are configured according to the categories of the taxonomy and ultimately allow end-users to easily search for assets in the DAM.

Which approach will best suit my organization’s needs?

Flat TaxonomyNested Taxonomy
+ Used in some DAMs and Google image search + Used in e-commerce platforms, folder structures, and legacy DAMs
+ Does not require prior knowledge of the pathway to a file for a quick find + Structure is familiar to end-users
+ Search experience is productive even without prior knowledge - Requires prior knowledge of the pathway to a file for a quick find
+ Browsability is enhanced because all categories are visible - Search experience is unproductive without prior knowledge
- Structure is unfamiliar to end-users - Browsability is limited because folders are hidden within others

How do I start creating my own taxonomy?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself and team members when it comes to organizing and finding digital assets. This will help to pinpoint current challenges, opportunities, and ways of working you'd like to improve.

  1. How do users currently search for files in your team? (i.e. Do they click through folders on a shared drive? Maybe ask a particular colleague to have digital assets emailed to them?)
  2. What are the pain points your organization experiences when searching in your current organizational system? What would be the ideal method your team members would like to have to find assets?
  3. What high-level categories of information would be useful for your organization to search or filter on? (i.e. department, product, project, region, season)
  4. Does your organization use a file naming convention? If so, what are the current rules? What works, what doesn't?
  5. What kind of digital assets will be stored in the DAM? Mostly images? Videos? Design materials?
    1. Describe the content of the assets when applicable (i.e. contains product shots, brand guidelines for the marketing team, works-in-progress or finished assets )
    2. Describe how users will use the assets, when applicable. (i.e. on social media, partner enablement, in a marketing campaign, internal use only)

How do I begin configuring my taxonomy?

Consider the following steps as you begin building out your taxonomy:

  1. List the high-level categories (fields) you listed in response to questions three and five. If applicable, add the categories required by your organization’s file naming convention to this list.
  2. Organize these fields in a spreadsheet tool such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, or mapping tool such as XMind.
  3. Use the data structure you created in step two to configure your DAM system and tag your assets during import.

Get more taxonomy-building inspiration: Creating a taxonomy of the cute & cuddly in 8 simple steps.

DAM success story: See how Siemens Healthineers saved an estimated 4M+ in savings and increased efficiency with Bynder

Looking for some inspiration before you begin your own taxonomy-building journey? World-leading medical technology specialists Siemens Healthineers created a custom taxonomy for their own Bynder DAM solution that matched the "lingua franca" of their company. 

On average, the time it takes to find files has less than halved; sharing content is 70% faster than before and—perhaps the most impactful benefit—Bynder is the go-to single source of truth for all marketing and communication assets, with over 13,000 Siemens Healthineers stakeholders onboarded (and growing!).

Siemens healthineers dam portal bynder Siemens healthineers dam portal bynder Siemens healthineers dam portal bynder Siemens healthineers dam portal bynder Your guide to building a digital asset library taxonomy

Read the full Siemens x Healthineers DAM success story.

Looking for more taxonomy best practices?

Deepen your taxonomy-building knowledge with our taxonomy and metadata best practices guide.

In need of some more visual inspiration? Check out our open fruit-based DAM portal in Bynder to get a feel for how a finished file taxonomy looks. 

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