Designing a custom taxonomy for your digital asset library (or DAM) system is one of the biggest milestones when implementing and launching a DAM initiative in your organization. In most implementations, this is a major time investment and crucial for optimized DAM findability.

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. Therefore, taxonomy design is the first priority in the implementation of a DAM system.

Taxonomy consists of descriptive terms used to label assets to make them findable. These descriptive terms constitute a controlled vocabulary, or consistent naming system used to tag, index, and retrieve assets.

The controlled vocabulary of a 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 look like in action?

Each organization may use different taxonomies that suit their unique business needs, but here is an example of how a Bynder taxonomy can look to the end-user. Note: Each organization decides which parts of the taxonomy to surface in the smart filters you see here:

What are the common approaches to taxonomy design?

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. End 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 The 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 begin designing my taxonomy?

  1. How do users currently search for assets in your current organizational system? (i.e. Click through folders on shared drive, “I ask the designer to email assets to me.”)
  2. What are the pain-points your organization experiences when searching in your current organizational system? How would users in the organization like 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 does it signify?
  5. What types of assets will be stored in the DAM?
    1. Please describe the content of the assets, when applicable. (i.e. Contains product shot, brand guidelines for the marketing team, historical/inactive)
    2. Please describe how users will use the assets, when applicable. (i.e. On social media, in a marketing campaign, to share with others in the organization)

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.

So there you have it!

Examples of taxonomy approaches and exercises that you can use to start planning your digital asset management taxonomy today. Have questions or need some eyes on something? We want to chat! Drop us a line in the chat on the bottom right corner of this window.

For further information…send us a chat. We'd love to talk shop about taxonomy more with you!

Check out a taxonomy in action in the Open Assetbank Fruit Portal or check out how we use Bynder to distribute digital assets post-event for OnBrand: Europe's leading branding conference for marketing and creative professionals.

Dam library for onbrand

Already have your taxonomy ready to go? Read 3 Steps to DAM Migration.

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