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Designing file names – improving user experience for file downloads

January 26, 2013

Electronic statements from financial institutions and application setup files are two types of file downloads that happen often on the internet. More design needs to go into the file names that web sites choose to provide for downloadable files.

Picture of file download dialog - with "TaxForm2012.pdf" as the suggested file name

When web site builders design a file name, they should:

Design it with the perspective of the user, not the site!

Consider what your users want to do with it and where they will store it.

In the example above, I’m going to store that file in: documents\financial\taxes\2012\. I downloaded this file from, shouldn’t the file name include the word Fidelity?

Pick a name that will make sense in the future (include context in name)

If they saved it in their downloads or documents folder, and came back 1 month later, would they know what it was and where it came from?

Clearly, TaxForm2012.pdf doesn’t tell me enough.  Fidelity-TaxForm-2012.pdf, but might be improved on. Read on…

Avoid Duplicate Names

Consider how to provide unique names of documents to users. If they might download several files, they shouldn’t be forced to rename them. Your suggested name should be good enough to save all of them into the same folder.

In the case of tax statements from fidelity, you might get tax statements from different accounts, a normal brokerage account, retirement accounts, etc…  Perhaps Fidelity-Investments-Tax Form-2012.pdf and Fidelity-401k-Tax Form-2012.pdf would be a good pattern.

Imagine the lifecycle of the files you provide for download.

If they want to download more than one version (over time), consider putting a version number or date in the filename.

Fidelity did a good job of this by having the year.


Other Examples

Application setup files – NO MORE SETUP.EXE!

Application setup programs shouldn’t be named “Setup.exe”.  Perhaps MyCoolAppName-1.5-Setup.exe would be a better pattern.

Driver setup files –

An example, Windows “Problem Reports and Solutions” once pointed me towards a new network driver from Intel to improve stability.  When I follow a link or two and begin downloading the file, the filename was:  When I save that file locally, the file name makes it very tough to understand what the file is.

Shouldn’t driver downloads be named with the idea that they will be stored in a directory with other drivers and need to be distinguishable?

Perhaps something more like:


Filenames for files that won’t be downloaded by end users also need design

Computers are complex system. Picking good names for application components and data files is good practice that improves the system and the user experience.


[This blog post was a rewrite of similar May 22, 2007 post I did. Perhaps my first blog post wasn’t effective enough. Maybe twitter will help this time? Perhaps you could spread the word to a site that has badly designed file names?]


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