Do you have a swipe file?

If you’ve not spent a lot of time around creative advertising and marketing folks, you may never have heard of a swipe file before now. A swipe file is a collection of stuff that has worked, arranged in such a way to inspire you and give you future ideas. Done properly, it can be one of the most valuable assets you can have to jumpstart your creativity.

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So how would you go about creating such a creature? I’m a fan of Evernote, though certainly you can use any digital storage mechanism you like, such as Google Notebook or Docs.

Start by creating a simple organizational system designed around your creative blocks. Most folks working with swipe files tend to organize badly (if at all) and create a system that doesn’t solve the root problem of a writer’s/creator’s block.

Create a set of folders, notebooks, etc. labeled by your specific blocks. For example:

  • Writer’s block
  • Ad copy block
  • Ad photo block
  • Magazine headline block
  • Email call to action block
  • Ad layout block
  • Blog post block
  • Facebook Fan Page art block
  • High contrast photo block

This way, whenever you’re working on a project and you can identify what kind of block you’re facing in your own mind, you can very quickly look to your swipe file for solutions. This is why most swipe files fail – they don’t address the actual problem you’re trying to solve, and thus you never learn to rely on it.

Once you’ve got the swipe file set up, start collecting materials. Set aside 5-10 minutes each day to pull stuff you’ve seen from the day (or previous day) into the relevant folders. Saw a great ad on the side of a bus that you snapped in your phone’s camera? Put it in the appropriate block file. Got an email that compelled you to buy something? Put it in the appropriate block file.

The key to a great swipe file is its contents – any time you see something that just makes you stop in your tracks, get it into your swipe file. That’s why I use services like Evernote – the phone app means that if I see a great ad while I’m out and about, I can capture it quickly and get it into the file, and the email forwarding function means I can just forward compelling messages straight to the file.

Set up and use a swipe file for a month to see how it can help you smash those blocks and keep your advertising and marketing efforts moving forward!


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  • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

    Leonardo urged his students to ALWAYS carry a notebook. Write it down or it’s gone forever.

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    I use Skitch all the time for “Swipe File” stuff. Often upload to Flickr too and add tag. Easy to search if you label stuff correctly. Great tips, as always, Mr. Penn.

  • http://about.me/polleydan Dan Polley

    I love the idea of a swipe file. I hadn’t heard it called as such before, but I use the Springpad app for Android for blogging ideas.

  • http://www.waterproof-camera.org/ A Hiker

    I’ve used them before. I didn’t realize that I have ditch the simple productivity tool for something inferior.

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  • http://www.stevenwb.com swbuehler

    Awesome. One of the reasons I have a LiveScribe smartpen and notebook as well as Evernote, SharePoint, one of those portable “Magic Wand” photo scanners, etc.