What Digital Asset Management is for you? — Frank derFrankie Neulichedl

What Digital Asset Management is for you?

Most of us designers and art director use systems based on DAM every day without noticing it. If you search for images on a website like Getty Images or Corbis you use the web frontend of a DAM. Actually every website has it's own DAM where it stores the images. But what are the new capabilities of modern DAMs and how can they help you in your daily work. Here some ideas.

Digital Asset Management is one of the hot topics in the last months. It's actually nothing new, the first thoughts about it came from the "office without paper" movement, where everyone imagined that bringing computers into offices will kill the paper. We all know that the opposite happened. In graphic design the use of DAMs (digital asset management) is becoming more than just an image library, they become a integrated tool. Here are the differences between the two main systems interesting for graphic designers.

Image Library - Providing assets to external partners

If you get overwhelmed with requests for sending images, logos and designs to clients the easiest solution to this time consuming is a Asset Library. This is the classic approach to digital asset management. You create your assets in a first step and upload selected assets to a library. This library can be searched and accessed by partners and they can download the assets in various formats (for print or office use for example).

There are various levels of features such libraries can offer and range from simple to complex.


  • Easy to setup and organize
  • Many vendors (even free open source solutions on the market)
  • Fast implementation


  • No integration with design workflow
  • Duplicate content
  • Manual update of assets

Integrated solution - the DAM as centralized data hub

The new generation of DAMs are not only a file storage with a web interface. They integrate with your design workflow and other application and are therefore the central repository. Is the "single point of truth". Much like the CRM (Customer Relation Management) is the single point of truth for the sales department, the DAM is where all the assets you as a graphic designer work with are stored.

This means that you store your images, indesign, xpress, illustrator, word documents etc. into the DAM and open these assets directly from your application. No need for downloading and reuploading. It's a substitute to the file system and has many benefits.

Depending on the system used they can be integrated to the CMS of your websites, push and pull data from a translation memory, avoid duplicate content, do version control, workflow management (for review and approval) and deliver from one source multiple outputs.

Two examples

To make an example how this can benefit in your daily work. Let's imagine we have a integration between the DAM and the CMS of the website. On the website you offer product brochures for download. Normally you would make the PDFs in Indesign and upload them to the CMS. With the integration you have the Indesign document and all images in the DAM and the CMS requests the PDF from the DAM. Therefore when you update the brochure you do not need to update the website.

Another example: You have 100 brochures that use the same logo. The logo is redesigned and you just have to update it once in the DAM, all 100 brochures now have the new logo.

Sounds like magic - but there are a few downsides. These systems are quite expensive and need a good planning. This systems are right for you if you have thousands of assets and many of them are reused over various projects or if you want to generate a centralized pool for single design departments. Thinking ahead for in the areas of structure, metadata and workflows are key to implement successfully such a system and to get a ROI (return of investment) you need a high user volume.


  • Integration with design workflow (Indesign, Photoshop, Xpress) and other systems (CMS, CRM, translation memory)
  • Very flexible and configurable systems are common
  • No duplicate content (saving time, storage and money)
  • Centralized management of all assets related to the design workflow


  • Relatively expensive
  • Only a few vendors offer usable integration to Indesign & Co
  • Good planning necessary
  • Conclusion

Both approaches here presented are valid for the uses they are intended. The library is a good start and it's widely used. The new repository approach is quite new and implies major changes in the way you work. A good analysis of your needs is the best base to choose the right solution for you. It's important that you do the analysis before you look at the systems because you might fall into the trap: "I want this tool because it has this cool feature".

In future lessons I will show you in some case studies how this new DAMs work in practical use and the differences between some of the most popular systems on the market and if you have any questions feel free to post them into the comments.