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I was thinking about decorating my office's developers room. It's a small room that 6 programmers work in.

I recently noticed how dull its decoration is and was wondering if it decreases their morale. Apart from the Kanban board, the walls are empty.

I need some ideas to present to the programmers so they can choose something they like. I thought about hanging motivational pictures in the room but didn't find anything that I like.

  1. I asked the developers, they didn't come up with any ideas except more lighting and a bookshelf.
  2. I'm not trying to impose anything on them, I want to present them some ideas and if they want, they can choose from these ideas.

Interesting ideas so far.

  1. Whiteboard walls
  2. Plants
  3. Demotivationals
  4. Customizable lighting for each developer
  5. Reference posters

closed as too broad by gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, mhoran_psprep, Philipp, Garrison Neely Sep 26 '14 at 15:38

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – jmort253 Sep 27 '14 at 18:13
  • ****comments removed****: Please avoid using comments for extended discussion. Instead, please use The Workplace Chat. On Workplace SE, comments are intended to help improve a post. Please see What "comments" are not... for more details. – jmort253 Sep 27 '14 at 18:15
  • Posters make a huge difference imo since they give a home-like feeling. – Johannesberg Oct 11 '14 at 0:07

10 Answers 10

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I recently noticed how dull its decoration is and was wondering if it decreases their morale.

"Dull" is in the eyes of the beholder. What's dull to one person may be soothing to another.

It's not at all clear that decoration and motivation are in any way related. One way to learn what is on people's minds is to talk with them. A few discussions with the developers, with perhaps "I was thinking of redecorating this room. What do you think?" might be in order here.

I need some ideas to present to the programmers so they can choose something they like. I thought about hanging motivational pictures in the room but didn't find anything that I like.

While I have met many developers who like muted walls, a lower level of lighting, and few decorations, I have yet to meet a developer who thought motivational pictures/posters were a good idea.

At least in my part of the world, developers tend to be far more cynical, and would prefer "demotivational posters" like these instead. Also, developers like to customize their surroundings for themselves.

If you really want to provide motivation, instead of providing a pre-defined set of decoration options, just give them a budget, some time, a bit of guidance, then set them free and let them decorate for themselves. You might be pleasantly surprised at what they come up with - and you might find real motivation occurring.

  • I'm not "imposing" anything. As I said in the question's comments, they didn't came up with anything. I want to give them some options and if they wanted, they can choose one. – brz Sep 25 '14 at 13:30
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    +1 for the note on motivational posters, the idea sent chills to my spine as well :-) Here is what Peopleware has to say about these. The whole book is recommended reading. – Péter Török Sep 25 '14 at 15:30
  • You could also extend the demotivationals and go straight into some memes. I haven't seen a single developer that I worked with who didn't enjoy a good meme. – Thebluefish Sep 25 '14 at 16:43
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    Joe tries to say it's the developers that want it, but Joe is responsible for testing those cynical developers' code. I bet Joe is the one who really wants them!! – corsiKa Sep 25 '14 at 19:37
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    These posters are great too, they seem to not be sold anymore though. Sad. – Seiyria Sep 25 '14 at 19:47
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Motivational posters? Really? I just sort of thought those sprouted like mushrooms in offices, I never thought they actually got intentionally purchased.

Instead of presenting options to your team, present the problem.

"Hey I noticed the dev office is looking pretty sparse. What do y'all think? I have a budget of $$insert money$$ that could be used"

It may be that they don't want decorations and, instead, want an arcade cabinet to duke out Pull Request opinions over a game of Gauntlet. Maybe they want a big TV they can stream starcraft matches on. Maybe they want a big graphic wall wrap of their team/org name. Maybe they want a soda fountain. Maybe they want the whole room done up in whiteboards (That's what I would want). Maybe the light from the windows causes massive glare and they just want some gosh darned curtains.

The point is - you don't know what they want or what would actually help the team. If you are willing or your company is willing to spend a little bit of time or money to make it a nice office for the team, give them the opportunity to tell you. Start with a meeting that is framed with the question "If we could do anything to this room to improve it for y'all, what would it be?" Then, with some of those ideas, start breaking it down into budgets. "Well, replacing the floor with one of those big novelty pianos is beyond what we can do right now but you request for hammocks is totally doable..."

TL;DR - Ask your devs. They have different needs in their workspace than you do. They know what challenges they face in their current space and can offer both legitimate and ridiculous options for resolving those challenges and making it a nicer space.

EDIT: With the additional information you've provided. First - get them the boring, functional things they've requested. In addition to more light/a bookshelf ask if they want any particular books. The rest depends almost entirely on your budget. If you have the money and are considering getting a bookshelf to match any new decor - bring someone in and have a professional plan the room. If you don't have the money and want something more akin to 'hanging posters' then find out what favorite genres or movies everyone has and get some cool posters. Additionally(or alternatively) find out if they're happy with the whiteboard space, I for one would be thrilled to work in a room with wall to wall, floor to ceiling whiteboards.

  • +1 for the excellent suggestions. My first thought was gaming decorations, or a foosball table to discuss ideas over, or something similar. But in addition to asking what they want you need to set the proper tone; many developers that would kill for an air hockey table would never think to bring it up to their prim and proper manager asking what decorations they might like. – Nicholas Sep 25 '14 at 16:42
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    Many implementation disputes in my office have been settled over a game of tether ball. – Nahkki Sep 25 '14 at 16:54
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    Just pointing out that the OP mentioned DE-motivationals which are satirical pieces and not actual motivational posters. www.despair.com – De Shan Baptiste Sep 25 '14 at 19:10
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    @DeShanBaptiste That was edited in later, presumably based on OP's positive reaction to them in the comments of Joe's answer. – ajp15243 Sep 25 '14 at 19:27
  • +1000 Gauntlet cabinet! You are my hero! I would have said 'Table Asteroids Deluxe', myself... a game that helps intense Zen-like meditation... but you can also place a beer on. PS Gauntlet is genuinely a game that teaches and rewards group problem-solving... much better than any poster. – smci Sep 25 '14 at 22:00
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Something we did which worked well was to get the whole room whiteboarded. You can get special film (professionally fitted) that turns the walls into whiteboard.

The team then found so many practical uses - Amazing how a customer journey looks when you use printed wireframes, post-it notes and flow lines using whiteboard marker on a 20ft wall.

We also had lots of spaces for various useful lists, timebox dates, deploy dates, server environment IP addresses etc, plus they could blu-tack (the blue sticky re-usable putty stuff) other things as required, things from timebox reviews, courses etc.

That kept it productive but let them do what they wanted.

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    Or you could just get some whiteboard wall paint. – 200_success Sep 25 '14 at 19:30
  • ah, more whiteboard space. Never hurts. – jwenting Sep 26 '14 at 13:00
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Great motivational decorations for developers:

  1. More or larger monitors
  2. More whiteboard surface
  3. keyboards or mice of the developers choosing
  4. Anything that helps them accomplish their job faster so that they can go do the things they really want to do
  5. Hardware that can be used for testing if applicable
  6. Better chairs or other ergonomic desks of the developers choosing
  • These are not decorations. Valid points though. – brz Sep 25 '14 at 17:38
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    @brz Developers favor functionality over aesthetics. Of course I cannot speak for all devs, but I would rather have a second monitor over posters any day. – Cfinley Sep 25 '14 at 17:54
  • @Cfinley that's true, but the question is about decorations. I'm a programmer and I don't care about my office decorations at all but I have to take into account my employees' needs too. – brz Sep 25 '14 at 17:59
  • #4 worries me. I'm a developer and I love what I do. When I'm at the office, I enjoy coding. I'm not thinking about when the shift is over so that I can head home and do something else. Wouldn't a team member showing this behavior be worrisome ? – ILikeTacos Sep 25 '14 at 18:40
  • @AlanChavez I think he means doing boring stuff faster and get to do more cool stuff in working hours. e.g. Giving them a faster computer so they won't waste time on builds and code more. – brz Sep 25 '14 at 18:52
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Why not ask them for ideas - or even if they have a problem with the status quo at all? Have any of them mentioned it, or asked to be able to brighten up their corner?

The problem with decoration is that it's a personal thing. "Motivational pictures" in particular may appeal to some but be a huge turnoff for others, especially if they contain textual messages that might be taken as patronising or nagging. Spending time and money on quirky decorations may annoy developers who would rather the money were spent on wages. However well-intentioned, there's always scope to get it wrong.

  • Thanks for your answer. I agree about the motivational pictures, they're not for everyone. I need some ideas to present to them so they can choose from them if they want and if not, their room stays as it is. – brz Sep 25 '14 at 13:28
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Joe brings up two very good points. The first is that dull is in the eye of the beholder. I've worked with programmers that are either extremely dull and also some that are over-the-top colorful people, so letting them have their choice while also not having to pay for it themselves will give you Boss Points and a potential boost in productivity. Secondly, demotivational posters are funny and if you get a few the programmers will give you Cool Points.

Better lighting - I've been crammed into a room where half the programmers prefer total darkness and the other half prefer sunlight. If you want more Cool Points get some Philips Hue customizable lights for each programmer. www.meethue.com

Along the lines of a bookshelf, decorations can be functional as well. You might find getting reference posters will earn you Boss Points. Retail copies of Visual Studio used to come with .NET Framework posters that listed the commonly used namespaces and classes. You can find all sorts of reference posters around the web. In my experience I've found reference posters usually contain:

  • Lists - usually classes in namespaces or packages.
  • Examples - code snippets, shell scripts, design patterns
  • Diagrams - attempting to make complex systems look simpler, or design patterns

No matter what language/system/framework/package your programmers use they will need to have some sort of reference, I just find it to be a tad nicer when that reference is splattered on the wall in big letters with bright colors.

Readily available and easy to read references are extremely helpful for people who are new to a system and seasoned experts may find them useful as well.

*Cool Points: kudos for being awesome amongst a group of peers.

*Boss Points: Cool Points but with the addition of showing people who's the boss, providing comfort and security to your minions in your leadership ability.

  • I like the way you separated dimensions of being a manager with Boss and Cool Points, nice! Customizable lighting is a very good idea, thank you. – brz Sep 25 '14 at 18:33
  • Reference posters.. heh. Don't buy an emacs one if everyone uses vim! ;) – Izkata Sep 25 '14 at 19:12
  • @Izkata An emacs poster could be an effective dartboard... – apnorton Sep 25 '14 at 21:18
  • I would recommend against splattering a reference on the wall as it will be out of date before it's even printed. – zzzzBov Sep 26 '14 at 13:28
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In addition to what has been said about motivational posters:

As a developer if someone were to hang motivational posters in my office (or talk about hanging them), then I would read this between the lines of what they are saying:

I don't trust you to be motivated by yourself, but I think I can band aid over this problem with some $9.99 dollar posters.

Some other developers that I know would also feel the same. When you look at it from this point of view motivational posters can be really harmful.

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    Just pointing out that the OP mentioned DE-motivationals which are satirical pieces and not actual motivational posters. www.despair.com – De Shan Baptiste Sep 25 '14 at 19:11
  • OP mentioned both – Jonny Sep 26 '14 at 8:00
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Is there any information that you wish was better distributed to the team? If so, I'd kill two birds with one stone and put in a wallboard/information radiator. You can have it cycle through various dashboards, notices, and whatnot to easily and rapidly communicate information to the team.

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At our workplace each developer has their own cork board on the wall behind their desk that they can add whatever they like to.

Some developers use this to pin flowcharts for work, or RegEx cheat sheets...etc. But everyone personalises their board by adding movie quotes, iconic film and gaming images, funny drawings, online comics, etc. (All in good taste). People also add pictures of their loved ones, pets, holiday postcards and a lot more.

This often sparks conversation and allows the staff to express themselves in a small way, while at the same time making the decoration of the room a bit more interesting.

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It depends on what your purpose is:

  • To allow employees to express their personalities or stake out their turf, which can lead to a sense of ownership, higher engagement, generate interesting discussions about non-work-related interests...
  • To project an image to outsiders, customers, visitors, interview candidates, friends and family ("We're cool. We're hip. We have personalities...")
  • Intended as an actual productivity aid: beware, this is utterly personal and depends on how each person thinks and functions. In general I have not seen that you can artificially raise productivity. Ergonomics, desk, keyboard, chair and monitor height, indirect lighting, avoiding noise and air drafts, placements of door, phones, printers etc. have much more effect. Check those basics first. Absolutely no org charts or mission statements, unless they're sarcastic.

So having said that, once you address basic logistic needs for lighting, books/shelves/storage, ergonomics, Demotivators can be excellent, as can blank space, game, film or music posters, personal photos, plants, aquaria, digital photoframes... recreational stuff is great as long as it doesn't distract... Nahkki's answer is great.

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