After reading Sexy desktop wallpapers in the office I was wondering what makes images safe for work.

At my previous job, I used this image as a desktop background for a while:

enter image description here

I didn't get any comments on it, although I did sometimes wonder myself how appropriate it was, with the Communist revolution reference, the skull and the general Gothic-lite appearance. I wasn't asked to stop using it, and after a few months, I switched to another image as part of the brand redesign of our company.

What makes an image safe for work (aside from the obvious "no nudity or gore")? and is a SFW image also a suitable desktop background?

  • @JoeStrazzere So not even a general guideline is possible? Can I salvage the question somehow by specifying some of these things?
    – Nzall
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 18:47
  • 4
    It's definitely very regional and dependent on culture. I've worked with a number of folks from cultures different from mine over the years and my personal conclusion is that I should keep the things in my office boring and save expressions of my personality for outside of work. I was genuinely surprised at how innocent seeming things could be very offensive in some cultures, so now I try to maintain a demeanor that makes it easy for folks to correct my faux pas.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 19:48
  • 2
    There really is a lot of latitude here much like dress code. That particular desktop looks a bit juvenile. Just because no one said anything doesn't mean you weren't being silently judged by your peers/supervisors. The best thing to do is to choose from one of the many shades of pure solid black as your background. Can't go wrong with black.
    – teego1967
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 23:13
  • At a previous company where I worked the IT installed a company branded wallpaper on all machines. It looked pretty nice actually. It was possible to change it (no restrictions set up or anything), but I can't recall a single colleague who ever did this and it never occured to me that I should change it. However, at places I've been where they just had the OS-branded or standard wallpaper installed, for some reason I felt compelled to change that. I personally like space-themed wallpapers containing no text. I think at least this type of image is SFW.
    – Brandin
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 7:19

3 Answers 3


I think there are some guidelines that could be applied:

  1. Would you wear it on a T-shirt?
  2. Does it have subject matter that you are not willing to discuss with collegues?
  3. Do you have strong enough relationships with people at your company that they would feel comfortable telling you if it offended them? And if so, would you take it down?

It's basically a know your audience type of advice. I once posted in my cube "Select * from people where clue >0" My boss told me to take it down because it would offend others. I would have been happy if anyone there would have figured out what it meant. Not sure why anyone would assume it was aimed at them. I was new and he had stronger relationships with people, so I figured he knew best. Pay attention to what is going on around you before doing things outside the norm.

  • 7
    4. If you were wearing the T-Shirt and your Mother saw you, would you be embarrassed? Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 19:20
  • 4
    Even if I'd wear it on a tee shirt, that doesn't make it professional.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 19:59
  • 2
    As an extension to point 2, I would ask myself "What might a chatty colleague say if he/she looked at this?" For example, a photo of your family in view of your chatty colleague would almost certainly lead to some chit-chat about your family. For each object you have on display, you have to weigh whether that potential conversation is good or not. This also applies for things like books, posters, magazines, etc. that are in plain sight.
    – Brandin
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 9:46
  • @GreenMatt - If you want be professional, you wouldn't wear a t-shirt at all. The question asks about being safe.
    – user8365
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 17:57
  • @TheWanderingDevManager: I knew a guy that frequently wore a t-shirt with a picture of his mother-in-laws bare chest on it. Or so he said, I never asked her to prove it.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 6:53

Check with your management that the image is non-controversial so that if someone complains, you can throw up your management as a human shield and say that they approved your image :)

Controversiality is a matter of context and context can be very specific AND slippery. For example, one of my subordinates had a picture of a Ferrari as his screensaver but our management would take his head and my head off if the company's client were Lamborghini and the Lamboghini rep were due to pay us a visit next week :) If you were working for Nike, it would be gauche for you to put up say a picture of Converse shoes as a screensaver :) Never mind a picture of our beloved Maximum Leader and CEO with a dartboard in the background :)


Just don't use anything that may disturb others or may start an argument. Politics, sex, religion, racism, violence, swear words and references to these are to be avoided.

Your colleagues and clients look at your screen from the distance, so you'd better make sure that your background does not resemble any of the above from several meters away.

Clients and many colleagues usually don't ask you about your wallpaper, they just remember the first impression. So it may affect your work.

Your image above looks a bit like political propaganda from the distance, I don't see the skull at all, just the word Revolution and the shape that looks like a washing machine in a red circle. May look a bit dodgy considering the above, I think this is why you were also wondering if it's OK.

  • 3
    "Don't use anything that may disturb others" - While good general advice, this really falls apart living in current times, where it seems like everybody will be offended by anything...
    – F.P
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 9:30

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .