Cubicle Etiquette - How many photos is too many?

by Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

Dear Annette,

When placing photographs on one's desk, do you recommend a certain number of photographs or an ideal size and type of frame? My goal is to create more of a "work" atmosphere than a "home" atmosphere.

Dear Framed,

I have always thought my desk was an ideal place for photographs. Delightful sterling silver frames add a touch of whimsy to my work area and demonstrate once again that there will always be a place for engraving in the modern office. Since I use my computer very little, I like to put photos on my keyboard and monitor as well.

It's so handy when friends ask who that fabulous young man was that they saw me with last week, and I can just show them the picture and ask for their suggestions. After a few days my People have to remind me of the names, but I have enough new photos by midweek that I can start over.

Sterling silver suits contemporary office decor beautifully, but you might also try wood, pewter, ceramic, found objects, or tasteful plastic. Just use your good judgment because decorative objects, like clothing, are highly symbolic. No rising corporate executive would have a light pink frame adorned with fluffy bunnies or gingham flowers and the tag line: "Good Night Moon," unless that person also kept a pair of pajamas and a night light nearby.

If you work in a creative field, scratched glass or scruffy-looking materials might be held against you for similar reasons. A simple plastic frame is fine if it's clean and in good condition. Or get something burnished. Designers are always burnishing things. You can skip the frame entirely if the pictures lie flat against the surface to which you've attached them.

The number of photographs you should have is a serious question, one that calls for a mathematical solution. Take the square root of your total desk space area, divide the result by the number of pictures you would like to have, and multiply the expression by the probability that you either will knock your pictures off the desk at least once a week or find you must put them in the blazing sun, which always ruins the color. The answer is four, five, or six. The correct size is 3 x 5 or 4 x 6.

One of two exceptions to the Rule of Dimensions is an attractive landscape photograph - not the 8 X 10 of you with the celebrity or cabinet official. If you really knew those people you would be having whispered conversations and secret weekends, not photo sessions. A similarly sized portrait of your children or partner is also exempt from the Rule of Dimensions.

The subject of the photograph is very important. Family members, beloved pets, and happy events in general are all suitable as long as they exhibit good taste. If you are married, be sure to include a wedding portrait so that people can stare foolishly at it while asking the ritual question: "Is that your spouse?"

You may want to mix business with pleasure if you have pictures of work events or successes, but beware of the billboard effect: you'll just look heartless and self-absorbed.

Lastly, be sure the picture shows you at your best, otherwise you may find yourself the victim of an unintended "Dorian Grey" effect.

As you know, my dog Dickie and I photograph beautifully, so at least one picture of us on your desk will assure that your workspace is the very picture of fabulousness.

Stay fabulous,