Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
The desks of 37signals (37signals.com)
126 points by wlll 2122 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

I hope everyone is catching on to what 37signals is doing: building significant brand awareness before the launch of a new product. Notice that they've been posting more frequently, with varying content (and of course a bit of Basecamp Next peppered in). Really subtle, but it puts them in the minds of a lot of people.

I don't think it's subtle at all. My primary knowledge of 37signals is as the company that spends an inordinate amount of time on Hacker News telling everyone how great it and its methods are.

Yep... Having never been a fan of their work myself, I do not check anymore their posts on HN. Still I enjoy reading some of the comments associated with the post, it can be enlightening.

To add to your point, being a (self proclaimed) nerd and not a geek: I don't care about new technologies, I do not own a smartphone, hell, I don't have anymore Facebook or Twitter, I found what's posted on 37signals very boring and devoid of interesting information. I am, however, surprised by the huge number of people that upvote these kind of posts.

To answer the article without really reading it, and again it's because of my nerdy side I don't care on what I am working as long as I have a desk, an OK mouse, an OK screen, and OK keyboard, that's it, I am happy.

Phew, I'm not alone! I'm sure posting so much here is part of their content/marketing strategy, and that bores me to death. Very aggressive and totally boring marketing strategy. But seeing how many upvote their articles, I guess it works.

  > I don't care on what I am working as long as I have a desk,
  > an OK mouse, an OK screen, and OK keyboard, that's it, I am
  > happy.
I think with attitude like this it is very difficult to build a GOOD product. "Meh" most likely. But other nerds may consider it to be OK though. OTOH, I don't think that being nerdy should necesarry mean "not caring how good something is".

I tend to disagree: from what I have seen having a lot of "pluses" is more a distraction from actual thinking that a plus in terms of productivity. Same goes with a lot of things in life, the amount you invest (in time/ money) for the extra luxury generally outweighs the benefits of a simple and effective solution.

Also I can't really see the correlation between building a good product and a desk or its organization. What build a good product is a good team, a good organization, good and proven tools. It reminds of a story with a friend, this guy was quite rich and was trying to learn guitar, so when he started he bought a $3000+ guitar (Martin D20 or something approaching), but given his skills a 1000 or even $500 dollars guitar could have suited his needs for the next 5 years. He didn't play better than somebody else with better tools, maybe worse because of the complexity of repairing the guitar. What drives the product is the skill of the programmer, the tools are secondary.

But I might be wrong!

The difference between your friends guitar story and most of HNs computer usage is that your friend was just trying to learn guitar while most HNers use a computer as a job. I think you would agree that someone whose job it is to play guitar should probably spend (money doesn't equal quality, but just using it as a point) whatever they think is necessary to have the best guitar for them.

When it comes to using a computer all day, every day, having great (not just okay) input devices, and great (not just okay) monitors not only can make you more productive, but also save your eyes and prevent RSI. Desks also fall into this category of saving your actual health.

Having spent many hours of my youth on technology forums, I feel I am qualified to say: this is the most banal "show your setup" post, ever.

Save Noah, it's just an Apple Store. Sam's apartment/house looks great, though.

My take was this: here's a company that is showcasing the fact that they are building products that people love, and most of them are not even in the same room. Look beyond the hardware religion bait and you will see different landscapes through the windows, different desk setups, and the personalities of individuals as opposed to gray cube walls.

Noah and Sam's setups are the only ones that stuck with me too. Noah's setup is nice because it allows you to code without worrying about switching windows and moving stuff around. It's optimized for speed. Sam's setup is awesome because I feel like I could focus in that room. It's zen, free of clutter, probably free of distractions, perfect to get in the zone. Ideally I'd combine both... but just a small Macbook on a kitchen table as a setup is pretty uninspiring.

I think that's part of the statement. It's riffing on the "show your setup" post, but instead of focusing on the gear (something 37S have eschewed for a long time) they're focusing on the environment, and, by extension, the people. All the signaling is about peacefulness and happiness: look at my dog, look at my kids, look at my lovely pitcher of water.

It's effective in my opinion for a few reasons. One, it's personal/voyeuristic, which will make at least some people interested and also, if you have a positive response, connected to the fact that there are real people working on the big product they're about to launch. Making a company feel human and intimate is an important branding goal these days, and something they talk about a lot.

Second, as someone else mentioned, it emphasizes their "work-from-home" message. When I look at those desks, I see comfort. Every day is like staying home from work. Gee, it sure must be nice to work like that!

There's even a subtle power/wealth signal, I would argue, in DHH's setup and the fresh flowers on all the office desks.

I got the idea for having a small bunch of fresh flowers on everyones office desk from the restaurant world.

I always like sitting down to a table at a restaurant that has a small simple arrangement of fresh flowers. It's a great detail and it brings color and life to your immediate surroundings. Plus, nature is the greatest designer so there's no better influence.

We have the flowers switched out weekly. They're different each week and each desk has a different arrangement. We also have weekly arrangements in the kitchen, the lounge area, and in the front entrance.

For those in Chicago, I highly recommend the good people at http://asraigarden.com for this service. They take great care of us.

We also do this, but instead of flowers, we chose plants. Being a bit of a nature-geek myself, my desk is particularly green, but everyone who wants, has at least one desk-plant in our office:


We also have some plants that don't fit on desks, like this - name says it all - elephant-ear plant:


We (http://Academia.edu) got them all from the plant-warehouse in downtown SF:


I think it's a wonderful idea, and we do basically the same thing in our much smaller office (just one vase on the center table). When they're looking stale, we bring guests or interns to the flower shop to pick out the next arrangement.

edit: We go to A New Leaf in the Monadnock building a couple of blocks away from the office. Always a nice selection, changes frequently, and we can get a few beautiful stems for 5 or 6 dollars.

Is it just me, but despite all nice things 37signals are doing I find them arrogant and feel like they exaggerating more than they actually doing.

I completely agree, for me they are the ultimate embodiment of the hipster/brogrammer/ninja/guru culture that has become something of a running joke in the industry (at least in my little corner of it).

37signals is the most smug and obnoxious company ever. I'm so sick of them. On their desks, where's the empty wine glass that they use to smell their own farts? Thaaaanks!

I never thought about using a wine glass for that. Great idea.

Could not agree more. But this mentality is pretty popular here. It's fun to compare them to a Richard Stallman, which I feel much closer too.

Totally agree.

I see what you did here. :-) P.S. I'm the official "please spell 37signals right" Nazi here at HN. Keep fighting the good fight.

I always get the feeling that they are really trying to prove to themselves, through proving it to others, that they didn't need to get acquired and that ruby webapps are way more interesting than working on self-driving cars or new crazy startups to change the world. Let's face it, their products look like they are very high quality (although I haven't used them) but none of them are going to change the world in a meaningful or lasting sense.

That seems slightly unfair. Their direct products, maybe, but the introduction of Ruby on Rails and the philosophy of it did cause a radical advancement in expectations regarding web frameworks and applications for everyone, in the same way that non-iPhone users have benefited from Apple coming into mobile and mixing things up.

Yeah, I couldn't believe it when I read the part where they say "Check out our sweet desks. Jealous??"

I re-read the post and can't find anything qualifying as arrogant or exaggerating. I'm not a 37Signals expert, and I'm sure there are examples elsewhere, but certainly with regards to this post you're off base.

It's not this one post - if you read HN regularly you get a weekly dose of "We're 37 Signals! Check out how awesome we are!". It's obnoxious.

Find them totally arrogant as well. Everything corporate strategy they employ is the "right" way of doing things and necessitates a self-fellating post on Hacker News.

Clearly it's not just you. But I still find their way of doing things to be inspiring and thought-provoking. They're making their own rules, and I respect them from that. I found the post refreshing.

judging by your comment, they're doing it right. better to polarize opinions instead of trying to 'make everyone like them' and be irrelevant.

What I noticed was that only two or three of them use desktop computers - the rest are on laptops with external displays.

No laptop on the market today has enough storage capacity or RAM (save for the MBPs that can take 16GB I suppose) to be my only computer. I do a mix of iOS and web and systems development - not too different of a workload from these guys, I'm sure. I've also noticed laptops slow down a fair bit when you plug in an external display and make the GPU work overtime pushing all those pixels. So, what gives? Have these guys just never tried working on a maxed-out desktop machine so they don't know how good it is, and they just assume that waiting around for your computer to do stuff is normal and acceptable?

Another nail in the coffin, I suppose...

Granted, you did mention iOS work, which limits your choices, but there are several laptops there that absolutely can compete as desktop replacements, including one I've used:

Dell Precision M6600, Core i7-2820QM 2.3GHz,16GB (can take 32GB), graphics cards up to Nvidia Quadro 5010M 4GB, 1080p resolution display, SATA 3 SSDs

The experience I've been reading is the opposite: that folks can do web development in a Macbook Air and love it. What do you use 16 GB of RAM for?

I'm always running Redis and Mongo and Memcache and Postgres and Xcode and the iOS simulator and Mail and Skype and etc...

Local server stack + dev tools + collaboration tools, essentially.

SSD helps, as swapping fast is better than swapping slow, but best is not swapping at all.

I've always found working from a laptop to feel very cramped, I find it so much easier to work with more space, is there an unknown advantage to using a smaller display or is it just personal preference? (My setup: http://i.imgur.com/uKpyV.jpg)

I would bet that most developers who use laptops as their primary development box sometimes tether to a large screen - that is what I do in my home office. I often work in other places around the house, rather than my office, but then I tend to do tasks that don't require a large monitor.

Having your whole working life on a single laptop (with multiple types of backups) is a real convenience and time saver.

Well, seeing that you're a Starcraft player, it's not as though a laptop really would be an option ^^

More seriously, I think that your setup would hurt my eyes. Having a dedicated monitor is far nicer than using a laptop, but you have screens dominating your peripheral vision. One decent-sized screen is much nicer in my opinion.

Nice setup. I think it depends on your line of work and personal preference.

Why does 37signals show up at the top of HN everyday, no matter what they blog about?

Because people up-vote the submissions.

I suspect cromwellian's underlying question is: why do so many people on HN upvote a post with nothing more than pictures of some people's desks?

Because people like looking at other people's desks/setups? It's not much deeper than that.

Well if that's the case, can I have photos of my desk on the front page of HN also? I've got two monitors and phone and everything.

Why does someone always whine about it, even when it's just an algorithm doing what it's supposed to do?

Because they are not merely a product company anymore but a brand name.

Came here to ask the same parent comment myself. Yes, they're an iconic brand within this sphere and they do great work, but these articles are part of their blog. Every page of their blog has a link to the RSS feed. I don't need help keeping up to date on a syndicated blog that I care about. I need HN to show me things I -don't- know about yet. Maybe HN needs a 'best off' page, so brands like 37 Signals can be found even when they don't have any breaking news.

They are preparing for a major product launch (Basecamp Next) and are doing a great job at staying top of mind leading up.

dhh, do you really work that way or did you clean your desk off before that picture was taken?

If so, I salute you. I'm still 14 purges away from that level of minimalism.

I dig the vertical monitor. Using one of those as a second screen plus switching to xmonad has been the most positive change I've made to my own working environment in the last year. Code, websites, anything text oriented - shorter lines are easier to read and comprehend

How does a vertical monitor work with sub pixel rendering? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subpixel_rendering . Does linux do sub-pixel rendering? Does OS X turn it off when a monitor is rotated to vertical?

Also I would recommend going for an IPS monitor if you want to use it vertically, as it has a much wider viewing angle compared to TN monitors.

I have no idea what happens on OS X but it works just fine.

I wonder how many people scrolled impatiently just to see dhh's desk.

I actually randomized the order, to get rid of any bias I may have had in choosing :)


Interesting to see so many people working remotely.

"... so many people working remotely."

I think that's the subtle point of the post. A huge part of their world view is "work where you want, when you want". And of course, they just happen to sell tools that help people work remotely from wherever and whenever. I applaud how much the Signals practice what they preach.

I don't really see the problem with "show your setup" posts. I like looking at great designed workspaces. Inspirational, at least for me.

What I just do not get is how they all can only work with a laptop, sometimes an Air. I think the screen space would be to limiting for me to stay productive.

Favorite: Sam's desk. Clean, minimalistic, lots of light,...

For me there is way too much light/sunshine there to make a comfortable work environment. I like to be in a reasonably dim (not pitch black) spot so the contrast from my screen is comfortable to look at. At least pull the blinds down.

Not sure where David works from but the view outside that window is grand.

According to his twitter feed, that's Spain.

I think the one major thing that sticks out in these photos is that all these people work from home or some other remote location. Everyone's work space has a relaxed and zen-like feeling to it.

13 people work in the Chicago office. ~20 people work out of their homes in other locations. Although, some Chicago people work from home a few days a week, too.

Our Chicago JV partner says your office is "right around the corner" from their office at 1000 W Monroe St. So, having used Rails since 0.7, and being a fan of 37Singals work, I naturally got kind of excited at the prospect of stopping by. Is the 37Signals open to visitors (even with no specific purpose)? Just curious :)

While coding I need only two things to be perfect - a)My laptop b)A comfortable desk/chair. Everything else - surroundings, noise etc doesn't matter. I don't even notice these things.

I like the stand-up desks. The first time I remember reading about such a thing was Michael Dell having a custom built stand-up desk in the early 1990s. I up vote the expansion of life expectancy.

Is there any evidence that using a standing desk increases life expectancy?

I would expect people who use them take health more seriously in other aspects of their life as well thus increasing their life expectancy anyway...

Standing greatly increases your risk of carotid atherosclerosis and varicose veins.

Best is to sit, but NOT for long uninterrupted periods. There was a good article about this a while ago from Cornell University ergonomics researchers: http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/CUESitStand.html

Here was their bottom line recommendation:

   Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable,
   downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture,
   then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The
   absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes
   take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes.
   Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to
   get blood circulation through the muscles. Research shows
   that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping
   jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient.
   So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in
   the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand
   for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park
   a bit further away from the building each day).

This is good advice.

Whether you are standing or sitting, as long as you are sedentary, it doesn't make a difference. Both are bad. Sure, sitting can cause you to get varicose veins or carotid atherosclerosis, but standing in one spot all day has it's drawbacks too (http://www.hazards.org/standing/).

Sit for moderate periods of time and then move around for small periods of time during your work day. Also, exercise moderately at least a few times a week. It doesn't have to be go into the gym and push weights around or run on a treadmill for 30 minutes.. Do it at home. A good quick workout that will suffice for moderate exercise, requires little or no equipment and will get the heart working is as follows:

TABATA: 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest == 1 set, 8 sets == 1 cycle.

Do each of the following exercises as fast as you can, in GOOD form, for 20 seconds. Then take 10 seconds of rest. Repeat 8 times. Work as hard as you can in good form for each 20 second interval. You should improve on the number of repetitions you do each week.

To track your progress, take the lowest number of reps done in a given cycle (one of the 20 second work periods out of the 8 sets) and write it down. Try to improve that number each week.

Do 1 exercise for each cycle: Pushups, Squats, Crunches, Burpee's (Squat thrust), Jump Rope

For example: Pushups, 1 cycle = 8 sets of 20 seconds or hard work followed by 10 seconds of rest.

Do as many pushups as you can in 20 seconds. Stop completely for 10 seconds, do not hold yourself up during this time. Lay down if you can. Start immediately after the 10 seconds is up and do it again.

I substitute my exercises every now and then. For instance, I may change Jump Rope out with rowing on a row machine or doing 20 second sprints. I will substitute Burpee's for Pullups.

Tabata can be as intense or easy as you allow it to be. It is not only outstanding anaerobic conditioning, but great muscular fitness and endurance as well. The best part is it will only take you 22 minutes (2 minutes of a light warm up is good before starting). I'm willing to bet that anyone can find 22 minutes twice week to help better their health. For the days in between your Tabata days, just do some moderate stuff like a nice 20 minute walk, go kayaking, hiking, biking, whatever...

If you're in a crunch for time, take 8 exercises and do 1 cycle. That's a 4 minute intense workout. Much better than no workout at all.

I do this myself and have seen the benefits. I don't run for exercise but was challenged to see how my mile run time would be. I finished the mile in 5 minutes. Not too shabby for somebody that doesn't run at all and only does anaerobic conditioning such as this, Muay Thai, Mountain biking and kayaking.

The evidence is that sitting down for hours per day is extraordinarily destructive to various aspects of your body, including your metabolism, circulation, oxygen distribution, and that it increases the risk of diabetes (and cancer due to consequence of fat gain from a slower metabolism). I believe (per what I've read on the subject) that it also significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke due to a collapse in normal / healthy function of the cardiovascular system.

The data on it is rather common these days, a quick google will turn up several high profile write-ups from sources such as the NY Times.

And if we're just talking logical extrapolation - it makes sense that humans wouldn't benefit from sitting down all day, as it wasn't common to our evolution / how our bodies are designed to work. Caveman Joe didn't sit on his rock for 12 hours typing.

Correct, but the evidence does not indicate that standing for hours a day is any better for overall health than sitting. What I really want is a walk-around desk ... but I'll grant that I might be more likely to move around periodically if I'm already standing.

When I'm standing up I tend to move about more and wander off while I'm thinking about stuff. I definitely get more exercise than when I'm sitting down.

Perhaps, but there are only two possibilities (that I see).

1) Standing is radically more healthy than sitting, or 2) Being upright and walking / moving, is what is radically more healthy than sitting

I think that part of the problem with sitting is the blocking of the circulation system through slightly crimping the arteries in your legs. It strikes me that just standing up alone would relieve a lot of that stress and assist the free flow of blood and oxygen.

So if you want to play it safe, stand up, and move about regularly. If you're standing at your desk, I'd argue it's far more likely you'll move about regularly as you're working on problems throughout the day.

I've read previously that the average American used to walk three to five miles per day a hundred years ago, and that's down to a small fraction of that now.

  > 1) Standing is radically more healthy than sitting
People who spend their days on their feet may not agree with you there. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varicose_veins

I'd counter argue that the common negative health effects of sitting down far outweigh the common health effects of varicose veins (from that wiki):

"Most varicose veins are relatively benign, but severe varicosities can lead to major complications, due to the poor circulation through the affected limb."

I think the positive evidence for standing versus sitting is overwhelming to put it lightly.


"This isn't actually a new discovery. In a British study published in 1953, scientists examined two groups of workers: bus drivers and trolley conductors. At first glance, the two occupations appeared to be pretty similar. But while the bus drivers were more likely to sit down for their entire day, the trolley conductors were running up and down the stairs and aisles of the double-decker trolleys. As it turned out, the bus drivers were nearly twice as likely to die of heart disease as the conductors were."

Running up and down stairs and aisles all day != standing all day.

The general warning of "correlation not causation" applies here. The studies show some correlation between sitting for hours and various maladies. However, there are so many factors that determine your susceptibility to the health issues you mention that calling out just one factor (sitting) needs to be viewed with some skepticism.

That said, I do use a standing desk for about half of my working hours because I think it is healthier to not sit all day.

I believe there is overwhelming proof of causation.



There have been countless studies done at this point, spanning decades, directly linking severe health effects to sitting down. Particularly radical increases in the risk of heart attack and other severe cardiovascular trauma.

How many medical studies do you need? There seems to be a new study out monthly at this point proving the link between sitting down 8 hours per day and radically increased risk of death.

Unless you think the people sitting down all happen to be the ones carrying an inherently heightened risk of heart attack. See the 1953 British study I referenced above as a simple example. Recent modern studies have found the same results: sitting all day effectively doubles your risk of dying from a heart attack.

> The evidence is that sitting down for hours per day is extraordinarily destructive to various aspects of your body

That's a bit of an exaggeration. Each day, hundreds of thousands of people sit at their desk for hours, and it's been going on for decades. If it was that destructive, the developer population would have been decimated by now.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact