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Heidi Waterhouse
Heidi Waterhouse

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Stickers, A Love Story

When I was in elementary school, I won a science fair, and travelled to the far-off land of Moscow, Idaho for the state competition. While there, I spent some of my food money on the most magical sticker ever. It was a gleaming metallic unicorn with rainbow colored mane and tail. It brought me joy every time I saw it, and reminded me how hard I had worked and how exciting it was to travel to show off my experiment.

When laptop stickers started appearing, I felt the same way about them, a bit. They are reminders to us of things that we have done or accomplished, and they are signals to others about what we care about.

When I started at LaunchDarkly, I had one day in the office, and the thing I spent the most time on was talking with our (genius) designer Melissa about stickers and what we should do with them. We have just done a refresh of our Toggle character, and now they look like this:

So cute! So space-tastic!

In the last year, I even built a sticker lightning talk to address why I care so much about this, and I’m always charmed to look out at the audience and see the smiles and nods as people feel seen and understood.

Why do we care?

Why do/should tech companies and other companies care? What makes it worthwhile for me to carry around a few pounds of stickers and experience the delights of confusing the TSA?

In-group markers and identity

It is so important to people to be represented and known for themselves. Whenever I have stickers that relate to pronouns or sexual orientation, people make a delighted face and pick them up and hold them close.

And it’s not just the things about personality – a Go programmer is happy to find a gopher. Someone who does DevSecOps loves to find a sticker that describes their job.

I can spot the networking people, for example. They are the ones who think the Fastly 418 (I’m a teapot) the Target Sweet sticker are hilarious. Because they are jokes that relate to HTTP return codes and IP addresses.

Then we have another layer of delight when we can put them on a laptop and be seen and found by others in our in-group. If I have a sticker from a conference you’ve been to, we can talk about our experiences. If you see a sticker that indicates we share something, it’s much less intimidating to start a conversation.

For example, if you see this sticker, there’s a pretty good chance that the person has actually met me.

Similarly, if you have a sticker showing in a video or on your laptop, it could be a lead to something that people want to know about. I get a lot of questions about my OSMI stickers, which is about Open Source Mental Illness.

Branding, I guess

The exposure you get from a sticker is a small increment, but small increments add up. They can add up pretty quickly if your sticker is a prompt for someone to act as an advocate when they are asked about the sticker.

Matt (Brender) Broberg did a talk that included an analysis of the return on investment of stickers.

(the last bit is obscured, but it says “Sticker ROI is 5x to 76x”, I think.

People also have sentiment around stickers, in the technical marketing sense. Cute stickers make people feel like your product is fun or delightful to use. High-quality stickers make people feel like you have a high-quality product. Racist or sexist stickers? You’re alienating a lot of people silently.

Even people who don’t know what npm is will take npm stickers because they are SO DARN CUTE.


One of the interesting parts of carrying my sticker bag around is that I can get a sense of what technologies are important to a community. It’s not always a 1-1 relationship with the technologies you would expect. Sometimes it is. Either way, I can see the level of interest around a company or technology.

For example, I can tell you that the Kubernetes project is interesting and popular and has a good visual brand and is not doing enough to meet the market demand for their stickers. PHP and Drupal crossover, and that’s not surprising, but so do Verizon and Elastic. One conference may have people who don’t recognize a Chef sticker, and another might wipe out everything I have that relates to automation. I can tell from the stickers that Target developers take that they build a lot of internal tools instead of buying them. It’s interesting!

Developer honeypot

It’s not true that developers are universally shy and anti-social. Some of them are, some of them aren’t. What is true is that it’s hard for a lot of us to strike up conversations with strangers. When I spread out my stickers and invite people to browse and take them, it gives both of us a way to talk about technology in a way that is low-key, not intimidating, and doesn’t even require eye contact. We have time to talk or not talk as we wish.

Design patterns and anti-patterns

I’ve been carrying around The Sticker Bag for about three years now, and in that time I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a sticker attractive to someone. Some of it is identity and branding, but those feelings can be enhanced or reduced by the design and form-factor of the sticker.


Huge stickers are a mistake. I am almost never excited enough about about your product to dedicate 1/6th of my laptop space to it. I think 2 inches is about ideal – big enough to see and have impact, and small enough to fit in around other things.

Here’s what a set of huge stickers looks like:

But wait! You don’t have to think about it, because, my friends, there is a standard! Visit to read it. Interoperability is not just for software and hardware anymore.


I favor the standard hexagon, because the tiling looks really awesome, but I am not against die-cut stickers that have unique shapes. Hexagon stickers started as an “open source thing”, but have utility for everyone who wants to work together for maximizing laptop space.

I have previously questioned round stickers, because they are not an efficient way to use space, but I think they’re ok as long as they’re smallish. Big circles somehow seem even bigger than big rectangles.

My laptop has a combination of sticker styles, but I don’t put anything on there if I don’t know the people or use the product.

You can see how the Fastly 418 sticker is round, but fits ok with others, and the Spoonflower round sticker is too big to fit harmoniously.


If you like it, you should put your name on it. Visual branding is hard to do, but it doesn’t do you any good to print awesome-looking, high-quality stickers if no one can tell who the sticker represents.

For example, this sticker was adorable, but for the first year it was out, you couldn’t tell it was from InfluxDB.

The next run of stickers had their name on it, thankfully!

Not for everyone

Not everyone uses tabs, or spaces, or emacs, or vim. Not everyone wants to put stickers on their laptop. They find it cluttery or distracting or unprofessional. That’s fine. There are all sorts of people in the world. Don’t be judgy.

However! Some people would like to be able to represent themselves with stickers, but can’t, because they have a work laptop that they aren’t supposed to stick stuff on. In those cases, consider these sticker hacks:

Sticker hacks

  • Put a lightweight case on your laptop and either put the stickers on the outside, or leave them on their backing and put them UNDER the case. I do this with a bright pink case from Speck.
  • Get one of those vinyl laptop skins that goes on your computer, and then put the stickers on that. I heard of one guy who got a skin made of the stickers that he had on the previous computer, and then put even more stickers on top of that. Truly next level.
  • Don’t put them on your computer! Other destinations I have heard about include: notebooks, water bottles, white boards, and beer fridges.



Stickers may seem like child’s play to some folks, but it’s an interesting insight in to the cultures, self-representation, and identity of people we’re around. And it’s not just technology – miners and construction workers sticker their hardhats. Musicians sticker their instrument cases. If we have a flat surface, a lot of us feel like adorning it is a satisfying activity.

Delight for less than a dollar? Seems like a great deal.

Top comments (12)

moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

I don't understand stickers.

I went to a conference last month, the first one I've ever been to. There were a couple of tables with stickers strewn on them but they seemed to have nothing to do with the conference and there was no indication of whether any of the people hanging around had anything to do with them either. I took a couple of glances as I went by, but didn't feel like slowing down because it felt like I was intruding.

Even people who don’t know what npm is will take npm stickers because they are SO DARN CUTE.

Is that helpful? People who see your armadillo-in-a-hat sticker and also think it's cute will talk to you about cute; people who know it's from BigCompanyEcks will try to talk to you about tech and you won't know what they're on about.

I don't carry a computer with me (other than my phone) and if I see someone with a lot of stickers on their (inevitably) Mac Pro I tend to not engage with them because I expect them to be part of some sort of exclusive scene. Got a Ruby sticker? You must be a Ruby expert with a million twitter followers who wouldn't want to talk to someone like me. Covered in stickers? You must have enough cash lying around to have the latest equipment (because why would your company let you do that?) and go to a lot of conferences and be really "successful" in that particular sense and I wouldn't have anything valuable to say.

I'm just saying I find them off-putting. I get that other people like them, though. When I was a kid I liked stickers with spaceships and animals on them.

wiredferret profile image
Heidi Waterhouse

I'm sad to hear you feel like it's exclusionary or intimidating. I don't think most of us want to give off that impression.

If I see someone with a Ruby sticker, I figure they hack around in Ruby. When I see a totally clean laptop, I assume that someone isn't a stickers-on-computers person, but I may offer them a spaceship sticker for their water bottle. I don't usually carry my laptop with me, either, because at a conference I'm trying to listen, not work, but I like that when I'm at a hackathon or something, it gives people conversational endpoints to access.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I love that stickers let me know who writes code and maybe what type of tech they're into.

I've had a couple interesting coffeeshop chats which started with stickers.

I've met DEV folks because I spotted the sticker on their laptop. That is always great.

wiredferret profile image
Heidi Waterhouse

(psssst! I could use a new bunch next time I see one of y'all. I'm out.)

nezteb profile image
Noah Betzen

I personally am not a fan of stickers on my own laptop.

I'd have to be extremely passionate about or interested in a particular technology/company/thing to put a sticker representing it on a laptop. If I found a sticker related to a particular technology or company that I wasn't extremely familiar with, I wouldn't put it on a laptop even if I thought it looked cool.

I feel the same way about bumper stickers on my car; I have a few, but they're very relevant to me as a person and my interests; they're not just for general aesthetics.

Nevertheless, I do enjoy seeing stickers on other people's laptops and using them to initiate conversation. There have been a few rare times where I ask someone about a sticker and they admit to having no idea what it is, which is slightly awkward.

niorad profile image
Antonio Radovcic

I think a good conversation-starter is to also have non-technical stickers, from Bands, Whisky-Brands, Ponies, Pride-Orgs etc. Imagine meeting someone at a conf who is also into Chattanooga Whiskey (

There's also lots of funny and creative compositions around, like

wiredferret profile image
Heidi Waterhouse

omigosh, that one is great!

mdor profile image
Marco Antonio Dominguez • Edited

Definitely, I love stickers haha

wiredferret profile image
Heidi Waterhouse

New Relic x2, Realm (that's the beautiful but unlabelled sunset one), Docker, GitHub x3, Angular.


From this I deduce that you either like awesome stickers or you are a javascript nerd from the southeast who sometimes meddles with front-end and sometimes with data-crunching.

mdor profile image
Marco Antonio Dominguez

I mostly work with javaScript Stack, but I had the chance to work with different technologies.

I got the Octocat Pusheen in an event named Talent Land(Mexico) and most of them in Campus Party (Mexico), some concerts (Murderess, Apalachian Terror Unit and Victims), some gifts and technology events (like meetups).

You missed some interesting stickers: Invision x3 ( and Atom x1

ytjchan profile image

I dislike stickers when they overlap each other and look like a mess, but I like your hexagon approach. How do you get this many hexagonal stickers of uniform shape? Do you print them yourself?

wiredferret profile image
Heidi Waterhouse

No, they are all following the standard published format. It is easier to find open source projects that do this, but I know npm, LaunchDarkly, and some other commercial or hybrid companies also use the standard. The laptop in the picture (not mine) has 3 npm stickers, for instance, and a bunch of Ruby stuff, either Ruby itself or conferences.