New (Small) Project: screenshot is a quick site I put together last weekend to help people ease into this new world of spending all day on Zoom.

Having worked with distributed teams for the last few years, if there’s one thing I learned it’s this: People are going to inspect every detail of the room behind you on video calls. Most of us weren’t really expecting to suddenly invite our coworkers into our homes every day, so this can lead to a lot of pressure to make sure your new “home office” (i.e. your kitchen table, the couch, or wherever you can find a flat surface and relatively quiet noise levels) looks professional. Remember BBC Dad?

Zoom has a feature to enable virtual backgrounds, which is something I suspect will become more common in the future as we spend more time on video calls. Another thing that feels likely is that we’ll start using deep fake avatars of ourselves that mimic our real-time facial gestures to help prevent the fatigue that comes from being on camera all day. I’ll leave that to someone much smarter than me.

International Space Station Zoom virtual background

I initially launched with 16 backgrounds, and the response was pretty surprising. Over the last week it averaged around downloads per day. After seeing that the bar and nightclub photos were more popular than I expected, I added a whole “happy hour” category. Here are the top photos for the first week:

Top Backgrounds on

  1. Bar (19,233 downloads)
  2. Iron Throne (8,802)
  3. Pub (5,821)
  4. Oval Office (4,664)
  5. NASA Mission Control (3,333)
  6. “Friends” Living Room (3,322)
  7. “The Shining” Hallway (2,609)
  8. Campfire (2,491 - only added yesterday)
  9. International Space Station Cupola (2,401)
  10. Tropical Island (2,189 - also added yesterday)

A thought for media properties & local businesses

The backgrounds for recreational spaces and popular film sets show that people are using Zoom backgrounds for fun, and not just to make their calls look more professional (Not surprisingly, the “Open Office” background is dead last in downloads). This could be a good opportunity for TV shows and movies with notable visual backdrops to create Zoom backgrounds for people to use. I included a few in my gallery, but was hesitant to include more because of potential copyright issues.

I also came across a set of Zoom backgrounds created by San Francisco’s beloved Green Apple Books, which immediately made me miss the time I spent browsing their shelves when I lived nearby. There’s certainly an opportunity for local cafes, restaurants, museums, etc. to share Zoom backgrounds on social media to help keep those businesses in our minds while we can’t physically visit them, and help us feel like we’re back at our favorite haunts.

Technical notes was built in Gatsby, using Contentful for a CMS and hosted on Netlify. The virtual background images are stored on Amazon S3. This workflow made it easy to add new photos without having to do anything in code, while still having a high-performance front end thanks to Gatsby. The only real issue I had was trying to use Gatsby Cloud for builds, which would sometimes time out without any helpful explanations. Switching to Netlify for builds made each build take longer but it never failed.

Mark Allen

Written by Mark Allen, a product manager and designer currently based in Toronto. Say hello on Twitter.

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