I am thinking about using badges in a system to reward users. In the scenario I'm thinking of, users would be rewarded for posting content that is appreciated/ranked high by other users.

I am wondering, if the badges should be defined by the system or user-generated or both. As an advantage of default badges I could see consistency/unambiguity throughout the system, while user-generated badges rewarded by friends seem to make the experience more personalized and social. Should I use both?

I'm not sure, how would you implement badges ideally?

  • 4
    Consider asking this question on gamedev.stackexchange.com!
    – Rahul
    Sep 2, 2010 at 18:42
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    "Designing Social Interfaces" (as mentioned by Jim below) would also advise you to consider the competitive spectrum (if any) that exists within your application. Are these badges just seen by the user himself? Or are other users aware of those rewards. For instance, it's possible that user-generated badges could negatively impact the social nature of the site if they're seen as spammy or make other users jealous (not in a constructive way). Sep 2, 2010 at 21:44
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    Look at how Stack Overflow does it. :P
    – Dair
    Sep 2, 2010 at 22:18
  • In addition to Jim's recommendation of Designing Social Interfaces (which I second BTW :-) you might also want to take a look at the social patterns in Yahoo's design pattern library in particular the ones around reputation.
    – adrianh
    Sep 5, 2010 at 10:26

4 Answers 4


For comprehensive coverage of when and how to use badging/achievements, you should definitely see the "Collectible Achievements" pattern on Designing Social Interfaces by Erin Malone and Christian Crumlish. There is expanded coverage in the book, including examples. I highly recommend the book for anyone designing anything to do with even a tiny piece of social UX.

Quick summary of when (and when not) to use them:

  • "...leverage users' compulsive natures..." to compel them to explore parts of your application
  • "...encourage the community to try out all aspects of your offering..."
  • promoting specific parts of it


  • reward meaningful activity, not just frequent or "game-able" activity
  • reward new behaviors rather than repeating for the same behavior
  • list what achievements are available so people can pursue them
  • don't confuse them with points, although some systems may use points too

(I encountered this on a project last year.)

While I really like the idea user-generated badges (they are much more personal), you also lose something in terms of authority or "specialness" when they are not official and sanctioned by the system. Also, how do you maintain the "quality" of nicely designed badges when anyone can create them? One compromise is to suggest/promote ideas for new badges, that then get "approved" and rolled out (complete w/ some polished artwork created by a paid designer). This keeps badges from being too focused on a particular demographic (<cough> foursquare) but allows badges to still be set aside as something special and something of high quality.

The safest route is not to start with user-generated badges, then slowly open up that gate. Also, instead of an either/or, make that feature (creating badges) one that is unlocked as a privilege. So, only active (responsible) users can do this. Or, make it cost something--especially if the badges carry some weight to them. For example, I could create a badge for blowing your nose, or a badge for completing an Iron Man, they are not at all the same. Try making these badges cost the user something to create, then they're likely to be more meaningful.

On a related note, I believe the iPhone app "EpicWin" lets you create your own goals/rewards. Consequently, I've heard of some people creating 3,000 points challenges for stupid things, to show how absurd that is. Not an issue as this app is personal, not social. But, good to look at that to see what people do. I think in a social setting, you need some arbitrator (the group or system/company) to enforce some parity among different badges.


I'm actually in the process of designing a new site that will use badges to declare users and rewards. It really gives a site that game feeling which plays off the human addiction to collect things and fulfillment of being rewarded. It's very crucial that you take time to design and establish the entire reward process so users will quickly adapt and will

  1. understand your badge design
  2. find your design fun and worthwhile to play/participate in.

To accomplish this you must run usability tests to make sure your personas'/users' types will "get" what you're designing or what your system has to offer.


User created and defined badges might work for the designer community but from my experience user generated stuff by normal people will look ugly and might devalue the overall image the site. Here is a good example of the kind of stuff users generate when asked to submit their own designs.

In this particular case we were crowdsourcing the design ideas with the eventual goal to put them all up for voting and then the most popular version will be redesigned by a professional artist. This way you get the engagement of the community and still maintain control over user experience and quality.

  • For another example, you could just look at MySpace a few years ago. Nov 18, 2010 at 6:56

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