I'm serving a web app where user data is pretty sensitive. An ID number and full name is the only personal data given. However, since users are all students and many will be managed by an administrator, I still want to give each user some kind of additional identifier.

Since we can't have students upload their personal photo as an avatar, I've experimented with avatars such as animals with color background, initials with colored background, and the student's "team color," which was used to quickly identify student grouping.

I liked the ideas of the animals (there were around 50 to different animals) and wanted to make some of them "unlock-able" to encourage use of the app (similar to Stack Overflow badges). Students and admins were confused upon using the app though (e.g. "why am I a chicken?"), but I'm considering running with it.

Any thoughts on an ideal solution? Thanks in advance for any ideas!

Example avatars

  • They can't have a picture, but you display their full name? And this idea is being mooted on 'sensitive data' grounds? Jan 14, 2019 at 10:33
  • @DarrylGodden Due to privacy concerns of using a third-party app, a photo can't be included if it isn't necessary to use the app; They are secondary school kids Jan 14, 2019 at 16:29
  • Well this is a UX forum, but I'm a BA day to day and I'd challenge that to say do you think for one second 90%+ of these kids don't have a Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, that said - this IS a UX forum and often used by messaging systems is the initials design you've done. Jan 15, 2019 at 8:47

1 Answer 1


Confusing users is generally inadvisable. You've noted that you've received direct user feedback that the animal designs are considered odd/confusing to users. Sounds like you like the idea for whatever reason and you want to go with it, despite user feedback against it. This can be dangerous. Don't get too wedded to ideas you like; always be willing to throw them out, based on research and testing. I'd go with the "initials + color" option, of the three you've provided. Even if the design is less "cute", users at least won't be confused. Everyone knows their initials.

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