We have a list of missions on one page.

We want to highlight difficulty level so the user can choose depend on his skills or how much time do they have.

Right now we have stars there. But it is more connected with rating than with complexity/difficulty.

What do you think about it? What is a better way to this?

enter image description here

4 Answers 4


I'd recommend:

  • to have limited number of complexity levels. Because having a lot of those create cognitive barrier. As complexity is not absolute category, people will interpret it subjectively and think a lot before making decision. It's better to use 3 or 4 levels
  • to name levels in appropriate way. Labels allow to refer to levels in clear way and to build right mental model of complexity levels
  • to use graphical representation, which conveys the idea of increasing complexity levels. This allows to recognize these levels in a fast way

enter image description here


You should just use some descriptive words like "Simple," "Intermediate," and "Complex." A number of stars is just that: A number. And if you use a number, than you have to explain the unit of measurement. Why do that when natural language offers words specifically meant for this situation?

For the best implementation, I would give each word a tooltip that goes into a bit more detail. For example, if you mouse over the word "Simple," a tooltip might appear saying "Easy and straightforward--great for exercising your use of language syntax." If you mouse over "Complex," it might say "Deeper and more complicated--great for practicing problem solving and simple design patterns." (These look to me like programming challenges, hence my tooltips talking about them like that.)

If you're worried that using English words will make it harder to scan a list of challenges, then I would experiment with color and typography to give the difficulty indicator more visual weight. Of course, you should also have sorting functionality.

Edit: Regarding mobile interfaces, I would place a small question mark icon next to the difficulty indicator. Tapping on the question mark would display a list of all the difficulty ratings at once, which could then be closed to return to the parent view. Question mark icons would add some clutter, though. It might be best to provide mobile users with an "intro" page they cycle through, where things like the difficulty rating are explained. That way, you can justify getting rid of the icons because users will already know about them.

  • 1
    mouse move action doesn't work for mobile devices
    – oduvan
    Apr 6, 2014 at 19:54
  • Updated, @oduvan.
    – DanielF
    Apr 7, 2014 at 17:45
  • having description is a really good idea.
    – oduvan
    Apr 8, 2014 at 23:54

Humans are very bad at judging difficulty and complexity, and almost as bad at communicating difficulty in any standard unit.

How much easier is a task with a difficulty of 5 than one with a difficulty of 6? Is it really the same amount of difference as a task that has a difficulty of 1?

The solutions to this problem vary, but they tend to do one of two things well:

  1. Define a rubric with a high degree of detail.
  2. Assign increasingly higher values to higher levels of difficulty.

The first is pretty obvious, and as an example, I encourage you to look into how climbing routes are evaluated. The second is a little more interesting, as it cleverly sidesteps the issue with comparing difficulty across items without removing value.

I've seen several teams using a 2x method (i.e. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16) and others using squares (i.e. 1, 4, 9, 16, 25) for determining difficulty on software development projects successfully. If you can integrate this with your implementation, it may well save you and your users the headache of developing and learning a strict rubric.


It depends on the importance of the complexity indicator. How useful is it for the user?

Looking at your graph i see that you have a lot of variation in your complexity rating: 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2.5, 3. One way i see it is as a green to red bar:


You can incorporate more colors in it (like orange) or do it as a scale (like Alexei suggested). This would allow you to a more fine calibrated complexity rating.

If you need an exact rating, add a number to it.

Hope it helps.

  • This would be problematic for users with color blindness. Apr 7, 2014 at 22:16

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