I am looking for an easily identifiable awarding scheme, but without using metals, specifically "Gold, Silver, Bronze".

Does such a thing exist?

  • 45
    What is wrong with gold, silver and bronze? The context in which you are going to be using this may be helpful so we can cater the suggestion to that situation.
    – JonW
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 15:30
  • 10
    Solutions to this issue may be too context-dependent to make the question useful to others. For example, on an airline site you could progress from glider to biplane to jumbo jet, but those categories aren't likely to be useful outside that context. Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 15:32
  • 4
    Gold, Silver and Bronze is an existing award scheme that works in any context (any context I can think of). It's easily identifiable. It has universal acceptance. Is there another award scheme like this, or similar? If not completely universal, near or approaching a universal acceptance? I feel like if I gave anyone here the context I am using I wouldn't get a universal awards scheme like "Gold, Silver, Bronze", instead I would get something very specific to the context I am working in - I dont want something specific to one context, I want something that is more universal than that.
    – Jimmery
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 16:14
  • 5
    Easily recognisable depends on your audience e.g. "Ace, King, Queen, Jack" or "King, Queen, Rook, Bishop, Knight" are raking schemes for card and chess players respectively.
    – Jason A.
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 12:02
  • 31
    It's worth noting that Silver is better than Gold if the Olympics are attacked by werewolves.
    – aslum
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 16:45

22 Answers 22


The struggle for a good top-rating system is...nightmarish. I've gone through it several times, and agree that gold/silver/bronze isn't particularly great. Here are some alternatives:

  • Smiley faces: Special rankings can be given with any number of different smiley faces using either custom or existing emoji. Unfortunately, ranking those individually is a challenge.
  • Jewels: Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires, etc. Follows the same as metals however. Not as recognizable.
  • Stars: star ratings are typically considered big, but if it isn't a rating, then you can easily give 3, 4, or 5 stars as awards, where more stars is better. The amount doesn't really matter (1/2/3 or 3/4/5 work equally well, though the latter begs the question where do 1 & 2 stars go?)
  • Custom: Obviously the hardest, but depending on the context, potentially the most relevant too. If it's a halloween game, for example, instead of stars you could use skulls. If it's a medical forum, then high-ranking members may be displayed with a stethoscope, for example.

Play around with it and see what you like. If you don't like gold/silver/bronze, then don't use it for sure. Because that's going to drive you crazy for a long time, and if you're the one who has to use the thing you're building...

  • 5
    Instead of 3->5 stars, you could always just have 1->3 stars. Works well enough for restaurants - see Michelin Stars
    – Baldrickk
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 9:07
  • 4
    @jbutler483 traffic light colours may work, for sure. Even more so over here, in Portugal, as those are our flag colours, so they usually feel nice and comfortable. But as to question at hand it may not be a suitable replacement. Gold/Silver/Bronze are "degrees of goodness", they all have a positive tone (bronze medal is fine, right?), while Green/Yellow/Red has some negative connotation for Red (stop!) and only Green is really positive
    – user17696
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 12:42
  • 8
    There is irony in the post editors receiving bronze badges for this answer.
    – taco
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 18:44
  • 3
    A benefit to the star-based system is that they have greater accessibility. While you can carefully tune your gold/silver/bronze colors to maintain easy differentiability even for colorblind or low-sight users, counting stars is easier for either class of user than trying to differentiate color.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 19:21
  • 1
    If you were to go with the jewel theme, you could improve ranking differentiability by increasing the number of sides of the jewel on higher ranks, and keeping the colors in spectral order (e.g. ruby, topaz, citrine, emerald, sapphire, amethyst, diamond). The side count can be differentiated by a fully colorblind user, though less than the star counts for low-sight users, while fully sighted users will quickly learn to correlate the spectral association with rank.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 19:26

In some situations, something similar to army ranking can be used:

enter image description here

  • I' thinking of the old video game, G.O.R.F. The ranks included "Space Cadet", "Space Colonel" and 5 or 6 others.
    – LAK
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 20:39
  • 1
    Ahh brings back memories of Cannon Fodder
    – icc97
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 22:39

Since nobody referred to alternatives to metals on the level of cultural philosophy:

I think you are right that gold, silver and bronze are outdated as a universal symbol of rewarding. As we tend to redefine characteristic values of human individuals as mental properties rather than material properties, I suggest discussing symbols of human evolution itself rather than the mentioned materials:

Fire icon1. fire

Book as Printing icon2. printing

Internet icon3. internet

…would be my first intuition here. Don't you agree they also make up a neat triple of icons?

  • 69
    I think "...what" adequately sums up my reaction to this idea. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 6:12
  • 6
    what an original idea! i never considered using human achievements as an award system. im not sure if this is as universal as gold, silver and bronze, but in my book you get points for thinking outside the box!
    – Jimmery
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 8:51
  • 8
    I think this example would be ineffective because it's not intuitive. The chosen icons are actually vague, and unless all the icons are shown besides the awarded one, the user can't judge how well or poorly s/he's done. Jayfang is joking about there not being a wheel icon, but that's part of the problem: if the user can't see or correctly anticipate the entire system, then an icon on its own is meaningless. The constructs are open to opinion, too; the Internet is more sophisticated than fire, but is it universally seen as being more important?
    – Tim Huynh
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:36
  • 7
    @Mazyod I'm not sure if this is relevant in this discussion, I am not catering for people who are highly insecure and sensitive towards modern thinking, this is a website after all. The same scientific process that gave us the Internet and computing in general is the same scientific process that has proven we and Apes come from a common ancestor, I dont know why you'd be OK with one result of scientific endeavor and yet take issue with another.
    – Jimmery
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 13:45
  • 8
    I am not being considerate to those who are offended by provable facts in the exact same way I am not being considerate towards people who believe the world is flat and get offended by the symbol of a Globe. It is simply impractical and illogical to try and be considerate towards everyone, so instead I am going to be considerate to the vast majority of free thinking, logical people who can follow simple evidence to its obvious conclusion. Hell, even the Pope wouldn't be offended by the idea of Man evolving from Apes: beta.slashdot.org/story/209109
    – Jimmery
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 16:16

Note: This is my second reply, and I'm not rep-whoring. So please choose one (or neither) of my suggestions...

For kids, you can use something similar to The Potato Head as a motivator and progression indicator:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here


My 2¢ are summed up by the Clash of Clans League hierarchy:

enter image description here

Not necessarily a shield with stuff on it, but a very "basic" design, that looks meaner and cooler for higher levels. Even if it is a ■ -> ⬟ -> ★ or something like that.

  • 3
    Your middle example icon is not supported.
    – TylerH
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:23
  • 2
    Yes. You should use unicode icons that are supported without the need for custom or additional plugins.
    – TylerH
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:26
  • 3
    For the curious, the shapes are square -> pentagon -> star
    – Mazyod
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:55
  • 2
    Wow, extending the established bronze-silver-gold scale above gold when it’s used for ranks (i.e. 1st place or class) and not anniversaries (i.e. 50 years) is just stupid, much like A++ energy ratings or AAA credit ratings or DDDD bra cups or volume controls going to 11. @Mazyod’s suggestion is sound however.
    – Crissov
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 21:15
  • 4
    @TylerH So out of the tens of thousands of Unicode symbols, we're supposed to magically know which of those work on every current browser and OS. Sorry, but that's not something you can expect of anyone. If I had posted this answer, I might very well also have used this particular symbol, I would have known that I hadn't installed anything in particular to make this particular symbol work, so I would have no way of knowing that it isn't "web-friendly" for any reasonable definition of "web-friendly".
    – hvd
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 13:17

If you're going to a use a multi-tiered award system, ask yourself,

Can the user (a) see every tier or (b) accurately predict every tier?

If the answer to either (a) or (b) is "No" then any award that you give to the user will probably be meaningless to him/her. The core function of giving an award is to give feedback: people want to know if they've performed well or poorly and, just as importantly, how well or how poorly they've performed.

It's difficult to evaluate my performance based on the the award you've given to me if I can't figure out its value relative to other tiers, assuming there are other tiers. As a solution, you could show all tiers and only highlight the one that applies to me. Or you could stay with the so-called boring but widely understood bronze-silver-gold scheme.

Please don't try to reinvent the proverbial wheel. That's how usability problems usually happen: people go against the grain because of personal preference. If you absolutely must introduce novelty, then do it like the trophy system on the PlayStation Network: have unique badges and names for each accomplishment, but assign a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum trophy to each one. That way there's freshness and familiarity (usability) to each achievement.

That's the problem I have the gamification trend in general. Badges and icons that have no pre-existing meaning or practical value need to go.

  • Although similar recommendation have been given, it's valid, and I'll +1 to get this post out of negative. Cannot make it gold, though :-( Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 11:09

Think of this as a data visualization problem: The awards make up an ordinal scale, where a "particular value has no significance beyond its ability to establish a ranking over a set of data points". You need to show one is greater or less than the other.

Gold, Silver and Bronze refer to the Olympic medals and other sports. Arguably they are not a sure thing depending on culture or color blindness factors. They are also limited because the scheme breaks down after three ranks. You might need more than three winners. With that said, if you are designing something Olympic/sports related your users might understand or expect the medal symbols.

Consider your users. They have the ultimate privilege of accepting or rejecting your design choice. And always include a key somewhere.


There’s often a three-tier ranking system that can be deduced from the setting of the site or application. You can even have more symbolic slots than that. The sports medal metaphor is quite well understood, tough, but the different metals, especially yellowish gold and brownish bronze may be hard to distinguish. Note that this base system has been adapted and augmented elsewhere, e.g. in anniversaries (‘diamond’), credit cards (‘black’) and record sales (‘platinum’).

You can try size: big, medium, small. Bigger is always better (except when it’s not). Empty to filled also works with a variety of shapes, e.g. moon phases (although this one has a mirrored medial step).

Applying arbitrary meaning to colors is always complicated and prone to failure, but when combined with positional cues as in traffic lights it may work: top/left green, middle yellow/orange, bottom/right red. A combination with otherwise monochrome symbols works slightly better, although the signs may have different meaning in context: green plus, orange/yellow circle/disc, red minus. Like all these, arrows and thumbs do not indicate top three but rather show best, rest and worst: (pointing) up, sideways, down.

In hierarchical systems, e.g. military and academia, there are familiar ranks of people, elsewhere important items or services may be ranked frequently. Those may not have mnemonic visuals, e.g. classes in trains, ships and planes are either plain ordinal numeric or use rather arbitrary names.

Human evolution

  • Not all ranking systems have three tiers, so it's potentially a mistake to assume that the user will assume, correctly or not, that they've been awarded a representation in a three-tier system.
    – Tim Huynh
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:51
  • @TimHuynh That’s true of course. Some of the options I listed above at least have rather unambiguous top and low ends, the number of intermediate steps being uncertain. The question still misses some clarifications to clearly identify the type of desired scale. It’s quite possible, Jimmery would gladly be able to use more tiers or have non-achievers (i.e. below bronze) unmarked.
    – Crissov
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 20:59
  • 3
    I think the ape on the left deserves an upvote by itself :-D Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 9:20

If this is some kind of award, I like RIBBONS - while most people agree the blue ribbon comes first/best there are cultural differences for the other places.


  • 5
    "while most people agree the blue ribbon comes first/best..." that is probably more culturally specific (US-centric really) than you are aware of. In the UK for instance there is no use of blue ribbons in that sense, and there certainly isn't any ranking implied by a ribbon colour. If anything ribbons are used as symbols of charity and causes; different colours representing different charities.
    – JonW
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 9:39
  • 1
    I agree with @JonW for this being very US-centric. I'm from central Europe, never heard of ribbons meant as expressing an award. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 14:32
  • Yes the link I posted covers all that.
    – Jasmine
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 15:56

How about a grading scheme like:

  • SS
  • S
  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D
  • F

I have seen this used in quite a few video games of Japanese origin. Leaving out the S's could be more recognizable, as most people are aware of letter grades.

Or you could use multiple stars or emblems like:

  • *****
  • ****
  • ***
  • **
  • *

This kind of system has been used for reviews/scores/etc. numerous times.

  • 6
    The problem with the first system is that "S" and "SS" probably won't be understood by non-gamers. Also, non-Americans might not understand why the system goes from "D" to "F" or vice versa. The stars system is more intuitive, assuming that it's clear whether the max-rating is five stars or 10 stars.
    – Tim Huynh
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:11
  • There’s also the single-star rating with filled prongs, i.e. 0–5 for pentagram and 0–6 for star of David. It has the advantages of clearly showing the upper and lower limits and having a square bounding box, but may be less easy and quick to scan and compare.
    – Crissov
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 21:06
  • Nice DMC reference.
    – Jamezrp
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 22:59
  • 8
    In some parts of the world, SS has an extremely negative historical connotation. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 14:36
  • 1
    I don't think S and SS are typical bra sizes. Oh, wait. These are grades.
    – Jason C
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 15:36

I would consider (since it's 'gameification'), something like:


Or Ranks such as

  1. Master/Merlin
  2. Wizard
  3. Apprentice

Another possible ranking could be:

  1. King
  2. Prince
  3. Jester

There are just so many Three tier ranking systems, that it's quite hard to choose one!

Angry Birds uses Stars, for example.

Even a traffic light system might work:


  • I would have guessed that Wizard is above Master. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 16:14
  • @PaŭloEbermann edited :P
    – jbutler483
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 16:17
  • Re: traffic light - which color denotes best performance? Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 15:47
  • green (for go) @BobJarvis
    – jbutler483
    Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 9:02
  • The good, the bad, the very bad.
  • The cat, the puma, the lion.
  • Much, muchier, the muchiest.
  • One cup of unbelievable bravery, one bottle of unbelievable bravery, one gallon of ubelievable bravery.
  • Pass, Distinction, Merit
  • Pale , glossy, shiny.
  • Screwdriver, wrench, hammer
  • Tenor, alto, bass
  • Nothing. We all win or loose together.
  • Or just use 1,2,3 because part of every art is to know when to stop.

I agree with others regarding context, but would also add that your incremental scale is important here as well. "Awards" can be given on a 1-5 star rating (think hotels), 0-100% rating (think Rotten Tomatoes movie reviews), or arbitrary (X of X people recommend this restaurant). You may also break it down based on rating by user-type. (critic vs audience, using Rotten Tomatoes again).

Regarding specifically a three-tier system, "Grand Champion", "Reserve Champion", and "Honorable Mention" would be an alternative to Gold/Silver/Bronze.


A martial arts-style belt system would work well in some situations. This has some nice advantages.

  • Many people are familiar with the idea that a white belt is a beginner and a black belt is a master.

  • You can include as many intermediate colour levels as you like (sort of; see below).

  • You can include other colour theming throughout your site/application to match the user's colour.

  • Additional information can be included using, for example, stripes.

Responses to O R Mapper's criticisms:

You can't have unlimited colours, but you can have more than the three that bronze/silver/gold allows. Some martial arts systems only have four or five belts. Some have more than a dozen (by including stripes as well).

Users wouldn't be expected to memorise a colour list. In general, brighter colours like yellow come earlier (nearer to white), and darker colours like brown come later (nearer to black). This isn't entirely unambiguous but you can easily incorporate feedback to the user like "only 35 points until blue belt". You can also have a page explaining privileges, just like here.

  • How are users supposed to know the order of the other, intermediate colours (without checking on some martial-arts site)? And also, isn't that number somewhat limited? There are only so many colours that you can unambiguously differentiate. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 14:39

If you go custom, you will most likely need to be based on your brand personality. For example, the company I work for is called Spiceworks and we use a pepper scale based on the scoville heat index to show how much our users have participated in our forum. There are incremental steps they have to take at each level to reach the next pepper level. So they can always see how close they are getting to the next level.

I'm not sure if what you are trying to accomplished is based on incremental steps though. If you are just showing levels of prestige, like gold, silver, platinum, such as with credit cards it might be good just to stick with something like that.


I would agree with many of the other answers - ranking is very contextual. Immediate recognition and understanding of the ranking system is completely dependent on the user's background. Star-ratings and gold/silver/bronze are pretty universally recognizable, but for the sake of having another option:

Dan Rankings

  • Ranking system typically split into two tiers ordered from 10 kyu (lowest) to 1 kyu at the lower/student tier, and 1 dan to 9/10 dan (highest) for the higher/master tier
  • Fairly recognizable in many East Asian countries and contexts (most esp martial arts)
  • Reversal of numerical rankings (10 to 1, then 1 to 10) may be confusing to those unfamiliar, unless system is explicitly laid out
  • Examples: Used in Codewars and Go (board game)

This will of course depend heavily on context, but here are some naval progressions. Note that the names of ship types changed markedly throughout history, so these examples are tied to particular time periods. Not all of them are military, though most are.

Medieval: Trireme (three rows of oars), Caravel (fore-and-aft rigged), Galleon (large, armed cargo ship).

Napoleonic: Galley (oar powered), Sloop (1 mast), Frigate (2 masts), Ship of the Line (3 masts).

19th Century: Wherry (1 mast), Schooner (two masts), Clipper (3 masts). These are all cargo ships; the wherry is designed for small navigable rivers.

First World War: Corvette, Destroyer, Cruiser, Battleship, Dreadnought. In this very specific time-frame, a transition from pre-Dreadnought battleships to battleships which followed the Dreadnought pattern was underway, and the two types were considered distinct.

U-Boats: Type II (small), Type VII (medium), Type IX (large), Type XXI (large, modernised).

Mid 20th Century: Corvette, Frigate, Destroyer, Cruiser, Aircraft Carrier. From WW2 onwards, the battleship (Dreadnought-type or otherwise) became increasingly irrelevant in terms of actual military achievements. One or two WW2-era battleships were used for shore bombardments for some considerable time afterwards.

NB: "Battlecruiser" was deliberately omitted from both modern warship lists. They did not distinguish themselves well in any engagement they took part in.

Modern submarines: Submersible (research/civilian), Hunter (searches for Boomers), Boomer (carries nukes).

Modern cargo ships: Tramp (seriously), Oiler, Container, Tanker.

Modern passenger ships: Yacht, Ferry, Cruiser, Catamaran, Liner.

  • This is an awesome list. Also the supertankers come to mind, Panamax ... Triple E
    – icc97
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 22:50
  • -1 Interesting categorization of ships, but not an answer widely applicable as a reward system. Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 23:37
  • +1 if you showed pictures of the ships it would be easier understandable Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 14:12
  • you could do the same with cars planes etc Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 14:13

What about something that actually GROWS!

Baby | Toddler | Adult

Seed | Plant | Flower

  • Please don't leave signatures under your post.
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 11:00

Do you mean just the colors or symbols like : trophies and medals?

If it's just the color: use a color that is bright and when the score gets worse make it fade or darker, or use some other colors

if its about the object: use (what other say before) stars, or just one star that is different filled up!


OK...previous post did not translate well. Try these alternatives...

Some alternatives to Gold, Silver, et al...

  • Royal Flush, Four Aces, Full House, Three Jacks
  • Diamond (blue), Ruby (red), Emerald (green) Sapphire (yellow or white)
  • Home Run, Triple, Double, Single (or HR, Triple Play, Doubleheader, Single)
  • General, Major, Captain, Lieutenant
  • Rocket, Jetliner, Twin Engine, Bi-Plane, Zepplin?
  • Lexus, Mercedes, Cadillac, Lincoln
  • Extra Large, Large, Medium, Small
  • Same points as with the other. I don't think these references would be clearly and easily understood.
    – Mayo
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 2:11

Use Platinum

The current standard ~> Platinum is greater than Gold is greater than Silver is greater than Bronze.

  • 1
    hiya! i did say in my question "without using metals" ;)
    – Jimmery
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 9:09
  • @Jimmery +1 good question you asked last year. quite a few answerers have responded, but nowhere did anyone mention platinum. when stackexchange presented your question as an "oldy-goldy, I thought maybe your post will be a useful reference point for those seeking general information on the subject of participant stratification. thx Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 0:25

What about a Pokemon evolution hierarchy, for instance:

  • Level 1 : Charmander
  • Level 2 : Charmeleon
  • Level 3 : Charizard

enter image description here

And Mew as the ultime level.

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