I am looking for an easily identifiable awarding scheme, but without using metals, specifically "Gold, Silver, Bronze".
Does such a thing exist?
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:
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...
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I think you are right that gold, silver and bronze are outdated as a universal symbol of rewarding.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:
…would be my first intuition here. Don't you agree they also make up a neat triple of icons?
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.
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.
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.
How about a grading scheme like:
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.
I would consider (since it's 'gameification'), something like:
Or Ranks such as
Another possible ranking could be:
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 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.
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:
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.
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...