What is the Anatomy of a Great Digital Badge?

A few years ago, I wrote "No Guts, No Glory," encouraging quality metadata to be added to a badge.  In this post, I’ll go a little further to dissect a great badge. Ultimately, every organization issuing badges wants theirs to be the best. We have ample experience and data to know what works.

A great badge is designed.

Designing a great badge takes thoughtful consideration. It is a combination of design elements such as text and graphics that work together to convey meaning. Often, badge design touches on issues of governance. Who decides where a badge fits into the greater ecosystem? Who decides if a badge is comparable to others in terms of rigor? What are those criteria for rigor? Those are a few starter questions. Also, reflecting on what it means to design, most badges are iterative. It is possible with experience to see where metadata could be enhanced, for example.

While I am on this topic, the design is sometimes mistaken for visual branding. Let’s sort this out. The visual of a great badge should appropriately fit the context, but having a beautiful badge is not the same as having a great badge (we’ve seen some unattractive badges be very impactful!).  However, the visual is an extension of your organization’s brand. Therefore, be careful with those visuals! It is worth investing the time and effort to be certain your visual support the badge itself and your brand overall.

A great badge lives in an ecosystem.

The ecosystem of badges includes the earners, but largely this is a term applied to the consumers of badges. Consumers might be employers, industry experts or education providers. In what way does one badge relate to other badges or to other opportunities?  A badge in isolation doesn’t make much impact, and this is closely related to my next point.

A great badge is purposeful.

Whether you design a system for recognition, engagement, or empowerment, a great badge speaks to its purpose.  It is most common to see badge systems designed to recognize learning or specific skills. Badges can be used to engage earners, totally without gamification, to keep them invested in a program.  By their nature, if metadata is structured to call out specific skills or competencies, badges can also be empowering on a couple of levels. On the one hand, they may open doors and create opportunities for one with those skills. On the other hand, we know having those skills articulated helps earners by giving them the specific key terms and language to use when describing their achievement.

A great badge is valued.

What good is a badge if the earner doesn’t want it?  A great badge is representative of something the earner is proud of.  It is this intrinsic motivation that drives earners to accept their digital badges. Pride of ownership or “earnership” is indicated in the metrics of a badge. It is relatively easy to see when a badge is valued by the earners; the metrics on acceptance and sharing skyrocket.

In fact, sharing puts the badge to work and leverages all the benefits together. People share it. Others read it and want it. The value is compounded. Additionally, great badges are a form of currency. As an external motivator, when badges have value to the ecosystem, they pay dividends to the earner. New jobs, promotions, work assignments, acceptance into a new educational program…all indicative of a badge that is valued by the ecosystem and the earner. How would an organization design a badge that has a currency?  By asking the consumers! We encourage designers to vet their badges with industry experts to ensure everyone speaks the same language and that the language is captured in the metadata.

Designing a great badge that has purpose and value takes a deliberate process. It is iterative and involves an ecosystem broader than just one designer.  It resolves in a tight package with metadata that describes all of this, in text and visually.


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Topics: Product Features, Digital Credentials

By  Susan Manning