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Badge system design is rooted in understanding how badges come together to form a system. There are a variety of approaches and we're interested in cataloguing them all here. This wiki is the framework for building a toolkit to help people understand badge system design. This is where you come in: add your use cases, your definitions of terms, your techniques, your questions, etc.

Getting involved

There are several ways to get involved and contribute to the growing discussion on badge system design:

I have comments/questions/thoughts!

Given that this is a living document, there are bound to be questions and ideas that don't quite "fit" anywhere. This is the place for them! Use this area to inquire about shifting sections around, to think through what still is missing and where it might go, to respond to new sections, etc. It's the free-for-all space to capture the miscellaneous bits that don't seem to fit anywhere else.

Aspects of badge system design

System goals

People develop badge systems for many reasons: here's a place to begin to acknowledge the goals that your badge system aims to address. System goals may or may not be directly related to specific badges. In other words, the system may have overarching goals that individual badges work together to address. While goal specificity can play an important role in a system, a system can have multiple goals, as well.

Since goals may be intertwined, let's use this area to indicate if certain goals are linked. Additionally, let's use this space to indicate if the listed goals relate to the goals of your proposed or actual badge system. You can do so by adding your name + affiliation to a bulleted point.

  • Connect community
      • Carla Casilli (Mozilla Open Badges badges)
      • Toni D. (Badges for Languages)
  • Recognize contributions/achievements
      • Toni D. (Badges for Languages)
  • Help participants advertise their skills
      • Carla Casilli (Mozilla Open Badges badges)
  • Social engineering
  • Shepherding / guiding
      • Carla Casilli (Mozilla badges)
  • Pathways
    • educational
    • civic
    • environmental
    • career-focused
      • Carla Casilli (Mozilla badges)
      • Toni D. (Badges for Languages)
    • social


There are a number of ways to look at a badge system. One is from the issuer standpoint, another is from the earner standpoint. Depending on which lens you're wearing, a badge system can look entirely different. A lens may reveal certain information about consideration requirements for possible audiences.

  • issuing lens
    • individual issuer
    • organizational issuer
  • earning lens
    • individual earner
    • social community
  • sharing / displaying lens
    • consuming public
    • public at large


Many badge systems begin with external funding. Even if your badge system has internal funding to drive it, staffing, tech, and maintenance are significant funding considerations. In this section we'll investigate potential sources of funding as well as areas that need special funding considerations.

Funding considerations

  • staff (building including writers, designers, assessment experts, content experts, etc.)
  • tech
  • maintenance

Sources of funding

  • governmental
  • philanthropic
  • private / internal
  • for-profit or for-sustainable-revenue business models


Our Wednesday Research / System Design calls have revealed the growing level of interest in open badges research. The research section is anticipated to be expansive enough that it deserves its own page. We note it as an aspect of badge system design here and flesh out here on the bsd wiki research page.

Use cases

There are a variety of use cases that we're seeing in the badge system design world. Different from system goals, these are generalized descriptions that capture who might design badge systems.

  • Attendance or participation in an event (for conference presenters/attendees)
  • Certification for professional development (for teachers, manufacturing, IT)
  • Informal education (in after-school programs, community education)
  • Learning opportunities at cultural institutions (in museums, libraries)
  • Badges for skills needed at one institution in a field (e.g. "Certified book shelver at this library")

Case studies

This section contains written accounts of badge systems in the wild, hopefully with information about the most important decisions needed in each system.

Dan Hickey and his team of graduate students working on the badges Design Principles Documentation Project are investigating how 30 winners of the DML Badges for Lifelong Learning contest are designing and modifying their badge systems to fit individual project goals and contexts. This team is beginning to publish case studies of each of the DML projects. The DPD Project aims to thoroughly describe the practices used in each system context, how those practices had to change to better adapt over time, and how they relate to general design principles that could be applied in a number of badge systems.

DML Case Studies

  • Supporter To Reporter (S2R) - Supporter to Reporter (S2R) provides learning opportunities for young people to take on the roles of sports journalists, media producers, and mentors. S2R Medals will recognize and reward the skills and achievements gained by young reporters who learn and demonstrate a rich array of competencies acquired through their participation in the program.
  • UC Davis: SA&FS Learner Driven Badge System - The SA&FS program at UC Davis is a new interdisciplinary major promoting holistic critical thinking about food systems. Funded by a MacArthur DML grant, SA&FS designed and implemented a badge system to complement the degree awarded through the program.
  • Sweet Water AQUAPONS Badge Project - Sweet Water AQUAPONS is an online platform where students gain digital badges as they learn the skills needed in aquaponics. The Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) developed AQUAPONS to provide self-directed learning opportunities to future sustainable agriculture practitioners and expand the field of aquaponics by creating a replicable model for urban agriculture education.

Other Case Studies


Personas are useful in the early stages of badge system design. There are myriad interpretations of what personas are and how they work. In order to disambiguate the way they're described here, here is the wikipedia interpretation of them and a practicing UX designer's interpretation of them.

There are thousands of possible personas, this area can help us understand how they might relate to use cases. Each system context will have its own combination of stakeholders and personas. There is no universal persona.

  • individuals
  • organisations
  • entities
  • relationships
  • (things that have definitive email addresses :-)

Tools + their uses

There are a number of tools being created to help people develop and implement badge systems. Here are a few that people have been kind enough to share with us. If you have additional tools, please include them below and indicate their use. As we add more, we'll begin to categorize them to ease discovery.

  • Badge System Design worksheet
    • The Badge System Design worksheet is a Google spreadsheet that prompts the system design owner to consider as many areas of a badge system as possible early on in the developmental stages. By reviewing this document prior to building out badges, it underscores many, if not all of the areas to be considered in the construction of a robust badge system.
  • DigitalME Badge Design Canvas
    • The Badge Design Canvas seeks to simplify the process of developing a badge system by bringing it into the analogue world. This document is intended to be printed out and written upon. A brief encapsulation of important aspects of badge creation and design.
    • The Canvas helps designers make the important decisions needed to describe each badge, from its name to who awards it, and encourages people to dig deeply into questions about why each badge is valuable and how they will be used in this context.
    • The DPD card deck was created by Nate Otto using the design principles from Dan Hickey's Design Principles Documentation Project, to which he contributes. It turns the building of a badge system into a type of game.
    • There are four categories of cards, containing general principles for Recognizing learning, Assessing learning, Motivating learning, and Studying learning in digital badge systems.
    • By shuffling through the deck and selecting different cards, designers analyze how the different components of their badge system work together to promote achievement and program goals. The idea is not to pick "best practices" but to find mutually compatible principles that make badges a good fit for program goals and contexts.
    • Community members may contact Nate Otto, DPD Project coordinator, with questions on how to design a system with the DPD principles and cards and how to run a workshop using the cards.
  • Snook Badge Maker Offline Toolkit
    • Snook has found that creating badges with your hands is a great way to get people to engage and think about Open Badges. These tools have worked well with all ages, interests and backgrounds.
    • We recommend you print the badge shapes on coloured paper or card so you can mix and match different colours and shapes. For Mozilla Festival 2013 we laser cut the shapes but it’s just as fun to cut them out by hand.

Badge types

There are a number of badge types, let's consider what they are and how they might be used. Is there a default type of badge?

"An Open Badge defines a relationship with an image and metadata. A badge can be used to show how an authority recognizes an earner's achievement, for example, but the important thing is that it describes the relationship between these entities such that the audience can discern its value." -Nate Otto
  • attendance
  • participation
  • learning
  • skill
  • achievement
  • affiliation
  • competency
  • project-complete
  • credential


Assessment remains a controversial area for recognizing learning. There are many types of assessment and many theories associated with assessment. Badge systems will most likely make use of different forms of assessment.

On a related note: What about competency-based learning vs. credit-hour based learning or interest-driven learning? These may all be assessed differently.

  • formative
    • described by Dr. Bernard Bull as a visit to the doctor
  • summative
    • described by Dr. Bernard Bull as an autopsy
  • transformative
    • Dan Hickey has spoken about transformative assessment.


Additionally, who is assessing and what are their roles? Experts are not the only possible reviewers.

  • expert
  • peer
  • self
  • algorithmic

Relationships to other badges

A badge system is comprised of different badges with some relationship linking one badge to the next. The level of complexity of those relationships can become quite deep. And these relationships can be manifested in various pathways.

  • simple (badges are only related because they come from the same issuer)
  • linearly connected (one badge leads to another)
  • complexly interconnected or non-linearly connected (badges cross categories and do not follow a linear pathway)
  • complex cross-system linking (badges are connected to badges from other issuer's systems)


Pathways or discovery is a way for people to wend their way through different badging experiences: to find new opportunities or to think through possible futures. There are both descriptive pathway and prescriptive pathway approaches. Each approach offers its own pluses and minuses. If you're interested in pathways, you may be interested in reading these related blog posts.

Descriptive pathways seek to acknowledge the ways that people consciously and willfully choose to earn badges. A descriptive pathway may feel more natural to the badge earner since they’re defining their own paths and they makes use of personal agency.

Prescriptive approaches seek to declare one standard or recommended badge earning path over another. This approach can feel more limiting and formal to a badge earner because they're compelled to follow a proposed pathway or drop out of the pathway entirely. Prescriptive approaches may be built on summative assessment.

  • Command path: suggested or recommended badge arcs.
  • Contract path: desired or pledged badge groupings.
  • Badge desire path: independently followed or pursued badge passages.

The importance of the distinctions between these paths cannot be overemphasized. Why? Because to the earner, each of these avenues will feel very different.

Command pathways

The command approach is the most prescriptive: it relies on a formal, structured and recommended path. Most likely, this badge pathway will be linear—a straight line from one learning experience to another. This is not unlike what occurs in many school courses.

Contract pathways

The contract path encourages the earner to think about and select a potential learning arc. In the strictest sense, it, too, is prescriptive. But because its prescriptiveness is set forth by the earner herself, the potentially dictatorial nature does not carry the same paternalistic qualities.

Desire pathways

The badge desire path carries with it the greatest capacity for knowledge and system emergence. When there is no prescribed pathway, people can find the way that makes sense to them; can choose to follow other people’s paths or can strike out in very different directions.


Some badge systems are designed with levels in mind. And some badge systems, like Dr. Bernard Bull's "Learning Beyond Letter Grades" badge system are specifically designed without levels in order to escape the connection to grades. An effective badge system may include badge levels and yet levels are not necessary for a system to achieve success.

Here are some of the levels that we have begun to see appear in the ecosystem. This is not a comprehensive list. Please add or amend your levels here.

  • flat (no levels to a system)
  • hierarchical badge levels
    • beginner
    • intermediate
    • advanced
    • expert
  • stepped badge levels (badges unlock new opportunities)


Questions about meaning and value arise frequently in the development of badge systems. One possible response to this is to limit the total number of badges in your system. Alternatively, you can ignore limits and badge as appropriate. This area is ripe for discussion.

Badge criteria

Are there different ways to write about your content? Let's cover that here:



Some badges may align with standards, some learning, some professional. This is the area to think through what those alignments might be.


  • Common Core State Standards (USA)
  • web literacy standard
  • Next Generation Science Standards (USA)


Open Badges in the Web ecosystem

How do Open Badges exist beyond the Open Badges Infrastructure? How does/should the OBI be part of a larger ecosystem of web services in education, employment and life? This includes, but is not limited to, xAPI, LMS, HRMS, (Europass in Europe), etc.

Open Questions

Some of the questions that could affect current practice and future technical developments

Open Badges Asymmetry

Is it totally innocuous to keep a strict separation between badge issuers and badge recipients? Aren't we reinforcing existing power relationships (e.g. teacher/pupil)? What would be the benefits (and risks) to make it just as easy for learners to issue their own badges (or a group of learners)?

Open Badges as rewards (digital gold stars)

Research shows (c.f. Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn) that rewards and extrinsic motivators tend to wane intrinsic motivations (like the desire to learn), smother the desire to innovate or take risks. Rewards also tend to encourage conformity and promote subservient behaviours. How can we be sure that Open Badges are not used as glorified, up-to-date gold stars? How can we help those implementing and issuing badges to take into consideration this issue in their design and practice?

Research topics

Relevant badge system design research materials and summaries.

  • Steering User Behavior with Badges
    by Professor Jon Kleinberg, Cornell University
    " the use of badges and their effects on the widely used Stack Overflow question-answering site"
    "...we develop a model for user behavior in the presence of badges on a site"


Creative Commons considerations around badges materials and reuse.

Accessibility topics


Questions about how to translate real-world expertise, experiences, into a coherent set of badges and pathways (e.g., how do i translate the things an expert knows and does into a coherent set of badges and pathways that a learner can follow on the road to expertise?)

Badge System Design Consultants

As badges become valuable social capital, we're seeing increasing numbers of badge system designers. This is an unedited list of self-identified badge system designers and inclusion in this list does not indicate endorsement by Mozilla.

One request: if you choose to list here, please indicate your areas of focus. This request is rooted in the idea that badges are highly contextual objects and some system designs are more likely to be domain-relevant to people searching for help.

  • Lucas Blair PhD | | Specialization: Badge-based curriculum design/Badging in games and simulations
  • Toni D. | | Specialization: Badge-based curriculum design/Badging in learn languages with the C.E.F.R.

Catalog of Issuers and Badge Systems

A database of badge issuers would be useful to the evolving ecosystem. The list below has been seeded from the list at Add badge systems that you know of to the list below. See the list of common attributes to maintain consistency. Some issuers will have just one badge system (a collection of badges that work together) and some will have many.

Some attribute values are preceded by tilde '~' to indicate that the value is a best guess based on available information. The badge issuers or others closely involved with the badge system should verify the content and update with a non-tilde value.

List of Badge Issuers