Qualitative measures of capacity (instead of Quantitative) to provide useful information, while avoiding accounting and the degradation of intrinsic motivation -- Badges

Ethnographic research on how humans “vest” and display badges IRL:

In all seriousness, this is how I actually imagined the UI for badges.

A panel where they are all displayed (with vertical scroll on y overflow), where you could have a menu to filter the displayed badges (cred @joshafairhead) – and by clicking/hovering on a given badge, you could see more information.

In some cases, these badges would probably have text on them to communicate certain things – but that is a visual design consideration.

If we were creative enough about our glyphs, we could potentially do them without words and create a visual language, increasing access to this “language of badges” and the spectrum of people who could understand them.

^In that case, the roadbump would be the design needs for creating new badges. But if anyone could visually/graphically create their own badges, it could be a cool form of self expression, and the most useful/relevant/communicative badges would probably rise to the top.

So someone could create a “supportive friend” badge that looks like this:

And another person gifting a “supportive friend” badge would potentially say, that one is kinda shit, I’m gonna make my own:

And then others could decide which badge for “supportive friend” they want to use.

1 Like

This suggestion is gold but super difficult. @Maija possibly has some thoughts around the topic but I’m way over my head here in design world. Great suggestion none the less!

Moving on this feels like the way it should be… eventually. Creating a visual language as suggested above would be a better starting point but then having the option to move on from this default “glyph language” would be needed to remain non-prescriptive. However this could quickly become a “tower of bable” in badges due to emergence. I guess having a default set thats well designed and speaks a language of archetypes is probably a good start - followed with an optional badge “market” that incorporates self-population and curation mechanics into the mix.

Great visual references by the way - they really convey your point!

EDIT: Discussing this post and thoughts above with @Maija I have a few addendums probably worth adding… Default badge designs could possibly be generative and should be based on a design framework that imbues them with meaning. I reckon the feedback mechanism should probably be circular - proposing alternatives to the default badge (or replacing the default) can help train the framework while proposals to change the framework are an interesting second order that might run system wide… that would probably be more for the meaning side of things rather than aesthetics. This is still a fuzzy thought so feel free to bounce with me…

Remember Gowalla? Try googling it, their badges were well designed and triggered collectable mindset which drove adoption.

1 Like

This is a great reference! Pasting some pics for easy visualisation :wink:


@markop that Gowalla example is on point!

another example of qualitative measures of capacity are miner helmet stickers:

according to Saftycal:

Hard hat stickers can also help miners by:
- Motivating them with safety slogans and bold messages printed on hard hat stickers
- Adding visibility to emergency response teams with retroreflective stickers
- Showing patriotism with American Flag hard hat stickers
- Keeping emergency information accessible for first responders
- Recognizing miners that are CPR certified and trained
- Identifying visitors and/or work status

i think ontologies that are defined top-down (like universal glyphs or even defined underlying attributes the glyphs represent) maintain legibility at the cost of richness.

what’s neat about the miner stickers IMO is how they blend explicit functional meanings (credentials, accomplishments) with innuendos (how veteran you are, what mines you’ve worked in) and completely ambiguous/illegible signals (taste, values).

the stickers are designed and distributed with explicit meanings baked-in by a variety of sources (mines, manufactures, consultants, etc) with no centralized control point, and no control over the stickers’ emergent memetic significance.

i think legibility and richness are antagonistic, so barring complete control over qualitative semiotics, one method might be to allow entities (individuals, organizations, etc) or a subset of those entities to produce badges/stickers knowing the symbol/representation system will contain redundancy, interpretive ambiguity, and machine-illegibility. maybe those qualities are more features than bugs.

but you also don’t want total radical anarchy where everyone is creating qualitative representations, otherwise you get the sort of meaning dilution happening rn in, for example, fashion (as the barriers to entry on creation drop, the ratio of leaders-to-followers starts to shift, which hamstrings our collective ability to coordinate cultivation of intersubjective semiotics).


Thanks for sharing the miner sticker references @DesignedInAJ haven’t heard of this before, but it is a spot-on example of badges “in the wild”.

I and @joshafairhead discussed exactly the above aspect the other day.

I think the most important aspect of avoiding anarchy and pure noise would be the design of the UX of the actual making of the badge, its release, and the distribution process. (I could elaborate on that, but unfortunately don’t have time today, would be fun to do a more sync brainstorming session).

In reference to this & the richness:

Some beneficial ideas would be to streamlining the design patterns and tap into universal ones to help people translate their ideas into “language of badges” using recognized patterns, but also keep the essential noise & uniqueness.

That could be achieved in various ways, one example could be training an AI model on all kinds of “badges”, from logos to miner stickers, to real pins.
And generating badges from sketches, something ala this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCXkvwLxBrA (Posted so conveniently today :smiley: )

Or generating “design patterns” based on value/word set (have some visual examples of this & will add to this post if I dig it up).

But yes, more sync brainstorm could bring some more perspective.

1 Like

To be useful in our context(s), i think badges should be machine readable: Every badge should have its own unique ID, potentially represented in the badge by a QR code of sorts in the corner. Gowalla-like graphics could go wild around it :wink:

In order to avoid the “babel issue” we should probably be counting and display the usages of the badge, to allow the most widely used “supportive friend” badge to surface.

Similar badges could also join together into a curated list (eg: the “supportive friend badges” list), they could use the list ID as their own (no longer unique) identifier . In this way anyone could chose which supportive badge to show, which would be visually very different, yet have equivalent meaning.

Of course theres also the sacred geometry (Pythagoras/Archemeaies) rabbit hole to explore…

And there are some nice Glyphs in this epistemic framework too.

Streamlining the design patterns seems like the most interesting challenge to me. I’ve recently been down a numerological rabbit hole in regarding number as archetypal… I’d upload the doc but can’t - heres an link to where the attachment is shared in the hack-along telegram for now… excellent resource which is a distilled form of John Bennetts “Systemantics” (I believe).

This function is possibly best left to the badge address (rather than pollute the visual space) don’t you think? If such were built on DID then you have the Universal Resolver to discover the method anyway, but that might need extension for pictures… If the design patterns are human readable I’m sure computers could be trained read the glyphs without QR code or even an identifier. Mozilla also have a standard for such here

When I first saw this post, I thought of the emblems used to denote authority levels in established society such as the military, police, religion, formal clubs such as the many masonic variants or even the Boy Scouts.

It also reminded me of the “skills” scene in Napoleon Dynamite as he tries to find a partner: https://youtu.be/XsiiIa6bs9I

Society currently views badges/regalia as a sort of “instantaneous CV/resume” for past performance, but I think we need a parallel symbology to represent potential future value that any person or group to claim they could add if given the opportunity to learn and/or practice. This is very important to help onboard newbies who have no reputation.

Combined, I see these past+future symbols being used by members and potential members as a way to help select partners toward building real insurance for any good or service.

The consideration for ‘trust’ in partnerships include:

  1. Sharing Sources: Co-own physical inputs :deciduous_tree: before that production is needed to automatically own outputs :apple: without purchase.

  2. Swapping Skills: Trade future work before that production is needed to automatically own services without purchase.

I hope this makes sense - it is just my interpretation of what I see here through the lens of my own world view.


This is a very interesting road to go down - past performance being non-indicative of future success. If I’m interpreting you correctly it sounds like a suggestion to embrace the signalling of capacities (I can probably figure out) rather than affordances (I can already do it). I’m with you on the vibe that a lot of badges/regalia is just cheap signalling, but I like the flip you’ve introduced with making a cheap signal legible for what it is… potentiality, rather than actuality. Good reframe.

I’m a bit lost here however, could you further describe and clarify what you are getting at please?


Thanks for asking for clarification.

I’m trying to express a set of economic “optimizations” which allow us to pre-allocate products to the users who actually need them, and so avoid the usual need to buy those things.

When we Share Sources and Swap Skills before that production is needed, we own those future goods and services without purchase!

We can enjoy efficiency-in-scale by owning productive assets in groups, and specialization by exchanging work commitments early, to create a true insurance for any good or service and so regain control of the production we need.


@Patrick_T_Anderson Really interesting dimension with signaling intent and potential, I guess in some way that is what happens when in “real life” where we can use the full potential of our fine human skills.

I came to share this Breeding bugs in the latent space :

In refrence to
1 Like