What are some design considerations for digital badges?

West and Randall (2016) report that digital badges should:

  • be awarded through rigorous assessment procedures that carry weight and represent real achievement or learning;
  • have value outside of the learning environment and have signalling power to external audiences about the earner’s skill and knowledge;
  • do more than serve as checkmarks;
  • use rigorous assessment practices to authenticate what a learner knows against clear and measurable criteria.

Meeting these expectation takes planning and careful design. This page seeks to introduce to you key design principles for creating digital badges.

The Key Elements of Design


When designing a badge, consider how it can be targeted at the more rigorous learning processes that take sustained attention or effort. Heavyweight badges target higher order learning (e.g. critical thinking) that can be measured through assessment, upon a rubric of performance. The evidence underlying the badge serves to effectively demonstrates the earner’s capability, skill, interest, etc. The opposite of a heavyweight badge is a lightweight badge. This kind of badge is awarded with minimal or little investment for achieving the criteria. Assessment is simple and badges may be awarded automatically upon completion of a simple task. Examples might include badges for attendance at a one-off event or workshop, or posting to a discussion board.


If a “flat badge” is a single badge, often recognizing a granular or singular achievement, then a levelled badge is one that demonstrates a larger competency – earned to show development over time and reflects the achievement of a larger competency. A levelled or meta-badge may be earned through the collection of a pre-defined series of smaller, flatter badges. When designing a badge, consider how it might benefit from being part of wider network of badges that help learners develop along a pathway of progressive learning.

There are three badge pathways: stepping stones, collection, and constellation
Pathways by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

How do badges relate to one another? How can learners progress with their learning over time by earning flat badges that lead to the recognition of a broader competency? What is the most complex skill or competency your badge aims to recognize? How might that be broken down into different constituent parts?


The team at Open Badge Factory suggests that badges earned through completion of an application form (versus automatic issuing) are most effective. They require the applicant to be proactive and engaged in the process of earning a badge rather than a passive recipient. An application often requires applicants to submit evidence and/or reflect on their experiences, and thus can be a part of evidencing the earner’s achievement of established criteria.

Other Considerations

  • Badge Image: the crest itself is the outward facing image that represents what the badge is all about. Badge image design should be not only visually appealing but accurately reflective of what it represents. At Western, we are working to develop a template for a common look and feel to all Western-issued badges. If this is something you are interested in email badges@uwo.ca
  • Badge Name: The badge’s name is the second-most prominent aspect to external viewers. Select a name that is short but descriptive. For example, a Lunch and Learn Community Member badge is more effective than Workshop Participant
  • Expiry Date: Badge design platforms typically have an optional setting to set an expiry date for a badge. This setting is most applicable when your badge recognizes something that must or should expire so that performance can be reaffirmed. For example, a badge related to CPR Skills would expire when certification expires.

While the above sections have presented key elements of design, the following worksheet is a highly recommended resource for initial design work.

Download (PDF, 404KB)

References and Additional Resources

Gamrat, C., Bixler, B., & Raish, V. (2016). Instructional design considerations for digital badges. Digital Badges in Open Education. Routledge: New York.

Diaz, V., Finkelstein, J., Manning, S. (2015). Developing a Higher Education Badging Initiative.

West, R. & Randall, D. (2016) The case for rigor in open badges. Digital Badges in Open Education. Routledge: New York.

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