This morning, as I fed my ballot into the machine, I received this sticker. Now, sure, it’s a sticker. But it’s also something else … a badge.
What does that mean to those who saw it on my lapel?
Well, it could mean, “Look who thinks she’s a hot shot with her ‘I voted’ sticker. She must want me to know how awesome she thinks she is.” In other words, the sticker badge represents pride.
Or it could mean, “Oh, heck! I see that sticker, and now I’m spurred to run out and vote myself!” In this case, the fact that I’ve earned the sticker badge motivates others to do the same.
Or it could mean, “Someone stuck this on my lapel, but I have no emotional or mental connection to it.” In other words, I’m not invested in it, and it doesn’t necessarily represent anything.
You can assume that I got this because of the election, but you don’t have the specifics, and the message is unclear. And here’s where my “I Voted” sticker diverges from good digital badge design.
With better badge design, you would know why I earned that badge, not just that I got a badge called, “I voted.”
In better badge design, you could click on the digital badge and see the criteria — the tasks or behaviors I had to demonstrate in order to earn the badge. For example, perhaps I had to turn in a complete ballot and/or successfully show a photo ID and/or color in the ovals completely and/or feed it into the ballot machine and/or watch the machine’s counter go up by one.
Ideally, there would be evidence as well, perhaps a video showing me turning in my ballot. (In this case, with cell phones banned by state law in the room, and with privacy integral to voting, we’d perhaps have to rely on the badge issuer’s observation of my action. If they gave the badge, we would assume that the criteria was achieved in exchange.)
So as we all continue to refine how we think about badges, it’s important that we keep reminding ourselves that simply giving out a sticker (or a badge, or a sticker with a badge on it) is a first step. But for badging to be a game-changer, and not just a trendy word for relabeling existing practice, we need to challenge those who issue badges to tell us more. Specificity matters.