Open Badges – Visual Design and Semantic Minefields

With all the great work going on developing an Open Badges Infrastructure, at Learnbase we thought we’d take a minute to play around with what a badge might actually look like. Given the metadata implicit within a badge, we kept the visual simple – merely the issuing organization, the ‘course’ title and an at-a-glance image. I’m British and the designer that I’m throwing ideas around with, Meghan Draper, is Canadian and we quickly realized that the term ‘badge’ covers different semantic ranges in our respective dialects. In North American, ‘badge’ seems to conjure scouting, military, outdoorsy images – the kind of thing more often sown on to a uniform. Does Mozilla’s metaphor for the badge organizer as backpack mean you store them inside or sow them on the outside? (By extension, the latter?). Anyway – in British (or as Microsoft etc call it, ‘International’) English, a badge covers the whole semantic range rather imprecisely – everything from a scout badge to a button to a pin. Compare the first pages of two searches on Bing for ‘badges UK’ and ‘badges US’. They give us a nice little visual representation of the respective semantic fields. No prizes for guessing which is which…


So the first open badges we mocked up with were  based somewhere right around  the middle of the UK badge semantic field…aka the US button:

But something didn’t feel right – as I am sure you you can see. The whole point of a button is that it is cheap and fun – something for a political slogan, a band, a smiley face. But not something with a sense of gravity, import, award and reward. Not something to be treasured … no matter how much metadata is attached!

Then I started thinking of a little box of badges that I still have from high school – amongst them my ‘Prefect Badge’. This badge in N.American dialect would be called a pin, i.e. metal and enamel.

METAL AND ENAMEL! So shiny and gorgeous that they almost had an edible quality, something I was proud of  in spite of my aloof young proto-hipster self, and that I treasured cos of how they looked as much as what they signified.

Anyway, Meghan got it right away and shot back an email with these attached…


We also mocked up what these could soon look like in Linked In and Google+


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