Gamification: A guide for designers to a misunderstood concept

How to build a gamification system the right way and how Fitbit, Waze, and Duolingo use it to enhance their products.

When I was young, I remember my mother telling me I can go play only after I finish my homework. Which was goddam frustrating at the time. But thinking about this, I realise that most of the things I was doing back then were automatically classified into 2 groups:

  • a fun group — when I was allowed to play games or eat chocolate
  • a serious group— when I had to go to school or eat greens (the horror!)

Now, when I’m all grown up, I think about the things we do online and, ironically, it’s a similar situation. We send emails, buy stuff or book tickets and take these very seriously. But we also have fun wasting time on Instagram or watching videos of a hydraulic press crushing gummy bears on Youtube because… ? Anyway.

Spoiler: they get mashed

Still, why are these activities different? What makes some of them fun and some not? And how can we make them even more fun?

But what is fun?

Cambridge Dictionary says it’s “behaviour or activity that is enjoyable or entertaining”. The interesting part, though, is that the opposite of fun listed in the dictionary is not “serious” but “boring”.

So, if we think about the role of design, it means that most of the times we intentionally build products that are not meant to be fun to use, we’re not designing towards a serious experience for users, we’re actually designing towards a boring one. And true, it might be a usable and efficient experience, but that doesn’t make it less boring.

We turned to games

Fortunately, we do have something that can help with this and that’s the concept of gamification.

At some point, we realised that games are the most fun things we have, so it made sense to borrow from them. And this is what gamification actually is.

Gamification = The process of adding elements from games to non-game products or services.

Author: David Teodorescu

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