January 12, 2021

UX Gamification

Dmitry Bykov, Kathrine Olson, Nora Atrakchi

January 12, 2021

UX Gamification: 5 Tips to Increase User Engagement From Senior Designers

Do you have a Starbucks Card or fitness/meditation app on your phone and want to get that free latte or 30-day streak of training? These are great examples of gamification, and you’ve been influenced by them whether you noticed it or not. Here’s how you can successfully leverage it in product design. 


Gamification is about taking something that is not a game and applying game mechanics to increase user engagement, loyalty, and other essential metrics for your product success.


In this article, we will explain the fundamentals of gamification and share the thoughts of experienced Product Designers, Product Managers, and UX specialists about the concept of gamifying UX, best/worst practices, and get tips on how to successfully implement gamification in your product.


What is Gamification

First things first, this article is not about game design. The term “gamification” in the context of design stands for a technique of using game mechanics in a non-game environment, such as websites, mobile applications, and other web products. For example, if you want to encourage users to interact more with your app, add game features like leaderboards. Watching others’ progress stimulates people to work harder and more efficiently to achieve their goals faster. OpenText, a tech company operating with enterprises saw a 250% increase in business usage and adoption only by implementing a leaderboard. After a few weeks of beta testing, there still were over 60% of active participants.

Gamification is the addition of game elements to non-game context

The main driver of gamification success lies in-game mechanics that, at their core, are orchestrated to provide joyful UX. Game mechanics often include items such as points, badges, levels, challenges, leaderboards, and the possibility to level up to get more exclusive content.


We asked experienced product designers about effective gamification tactics and their ideas about its influence on modern design.

We felt extremely lucky talking with Dmitry Bykov, Kathrine Olson and Nora Atrakchi. Lots of useful Design thoughts in our new talks:

Dmitry Bykov, VP of Design at Yandex.Market

As a VP of Design at Yandex.Market I am trying to deliver best experiences for our users.

Technology Empowers Innovation

The more technologies surround human life, the more opportunities there are for its activation. Gamification will go beyond platforms to create a coherent experience. Cues in the physical world, voice-activated triggers, real tangible rewards and many more. Machine learning is everywhere. There will be more personalization in gamification next year — game mechanics adapting to different user needs, fine-tuning of monetary rewards and more sustainable engagement.

Go-to Apps in 2020

This year was overwhelming for me, so I didn't explore much. But, I really enjoy Navigator's smart cues that are always on time and encouraging micro-copy and tips. These tiny bits of gamification help me master my meetings and indeed increase the adoption of the app.

Think about the interaction with your product and how it should feel. Gamification is about behavioral change, and it helps users behave differently, like a coach or a trainer. It can be entertaining and fun like in school class, or it can be acute, energetic and empowering like boxing training, or it can be inspiring like working with a mentor who is supporting you on a personal journey.

Gamification is like a coach or a trainer

Everything will become clear once you define the feel — animation, visual style, micro-copy and what types of rewards to choose.

Gamification Design is Not a Game Design

A most common mistake is to think of gamification design as a game design. For many designers, especially those new to product design, the first step is to figure out what rewards you’ll give and what slick motion effect will give your interaction that unique vibe. These elements are only a small part of gamification. Gamification is defined as “the use of game mechanics to drive engagement in non-game business scenarios and to change behaviors in a target audience to achieve business outcomes.”


It is better to start by understanding what kind of behavior you want from your users and how changing it from what it is right now will affect your business. Start your design process by answering 3 questions: What business goals do we pursue? What are the goals of our users? What motivates them to move towards these goals? And then, you should decide which game mechanics you should implement.

Quote Icon
Another mistake is to underestimate people

Another mistake is to underestimate people. One might think that he could force people to buy more or to spend more time within the app. Even if you put aside the ethical side of this topic, it is not that simple. People have a strong sense of trust and justice.


Even if you are a master designing things based using cognitive biases, you can’t change any behavior without providing value and helping people achieve their goals. First, you should help users extract more value from the product, and then they will come back.

Static or Interactive? Interactive.

We communicate, live, reflect narratively. Interacting with digital products is akin to communicating with people, so the more dynamic story you have, the more engaged users are.

The Nike Run Club is not only one of Nike's customer engagement strategies, but a branding tool, as it advertises Nike's image to the sports community. It has a built-in upsell feature to promote relevant running products, integrating online shopping directly into the app.

Kathrine Olson, Product Designer at Activity Hero

I believe that good design is decentralized, democratic, and multi-disciplinary. I have over ten years of multidisciplinary design & branding experience. I’m passionate about working with international teams, both big and small. My experience across multiple industries provides a unique perspective on creative methods to pursue brand initiatives.

Gamification Has Really Matured

We are seeing game concepts used in almost every industry nowadays. Sectors that were previously very mundane benefit most from this simply because gamification is very effective in producing gratifying user-experiences. Platforms in education and workplace productivity are good examples of this shift, especially considering the transition to remote schooling and work due to COVID-19 this past year.


Social media has always been at the forefront of game concept utilization because of the nature of its industry. The more time people can spend on an app, the more valuable that company becomes. But because of this, there has been an influx of rhetoric regarding unhealthy habits influenced by social media. The next design wave for the social media industry is finding that balance between over-utilized gamification and healthier living.

Go-to Apps in 2020

Duolingo and Homer are fantastic apps because they have gamified learning language and reading. Any type of app that can teach you language or music really stimulates other parts of the brain, so I highly recommend these.


The wellness industry also has taken leaps forward by gamifying fitness and well being. Just like learning language or music, wellness apps arguably have defined a new movement towards healthy living. There are countless wellness apps out that offer a lot of benefits to their users, from meditation (Headspace) to fitness challenges (J&J Official 7 Minute Workout).

Advice for gamification adopters: Don't force it. If the nature of your project isn't fit for gamification, don't try to force it into that realm


Gamification Can Often Result in Frivolity

You can add badges or achievements to different levels or interactions to your product, but do these really enable the user to strive toward your end goal? Sometimes less is more, and when you offer too many achievement rewards, they lose their inherent value. It’s like giving every kid at the soccer tournament a participation trophy. Maybe that might help user engagement in the short term, but in the long term, your product is less appealing because the achievements don’t truly earmark a notable accomplishment. People can really tell the difference when it comes to these things.

Static or Interactive? Interactive!

We are always learning from interactivity. That's the goal for the industry, right? As a designer, you want to always want to be pushing towards the next frontier. To do so you need to keep learning, keep collecting data and keep iterating.

Nora Atrakchi, Product Designer at Volanté Systems

As a product designer at Volanté I work on expanding and maturing product experiences that are intuitive and accessible for all users. I design and lead the UI construction for complex projects with a broad scope and evolving objectives.

Gamification is Here to Stay, But It’s Not a Panacea

Designers using gamification that increase usage and engage their audience based on today’s lifestyle are heading in the right direction. For instance, nowadays we are spending less time with our friends and families, so products that are coming out with ways to motivate us to stay active and increase engagement are gaining significant momentum as they encourage us to connect with our loved ones.

Quote Icon
The key is to always understand your audiences’ needs and dislikes

The key is to always understand your audiences’ needs and dislikes - so products that are using gamification without setting a purpose or forcing the user to engage are actually less effective. An example of a trend being used less are status badges that force users to level up without a purpose - this quickly demotivates the user from engaging towards the next level.

Go-to Apps in 2020

There are so many products that are coming out with creative and fun ways to increase engagement and help their users achieve goals. Two of my favorite products that I’ve been using a lot lately are Headspace and the Workout app on my Apple Watch. The gamification we see in Headspace isn’t just about collecting points and achievements but they use playful storytelling elements to increase motivation while trying to unwind and relax. I even found that watching the characters in each session move on the screen helps when I feel tense.


When I am trying to stay active during a lockdown - I found that the Workout app was a great alternative to the motivation I got by only going to the gym. The competition factor and rewards created a playful experience that helped me leverage motivation for my fitness journey.

Know Your Audience

The best place to start is by understanding the user you are designing for! Once you know the user needs and what gets them to stay - you will be able to add gamification elements to enhance the experience and help the user achieve their goals in a fun and playful way. To my point in the previous question - the biggest mistake designers can make when implementing gamification is not spending enough time to research and understand their users.

Using gamification in UX without a purpose or something to tie it back to the product could actually have the opposite effect and demotivate the user


And the Final Question About Content: Static or Interactive? Why?

There is a time and place for both static and interactive content. I personally prefer interactive content as it engages the user and gives them something to look forward to the next time they land on your website/app. Social apps like Instagram are a great example of interactive content — they have proven to increase engagement and time spent on the app. New features added to stories like surveys and question polls are giving brands opportunities to connect with their audiences while encouraging them to return in order to check out what’s new.

The Art of Gamification

Throughout the product life cycle, there are opportunities to consider the role gamification mechanics can play in improving how engaging and rewarding products can be for users. And if the result is fostering a more loyal customer base who want to use your products and services, not just thoughtlessly leverage them for the promise of an occasional freebie until a competitor seduces them with an equivalently thoughtless but more timely ’reward,’ then everyone should be considering how they can benefit from effectively utilizing gamification.

Want to share your opinion on modern design and gamification practices suited for 2021? Send your ideas to with the subject Gamification Ideas’.

Written by Serafima Aleksandrova