Integrating Gamification into a User Journey

6 min readJun 27, 2018


We spend countless hours playing games on our devices: endlessly scrolling, tapping, swiping, popping! But what is it that motivates an individual to keep on playing these games. These games fulfil no objective in real life. Well, of course, there are “objectives” such as killing a dragon, saving the princess, rescuing the President, facing the apocalypse, or simply aligning candies together! But compare these objectives with an application with great utility, something that will save you time and money. Chances are that a person might not download this useful app but has been spending all his time playing games that have no true purpose. So, just because your product is useful and has excellent functionality, does not mean people will want to use it. It has to engage with the human brain.

Since games have spent decades learning how to ace motivation and engagement, we are now learning from games, and that is why we call it Gamification. Gamification is the ability to derive all the fun and addictive elements found in games and integrate them into non-gaming environments, typically, digital products.

Designers often make use of elements of gamification to create efficient digital products and sustain a high level of user engagement. Each gamification element intends to fulfil certain goals and has a diverse impact on its users. In this article, we’ll define the fundamental nature of a user journey and find out how adding gamification elements will enhance the user experience.

What is a User Journey?

When an individual uses a product/service, there are several ways in which the person might interact with the product. To make a UX design that works, designers have to consider the key interactions taking place. One person might open a banking website to make a transaction while the other may be there to just check his account balance. Now both of these are essential user journeys.

Designers have perceived that experience and user interactions progressively evolve as people grow their skills in using a product. Such characteristics make it similar to a journey which players undergo in games. A game has certain levels and after crossing each level, the game gets tougher but one does not abandon the game. The person has, in the meantime, acquired enough skills to be able to go on playing.

From a motivation perspective, a user’s interaction and journey with a product are evolving continuously. The reason why a person uses a particular product on Day 1 often varies from the reason why the same person is using this product on Day 100 — the goal the user is trying to accomplish is dissimilar, and even the features the user sees is not alike.

Similarly, digital products must be designed keeping in mind the pace of learning of a user. A product which has a simple system of interactions often attracts users with its convenience. However, if there are no changes at all for a long time, it may get boring. In case a product has an enormous amount of features at the very beginning, they may just get lost within it. To avoid such problems, designers need to think of UX as a user journey, guiding them step-by-step to the point of achievement.

Stages of a User Journey

When a user starts interacting with a product, it is like playing a new game. You start off having little or no knowledge as to how to play the game. You are guided through steps and tutorials. You start playing, develop interest and become a pro! Designers plan different stages which a player (user) will gradually go through. Let’s look at the common stages of a user journey.

Onboarding Stage

The onboarding stage is one of the most crucial stages in a user journey; the one that decides the fate of the product. The user is given an introduction of the product and is made familiar with its peculiarities. Designers use this opportunity to generate interest among users at this stage. The motive is to educate them and make them feel comfortable using the product.

Designers generally develop coach marks and introductory walkthrough to get users oriented with unfamiliar features and controls.

Coach Mark: Coach Mark is a transparent overlay of UI hints in the form of a tutorial shown at the launch of an app. Presenting tips one-by-one makes it a lot easier for users to understand and learn them.

Introductory Walkthrough: An introductory walkthrough highlights the key utilities of the product. Duolingo does not explain how the app works. Instead, encourages its users to take the plunge and do a quick test in the selected language since people learn best by doing.

Another task designers need to accomplish at the stage of onboarding is ‘user motivation’. The product should be presented in such a way that people are motivated to keep using it or at least try it. That’s why onboarding tutorials need to contain short but clear messages describing the possibilities of the product, helping users to understand its functionalities.

Scaffolding Stage

Once users are successfully onboard, they are taken to the next stage of interactions — the scaffolding stage. Users are on their own to gradually discover the features of the product. The features are disclosed progressively as the users gain more experience interacting with the product. The more they interact with the product, the more tools (features) they discover.

Throughout the scaffolding phase, it is of great importance to incorporate the user’s creativity and strategic thinking into the process.

People want to constantly track their progress and generate feedback to feel like they are getting somewhere and moving up the ranks.

Duolingo makes use of leader-boards to notify the users that they have indeed set out to take the right path and are a part of something bigger than them.

Progress Stage

People like to be constantly reminded of the progress that they’re making. They don’t want to be stuck in one place; they want to keep moving forward. Providing feedback from time to time on the outcome of a certain user journey will keep them motivated to keep going. In games, you have badges, leader-boards, difficulty levels, but how does one infuse these in a non-gaming digital product? LinkedIn notifies its users when a certain number of people have viewed their profile. An educational app can illustrate the progress made by its users from time to time.

Within each lesson of each level of the learning experience, Duolingo makes suitable use of progress Heads-Up Displays (HUDs). These facilitate a continuous feedback channel for users. As a result, each student is up to speed with his own progress at all times.

Endgame Stage

Designers typically tend to stop at the scaffolding and progress stages, fusing them in an incessant loop, where users persistently learn and receive feedback. However, sooner or later, people get fed up owing to typical human nature, and quit the product. At this point, proficient users are recognised as experts or veterans and in an effort to retain them and attain longevity, given some privileges for loyalty.

This is also the phase where users have done everything there is to do, at least once, and are left to figure out why they should stick around and continue to use the product (especially when there are newer, more stimulating substitutes in the market).

People like to be valued and they often give it right back. It’s no secret that loyal customers are the best promoters for a product. New users eagerly tag along satisfied users’ testimonials.

All in all, we are allowed to conclude that if taken the right approach, keeping in mind the nature of the target audience and overall business goals, gamification is an effective method for UX enhancements and in revolutionising the way people interact with products.




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