How Gamification Can Boosts Productivity - A Product Designers Perspective

My first introduction to gamification was when I was a research apprentice for one of my marketing lecturers conducting research in the area of gamification and its application to marketing. It's fair to say that back then, during my summer vacation, I didn't see this idea of gamification as groundbreaking by any means. However, nearly six years on and a few productivity apps later, I finally got my head around the appeal (both as a user and product designer) and sheer productivity power that gamification can bring.


According to an article on the subject over on Rindle, studies on gamification are relatively young so it is acknowledged that the field is still developing. One Wharton study provides an important starting block for us:

“It’s tempting to assume that gamification works, given the enormous long-running popularity of video games and gaming systems ever since Atari’s Pong was released in 1972. Who doesn’t love games? But the world’s experts on gamification will tell you that everything about this fledgling field — even the very definition (loosely, the application of game elements to non-game situations) — is still up for grabs. And what succeeds at one company won’t necessarily succeed at another.”

So despite the lack of empirical research on the intersection between gamification and productivity, in my personal life and work I've found several apps (and game 'elements' in different apps) that have been successful in boosting my focus and productivity.


In many games, streaks are a typical way to keep the user engaged with the app and create what's known as 'stickiness'. A couple of recent non-game examples  such as Snapchat and Streaks are just two examples that come to mind.

Similar to the Streaks app in some regards (attempting to help you build healthier habits), I've been using a fantastic app called Forest religiously for the last three weeks or so.

What's interesting about Forest is that it builds upon one of the simplest (and perhaps one of the oldest) examples of gamification in productivity - the Pomodoro Technique. I posted a video on the subject before I started using Forest if you're interested.

Rather than just being a nicely designed timer, the Forest 'game' features are stretched to all corners of the app:

  • Built in game currency that you earn after each Pomodoro
  • Unlock-able plant species, sounds and more
  • Friends lists that you could 'compete' with
  • Stats
Forest app UI design

Created by Seekrtech, this is just one of their apps that aim to "gamify your life" and incentivize more productive, healthy work and life habits.

Another more simple example of a streaks feature to boost productivity is the Makerlog App. Targeted at those hacking together new and exciting digital products,  your Makerlog streak can be maintained by logging a todo each day. Then at certain milestones, the Makerlog community gives you (and ultimately whatever you're working on) a shoutout.  

Makerlog homepage

Rewards and Unlock-ables

As touched upon with the Forest app above, another 'sticky' features in apps is being able to provide the user with a sense of progress (i.e getting to the next level).

However, an important point to make is how to do this in a way that does not detract from intrinsic motivation - that is doing something because it's personally rewarding not externally (likes etc.)?

For me this is a critical point that can 'make or break' an apps power to make you more or less productive.

In my opinion, if an app is more extrinsically motivating (Social Media Apps, Massively Multiplayer Online Video Games etc.) you will more likely get tired of it and drop-out due to negative user engagement and emotions (rage quitting, feelings of inferiority etc.).

However, two great examples of rewards done right are in Habitica and Headspace. These apps do a wonderful job of creating user rewards are unexpected. Rewards that you did not plan ahead for and you can’t justify your actions as being just for a prize.

As a result, they feel more like a celebration of your work, rather than payment, which aligns with my personal feeling towards apps that touch upon a users intrinsic motivation, rather than extrinsic.

Last words

So to sum up, as a self-proclaimed creative and enthusiast of productivity methods, I've found gamification features within apps to be extremely valuable in helping me stay more focused and productive in my daily work and personal life.

Despite it being a relatively young area of research and with only few applications of it in product design, I already see massive potential to push this further as the digital product space becomes increasingly competitive and stickiness increasingly difficult to achieve.

However, I think it's important not to forget that with great power comes great responsibility. As we can begin to see with the rise of influencer marketing and social media addiction, gamification techniques that touch upon core human motivators (extrinsic & intrinsic), need to be considered responsibly when designing products as our moral compass as designers should always be how we can enhance our users lives, not reduce them to rewards, likes, status etc.



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