Learn about star ratings
What is a star rating system?
A star rating – or a star classification – is a popular rating scale used by both professional reviewers and members of the public to leave feedback regarding the quality of products, services, and experiences. The greater the number of people leaving feedback, the more reliable a star rating is likely to be as an indicator of (perceived) quality - i.e. of popularity.
Different ratings systems vary in the maximum number of stars that can be awarded. A rating of between one and five stars is probably the most commonly employed system. However, one-to-three and one-to-ten star designs are frequently also seen. No matter the total number of stars possible, it is more or less universally accepted that a high number of stars is a superior rating to a lower number.
Website rating systems: which is best for your design?
Reviews and ratings don’t always have to be a star-based system: there are a host of other options to choose from.
Many websites use a points system instead of stars, using numerical scales out of five (or ten) to determine quality. IGN.com is one popular site that uses points, reviewing films, TV, and video games on a scale of one to ten. Points-based rating systems rely on the convention of rating things on a scale of 10 and are commonly used in entertainment industustries. The downside of these kinds of ratings is that they’re typically less visual.
Other websites or apps evaluate quality with old-school letter grades, rating from A to F depending on something’s quality. The A.V. Club uses a grades-based system for evaluating media, giving As and Bs to things they liked and Ds and Fs to things they don’t. Similar to points-based rating systems, rating on letter grades tends to be a bit less visual than a star rating.
But of course, the most popular and ubiquitous system is probably the star rating, which pairs the qualitative measure of a points system with the easy to parse, tangible object of a star as a marker for quality.
You’ll most likely have come across the star rating system before on e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and eBay, and in the context of public review sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor, making the star rating a good fit for customer-facing rating systems or for design that is built to move people to take an action (such as to make a purchase).
Mobile application ratings system
But star ratings are equally popular within the world of mobile app development, being employed as a means for customers to provide feedback everywhere from the iOS App Store to Uber and Skype.
Although the star rating system has only really become ubiquitous in the digital age, it nonetheless has a history of being used as a method of indicating and appraising perceived quality stretching back to at least the 19th century.
Initially, though, the star rating system was used primarily in travel guides as a way of indicating how worthy of visit the author deemed a particular work of art or historical site to be. The system was later adopted by book and movie reviewers, before becoming commonplace as a way of ranking the luxuriousness of hotels.
Today user feedback has not only been democratized to involve the opinions of all citizens, but much of our lives - personal and professional - now actually revolve around the acquisition of positive feedback in one form or another. In areas of business and technology, this is often given in the form of a star rating.
Why use star rating systems?
With user ratings having acquired such an important position in contemporary society, clearly any website or app that doesn’t offer users the opportunity to leave feedback regarding their experiences may be seen as suspect.
From the point of view of developers and designers, however, there are two other very important reasons why the inclusion of a star rating system within projects can be advantageous.
Firstly, star ratings can be massively beneficial in improving user experience by helping users differentiate between otherwise apparently very similar products and services. It’s a tacit social component, a way for users to communicate to other users (in aggregate) what they think of a product or service provided on the app.
Secondly, a star rating UI is a great way of increasing user engagement. A rating is one more thing to click on, another means to provide data to your app or website -- the more you encourage points of interaction for your user, the more likely they are to stay with your product.
You could even, for example, pair star ratings with user-generated reviews, which introduces further engagement and gets them to build a sense of community within your app.