Using the Toggle Design Pattern

A toggle is a switch that can only be in one of two states, on or off. It is used to control the functionality of a feature and allows us to control how it is accessed by users.

Toggles are very effective at separating page content into different categories that allow visitors to focus on only the information they need. They also help to minimize the amount of scrolling that visitors need to do. When used properly the toggle design pattern is very easy to understand and can be used with great impact.

As with all features it’s important to think carefully about how we use the Toggle Design Pattern. It is important to consider the UI of the toggle and how we can best provide clear visual indications of the state of the toggle. In particular it is essential to make sure that we are using high contrast colors in order to clearly signal the state of a toggle. It’s also important to take into account any societal or cultural implications that the choice of color may have on the user base.

In addition to the obvious UI impacts there are some more subtle considerations when working with the Toggle Design Pattern. For example it’s important to avoid using a toggle with a default checked value and instead to provide an onChange handler which can be used to manage the toggle’s checked state. This will prevent the toggle from switching to its default state without user intervention which could potentially lead to a negative experience for users.

It is also important to use appropriate label text for a toggle so that it is clear what action the user needs to perform in order to change the toggle’s state. For example it would be unwise to use the word “Off” in an on/off toggle since this could have a confusing meaning for users who may not be familiar with the term. It is also important to evaluate the sensitivity of the toggle’s color choice in light of societal and cultural considerations as well as potential user base overlap between groups.

If a toggle is going to be used for managing feature flags it is imperative that it support runtime configuration. Otherwise a developer will need to restart their test environment in order to flip the state of the toggle which can have a significant impact on the overall cycle time of the validation process and ultimately negatively impact the all important feedback loop provided by CI/CD. For this reason it is generally preferable to work with a toggle design pattern which supports dynamic in-memory re-configuration rather than a hardcoded approach such as using a preprocessor’s #ifdef feature. However, if this isn’t possible and we are only using the toggle for more minor purposes such as Canary Releases or Champagne Brunches then it might be acceptable to work with an approach which only supports static configuration in source code. This is still significantly better than the alternative of having to re-deploy an artifact in order to change a toggle’s state.