Using Toggle Switches Wisely

Toggle is a type of user interface control that allows users to update preferences and settings by choosing between two opposing options. When used correctly, toggles provide a simple and intuitive way for users to change the state of a control, but they also present challenges that can impact user experience. To avoid these issues, design teams should use toggle switches sparingly and carefully consider the context in which they’re deployed. When using toggles, designers should make sure they provide clear and direct labels, use standard visual design, and deliver immediate results.

Toggles are often used when a user wants to toggle a specific feature on or off, or to alternate between two settings of a particular program or application. They’re found everywhere from the physical hardware of a computer or mobile phone to the UI of applications such as a web browser or video chat application. When used in software, toggles help users switch between different features without having to open and close the program.

The word toggle is derived from the Latin verb “to swap.” Toggle means to change back and forth between two settings or programs: For example, a user might toggle the case of the selected text by pressing Alt+C. Alternatively, it can be used to describe the process of changing one’s mind: I was torn between staying home or going out.

In web development, toggles can be an attractive alternative to checkboxes and radio buttons for simple settings and options. They’re simple, intuitive, and can help improve UX. But they have some issues that need to be considered when designing them, particularly regarding accessibility and cognitive impact.

Cognitively, toggles are a problem because they have a binary on/off state that can be difficult for users to understand. Using a single label for each side of the toggle forces them to decide which is the active state, rather than providing a separate description for each. Additionally, relying on color to convey toggle state can be confusing for users with low contrast vision and cultural sensitivities.

When constructing a toggle it’s important to choose a standard icon and style that clearly reflects the current state. This makes it easier for users to understand the functionality of the toggle and reduces the potential for confusion. In addition, it’s best to use a high-contrast color for the toggle’s state, as opposed to relying on a red/green color scheme that can be confusing for users with low vision or who have red/green color blindness.

In terms of the configuration for a toggle, some teams may use static files to hardcode the behavior, but this is risky as it can become time consuming and error-prone when working on large projects. For this reason many teams prefer to move toggle configuration into some type of centralized store, usually an existing application DB. In this case, the toggle can be re-configured at runtime, which provides flexibility and scalability for a range of different usage cases.