What Is a Toggle?

A toggle is a switch that can be either on or off. A toggle is often used on computers to switch between different programs. You can also use a toggle to control the brightness of your screen.

The word is derived from the phrase toggle back and forth, which means to move or change quickly between two positions. This can be done by pressing and holding a button, or by using a slider bar or mouse wheel. The word can also be used as a verb to describe changing between two settings. For example, if you’re video chatting with two friends at once, you might toggle between them as you talk to each one.

Toggle switches are widely used in computer interfaces to allow users to update their preferences and settings. They can be found in almost every type of software when there is an options menu, as well as on keyboards, where the Caps Lock and Num Lock keys are toggles that let you change between two functions.

When used correctly, toggles can be a great user-interface tool because they give clear and immediate results. However, they can also cause confusion if they are not used appropriately. The key is to pick the right visual clues for the toggle to help users make sense of its current state. This is easier said than done, though. Unlike checkboxes and radio buttons, which have clearly defined states and don’t rely on color to communicate meaning, toggles must rely solely on other cues such as size, position, and iconography to convey what their current state is.

Choosing the wrong visual cues can have disastrous effects. For example, if a toggle has a very large difference in font size between the active and inactive states, it will likely be misinterpreted as not working. This is because users’ eyes are naturally drawn to the larger difference between the states, which confuses their intuition about what the toggle’s current state is. This can lead to users accidentally changing settings, which could have a significant impact on the system or application they’re using.

In contrast, toggles with a much smaller difference in font size performed the best, despite the fact that they still have an obvious contrast between the two states. The smaller differences in font size resulted in a lower error rate and higher confidence scores, which is consistent with WCAG guidelines that recommend not relying solely on colors to convey meaning.

Toggles are a useful tool for letting users manage the state of content or views, but they should be used sparingly. When you do, make sure the toggle clearly indicates its current state with a direct label, uses standard visual design, and updates the background of its icon to reflect its current state. Otherwise, other UI elements like checkboxes and radio buttons are more appropriate. Use toggles only when it’s necessary to let users choose between two opposing states and when it is not possible to display the default value of the setting.