How to Use Toggle Controls in a Cognitively Accessible Interface
A toggle is a piece of hardware or software that allows a user to shift back and forth between two modes. This mode change is often referred to as the “toggle state”. For example, your keyboard’s caps lock and num lock keys are toggles for their specific functions. Likewise, many options menus and application settings are toggles for the functionality they provide.
In software, toggles are the preferred control for changing system settings and preferences. They also tend to be the better choice for mobile devices because they require less screen space than radio buttons. Because of these advantages, it is important to use toggles sparingly. When you do, ensure that they are clearly labeled and use standard visual design. Moreover, be sure that users can see the current toggle state (ON or OFF) because this is critical for cognitively accessible interfaces.
While some designers may like the look of a toggle, they are not a good fit for every interaction or context. In addition to the cognitive issues mentioned above, toggles are not ideal for use on mobile, where they can take up valuable screen real estate. They are also not ideal for settings that require a clear “yes” or “no” answer, where a checkbox would be more appropriate. Finally, toggles can lead to confusion for users who are not aware that there is a default state (ON or OFF) and need to explicitly select the desired option.
For these reasons, it is advisable to use toggles only when the current state is the desired one or only when other interface elements cannot adequately convey the required information. When using them, make sure that they have a clear label, are positioned prominently and are visually consistent with the rest of your design. Finally, be sure that you are delivering immediate results, as opposed to forcing the user to click or tap a button for the new state to apply.
A great way to ensure that toggles are used correctly is to build them into a comprehensive feature flag management system. This will allow engineers and product managers to set the initial toggle state for each new release version and change that state only as needed, while still maintaining a centralized control. Furthermore, it will also enable developers to build a more user-friendly UI for managing these toggles. This is because it will be possible to display a list of available toggle states instead of the more confusing checkbox or radio buttons. This will further help users to understand the toggle state and how it affects their experience. This is particularly helpful for new users to the system. Ultimately, by using this approach you will avoid the cognitive problems associated with toggles and be able to deliver the best possible user experience.