What Is a Toggle?

Toggle is a word that means to switch back and forth between two settings, like the way you toggle between screens as you video chat with two friends at once. It’s also used as a metaphor for switching between different aspects of a website or software program.

The term is particularly popular in software because it’s used to describe any button that has only two outcomes — on or off. It’s found in virtually every aspect of computing where there are options or preferences lists. The key difference between a toggle and a checkbox or radio button is that a toggle enforces a mutually exclusive state — one or the other.

But even though toggles do that, it’s not enough to make them cognitively OK for users! For starters, they’re not accessible. And they’re incredibly confusing for users who have color vision deficiency. Colors like green (on) and red (off) aren’t helpful to these users, who have to rely on other cues to interpret the current state.

In terms of usability, toggles are hard to use. They’re usually placed in the top or bottom corners of a page, and users must guess which side to press. And if the toggle isn’t labelled, it’s even harder to know what state it’s in!

The bottom line is that toggles suck for most users. And despite the fact that they can be made to be more accessible, they’re not worth it. There are plenty of other alternative usability methods that provide more benefit for users and are just as easy to understand. For example, checkboxes and radio buttons don’t have the same cognitive issues as toggles, and they’re also a lot more visually appealing.