Toggle – Designing a Toggle-Friendly User Interface

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A toggle is a hardware or software switch that alternately turns one function ON and OFF by pressing or tapping it once. Toggle switches are commonly seen on keyboards in the Caps Lock and Num Lock keys, as well as in options menus of most applications. On mobile platforms, toggles are often preferred to radio buttons because they require less screen space and can take either ON or OFF states, rather than choosing between two options.

When designing a user interface using toggles, it is important to consider whether users will understand the current state of the switch based on its proximity or label alone. A toggle that has a clear “ON” or “OFF” label, but does not look like a real ON/OFF switch may be confusing to the user. For this reason, it is generally preferable to use a toggle when the intended state of the switch will be obvious to the user for other reasons (e.g., because it has a “no cookies” label or because it is on the right side of the screen).

Another issue with toggles is that they can cause user confusion when used in situations where the intended behavior is not immediately apparent from other elements of the interface. For instance, it is best to avoid presenting toggles in forms where other types of form fields are present and the user must click or tap a Save or Confirm button for changes to take effect. If an immediate result is not achievable due to system delays, it may be better to replace the toggle with a checkbox instead.

Savvy teams treat the toggle configurations in their codebase as inventory that comes with a carrying cost, and are proactive about removing toggles that are no longer needed. Some teams have a rule of always adding a toggle removal task to the team’s backlog whenever a new Release Toggle is first introduced, while others put “expiration dates” on their toggles and set up test cases that fail (or even refuse to start an application!) if a toggle has not been removed by a certain date.

It is also a good practice to thoroughly test the toggle configuration that will be in production, with any toggles you intend to release flipped ON, and with the fallback configuration (all toggles flipped OFF). Many teams go as far as creating time bombs that will fail a test if a toggle has not been removed from the application before a specified expiration date. This helps to prevent surprise regressions in future releases and is an excellent way to ensure that a team’s feature toggles are tested appropriately.