Tips for Designing Toggle Switches

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The word toggle derives from the 18th century definition of “pin passed through the eye of a rope to hold it in place,” but today we use it to refer to any switch that’s either on or off. You might have a toggle that turns on your lights, or you might use one to change the temperature of your car’s AC. Even the brain continues to toggle back and forth between non-REM and REM sleep throughout the night. In fact, we’re so accustomed to toggles that we often don’t notice them, but it’s important to know when a toggle is the right choice for an interface.

If you need to present a simple on/off decision to users then a toggle switch is the best option because it enforces a mutually exclusive state (on or off). Toggles are also reversible, so users can easily undo their actions if they’re not happy with the results.

However, it’s important to be careful with using toggles in any context because they can still cause confusion if they’re not used appropriately. Here are some tips for designing toggle switches that are user-friendly and effective:

Labels are critical to the clarity of toggle switches. They should describe what the switch will do when it’s on and should be direct and concise. For example, the labels for a download toggle should state that the content will be downloaded when the switch is on and undownload when the switch is off. Avoid using vague language like “prompt”, “activate” or “enable”. Those words aren’t specific enough and can be misleading to users.

A good visual cue is essential for indicating which state a toggle is in, especially when the switch’s position changes between two states. For example, a toggle that looks like a slider or a switch with an active border is more likely to be understood as the active option. Embossing or other visual effects like color fill can be useful but aren’t always reliable, so they should be paired with a strong primary cue.

Managing toggle configuration can become tricky once the number of switches grows past a certain point. The simplest approach is to hardcode configuration in static files but this method has a lot of drawbacks including the need to roll out new releases in order to modify the toggle’s state, which slows down the feedback loop and makes it harder for testers and product managers to verify whether a toggle has been correctly configured.

Another common approach is to manage toggle configuration via an application DB. This is more robust but still requires the need to deploy code in order to modify the toggle’s state—which again slows down the feedback loop and may not be appropriate for feature flags. The ideal solution is a configurable runtime where toggles can be dynamically re-configured in memory at any time.