Toggle – How to Avoid Confusion With Toggle Toggle Switches

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A toggle is a switch that enforces a mutually exclusive state (either On or Off). This concept can be seen in hardware like the keyboard’s Caps Lock and Num Lock buttons, as well as software options menus. While there are some good reasons to use toggles, they should only be used when they can do what a user expects them to and aren’t used in place of a checkbox or radio button which will require the user to click a Save or Confirm button for their changes to take effect.

The main problem with toggles is that users are often confused about what the current state of the switch is. They might think it’s On when it’s actually Off, or they might believe that pressing it again will cause it to switch to the opposite state. These problems are exacerbated in complex designs where the user must compare states, or where there’s a delay between clicking the toggle and its actual change of state, such as a form field that requires a system delay before submitting.

There are a number of things designers can do to prevent this confusion. One approach is to use a primary visual cue to distinguish the active state of the toggle, such as color or a simple border. However, this approach is problematic because it’s not always possible to do so for all users, particularly those with color blindness or red/green colour vision deficiency. Embossing or highlighting the toggle has been suggested as an alternative, but these methods have proven to be unreliable at communicating the active state of the toggle, even when using a bold-thin combination font.

Another approach is to use an atomic unit of toggle configuration in source code comments with the #ifdef preprocessor feature. This technique is more robust than a toggle label but it does still require that the team be prepared to follow a pattern of deploying and testing with both the existing and future toggle configurations side by side. For this reason it’s best to only use this approach for toggle configurations that will be fixed in a release and not used for experimentation or for features which will be abandoned in the future, such as an Ops Toggle.