Using Toggle Controls in Web Apps

A toggle is a kind of switch that can either be on or off. It’s often used to control things like lights and appliances. Toggle is also a verb that means to turn something on or off. For example, if you are watching TV and want to change the channel, you might have to toggle the remote between channels. The word toggle can also refer to a software or hardware function that changes between different states. The Caps Lock and Num Lock keys are toggles that turn on and off certain functions of a keyboard.

In software development, toggles can be used to implement features that are experimental or not ready for production. Experiment Toggles are often used to perform A/B testing. The Toggle Router will consistently send a given user down one code path or the other based on their cohort. This allows us to analyze aggregate behavior across groups of users and make data driven optimizations based on that analysis.

Using toggles is an excellent choice when there are two opposing options that the user needs to select between. However, they should only be used when the difference in outcome between the two options is clear. If the difference is not clear to the user then a more appropriate option would be a radio button or checkbox.

Another issue with toggles is that they can be confusing for users, especially if the current state is not clearly identified. Designers can help mitigate this by providing direct labels and using standard visual design conventions. Additionally, designers should avoid relying on color alone to communicate an active state, as this was found to be unreliable. It’s best to use a combination of approaches that convey an active state, including text and iconography.

Embossing, or highlighting the active state, was also found to be unreliable. The most reliable way to signal the active state of a toggle was using a simple text label. In addition, font size or weight was also proven to be a more effective method. A bold-thin combination was the most effective at communicating an active state for a toggle, though it is important to be consistent throughout the interface.

As the use of toggles continues to increase in web apps, designers should take care to ensure that their toggles are accessible to all users. It’s important to remember that not all users will be able to see the active state of a toggle if they are using a screen reader or other assistive technology. Additionally, the toggle must be easily activated by those with motor disabilities or physical limitations.

It is also important to consider how the toggle will be managed when it’s deployed. It’s easy to fall into the trap of hardcoding toggle configuration into a release, which can have significant impacts on validation cycles and the speed at which changes can be re-deployed for retesting. To address these issues many organizations choose to move toggle configuration into some type of centralized store, often an existing application DB. This can be accompanied by the creation of some form of admin UI that provides system operators, testers and product managers with the ability to view and modify toggle configuration at runtime.