Designing Toggles for Mobile Devices

A toggle is a control that lets people choose between a pair of opposing states, like on and off. It uses a different appearance to indicate each state, which is useful because it’s easy for users to understand which state they’re in at a glance—no text on the button is needed. However, toggles have some downsides that need to be considered in the design process, especially when used on mobile devices.

In general, toggle switches should be used when it’s clear that users will want to update a specific setting or preference and that doing so will result in immediate effects. They’re often used to change the state of system functionality, such as airplane mode or notifications. They can also be used in other contexts, such as displaying and hiding navigation elements or switching between different content views. In most cases, a toggle is better than a checkbox or radio button for these types of tasks because it doesn’t require a submit button to apply the new state.

The most important consideration when using toggles is that they must be cognitively OK—meaning that users should understand the current state of the switch without any extra text or other cues. This is especially important for mobile interfaces, where users may be limited in their ability to see visual details on the screen.

Toggles are commonly designed to convey their state with color: the active toggle is portrayed as more pronounced or saturated, while the inactive toggle is a lighter shade. However, our research shows that this approach can cause confusion, particularly for mobile users. This is because some colors are readable more easily than others, and it’s hard to tell the difference between a light and dark toggle when the font size is too small.

Another issue with using toggles is that they can be confusing for users with color blindness. If the toggles’ labels use green as their on/off color, for example, it’s difficult for people with red/green color blindness to distinguish them. The best way to avoid this is by making sure that toggles have a standard visual appearance and that their positions are obvious in the context of the interface.

In addition, toggles should be marked up with the aria-pressed attribute to provide screen readers and other assistive technologies with meaningful information about their states. This will help users with disabilities understand which states the controls are in and what will happen when they click on them. This will ensure that users of these devices can interact with toggles in the same way as everyone else, which will make their use more usable and accessible.

Toggle switches are a powerful user-interface element when used properly. They help users update preferences, settings, and other types of information with minimal effort, and they can deliver immediate results. However, they can be dangerous when used poorly because they are not as usable and accessible as other types of buttons. It’s important to consider the context when using them and make sure that they are clearly labeled, have a standard visual appearance, and provide immediate results.