Slider design UI patterns and examples

November 17, 2020
guide to slider design

Sliders can be a fun way to lighten the cognitive load of a page. But what makes a good slider? Find out in this post!

Sliders can be a welcome sight on many user interfaces out there. There’s something truly dynamic about them, even if they can’t beat a regular input field sometimes. Over the years, users have grown increasingly used to seeing sliders in a certain context, with their popularity soaring.

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But why are they popular? Surely, there’s more to it than a simple slider that users can drag with their finger? In this post, we’ll look at how and when to use UI slider design in your product for the best user experience possible, with some real-world examples. We’ve also thrown in some free kits with UI slider designs you can use in your prototyping tool.

What is a slider in UI design?

A slider is a UI component representing a tuning or volume control dial from an analog radio. It lets the user slide a knob, handle or bar from left to right and vice versa along a straight track. UI sliders are great for allowing users to explore many different options or values quickly and simultaneously. Above all, they’re practical components for users when quantities or values don’t need to be exact.

UI slider design helps users select a range of values or adjust settings like brightness or volume, among other uses. They take inspiration from the typical video playback control seen on the likes of Youtube, Vimeo or Netflix, though they come in a range of different styles.

what is slider design in ui

Sliders can be single or dual-point (double sliders), the latter of which we often see in price or budget range selectors. In terms of movement, they can be snappy or continuous, that is, they snap to different points along a track or they slide smoothly.

UI slider designs are all about utility and efficiency. Furthermore, in addition to being a practical component, these UI controls present a more visually-appealing and interactive way for a user to accomplish a goal in your website or app.

Interactivity helps keep users engaged, while the fact they can work with value ranges as opposed to entering fixed values into input fields means a reduction in cognitive load.

But steady on! UI slider designs aren’t always the correct solution when it comes to letting users select values. While they can have many benefits when we get them right, get them wrong and they can break your design.

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When to use sliders in the UI

The burning question is when to use UI sliders in your website prototyping tool. Firstly, let’s focus on the main goal of a UI slider design: to help the user complete a task as fast and as easily as possible, while boosting interactivity.

why UI design uses sliders

So which tasks work best with a slider? Sliders can, after all, serve many tasks, going far beyond the simple volume slider control. They can be a handy way of helping users narrow down their search without getting into the minor nitty-gritty details. For example, you may have come across slider controls that let you select a price range for mortgage down payments or the even dimensions of electro domestic items.

example of using sliders for search filtering

However, while UI sliders are versatile controls with many possible applications, pinning down the perfect use is easier said than done.

After all, UI sliders tend to be a controversial component in the design world. The opportunities for using them with tasks aren’t as abundant as when it comes to elements like toggle UIs, dropdowns and radio buttons. If you apply UI sliders in the wrong situation, they can destroy your digital product’s UX. Get them right though, and you can really enhance it.

sliders in UI design for visualizing options

Here’s when you might want to use UI slider designs:

  • When presenting many options
  • To let users to explore/limit lots of options quickly
  • When values don’t need to be precise
  • For explaining options
  • To zoom in or out
  • For volume control
  • To adjust brightness, contrast and saturation/transparency control
  • To rotate of a 3D object
  • When walking through a set of options

Finally, never use a UI slider control in a design where you could easily use an alternative UI design element. For example, imagine you have to make it possible for the user to select from a list of options. When possible, and if there’s space to do so, it’s always best practice to display all available options from the start.

Consider a delivery specification, in which the user has to choose between four options, ranging from standard to express. There’s some debate as to whether this is a good use of sliders, because most classic slider design doesn’t allow the user to see all the available options right away. A better alternative here would be a simple radio button design.

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Guidelines for UI slider design with examples

1. Give the user as much detail as you can

A UI slider can be a great way to help users explore new options or understand the option they want better. However, a slider by itself can leave users confused as to its function in the screen. You want users to understand the options on each extreme of the slider, as well as any currently selected option.

guidelines for slider design - using labels for context

It’s clear that a slider design, no matter how clever, can’t offer users too much detail without cluttering the interface. This is particularly true when it comes to mobile sliders. In this sense, designing a good slider can result similar to designing a good form. It’s about using the space to hold labels that add true value and add context to the slider itself.

2. Include directional arrows

It’s also advisable to have icons on the extreme sides of the slider, something to indicate to the user that the handle can be moved. The most common choices for this tend to be arrows or a plus and less sign.

UI slider design - directional arrows

Image source: Dribbble

Some sliders out there use the handle itself as an icon that suggests it can be moved. This doesn’t represent a problem, but be careful with the icon you place on the handle. It’s important that the icons imply the handle can be moved back and forth, as opposed to a single direction.

3. Test sliders on different screen sizes

Lastly, if you have a responsive website with a slider that you wish to scale down to mobile, make sure that you test your slider across as many different screen resolutions as possible before going live.

UI slider design - test on desktop and mobile

The amount of space each slider needs really depends on the context, but often, what is sufficient space on a desktop screen is not nearly as sufficient on a mobile device. So depending on how simple your slider is, or how much extra information there is to display, you might wish to use an alternative for mobile.

You can use Justinmind to quickly prototype ideas like slider designs and test them across a range of devices instantly!

However, if your slider design is simple, for example, a discrete slider, then we can’t emphasize enough the importance of testing it.

4. Use dual-point sliders to select value ranges

Dual-point UI slider designs, like in the flight duration example below, can be a clever way to avoid having two separate sliders that refer to the same aspect of the search, combining them in a single relevant slider.

guidelines for dual-point sliders in UI design

They are particularly effective when it comes to filtering price ranges, to define minimum and maximum prices. It’s true that the same effect can be achieved with other UI components, with websites using things like dropdown menus that also define a price range. But this is one of those cases where, if you have the space for it, the slider is the best option to go for.

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5. Present information clearly

Blue Nile is a well-known online diamond retailer. The brand prides itself in helping clients all over the world choose the right stone and create their own ideal jewelry.

We love that Blue Nile created a filtering system with dual-point sliders, allowing users to be extremely selective with the search results, choosing from price range, carat, cut, color, etc. It’s also a great example of using an alternative to the typical knob control.

slider example from blue nile with dual-point handles

However, best of all, they manage to display the perfect amount of information with each slider. The cut, color and clarity selectors, are all marked in intervals, so it’s not a guessing game for the user as they move the slider along.

6. Use single-point sliders to display quantities

SkyScanner uses dual-point UI slider designs in order to help users narrow down the acceptable departure and arrival times of the shown options. On top of that, we also find that there’s a single-point slider that specifies the amount of acceptable time spent in layovers. Another excellent example of slider use to filter searches!

slider example from skyscanner for search result filtering

One thing that we’d change, though, is the fact that the times are down to the half hour. Remember, sliders are best when users just need to define rough quantities. The reason is that it can be hard to physically drag the slider to exact amounts.

7. Visualize product dimensions

Here, we have another great UI slider design example. Tylko uses several sliders, not to filter options but to help users visualize the available options. Each slider controls an aspect of the shelf, such as height or width. It works well, because it doesn’t just give users an immediate feel of the available options but also puts the currently selected option into context.

option visualizing slider example for UI design

Additionally, displaying the values on the knob/thumb control is a good way to show information in a small space, yet we should take care to ensure that the thumb is large enough that the value won’t be obscured by the user’s cursor.

8. Include plus and minus controls

Lloyd’s is another bank that makes clever use of sliders in order to help users visualize a complex matter.

Loans. We all know and fear them, with plenty of us being intimidated by the very idea of a loan. Lloyd’s understood that sliders can help users not just explore the boundaries and implications of a loan, but also visualize what a loan like that would entail.

lloyd's loan calculator - slider example

What we particularly like is the extra information given below each slider track, such as the APR rate for the quantity the user is selecting with the slider, or the number of years in relation to months in the second.

Perhaps most interesting about this example, though, is the use of plus and minus buttons as an additional control to move the knob along the track. This works particularly well for users who might be older or who might have impaired motor control.

9. Use discrete sliders where possible

Spotify’s UI design has earned both praise and criticism, but there’s no denying their UX design pushes boundaries.

We like their use of a discrete slider, because it doesn’t refer to any filter or volume setting. Spotify uses slider design in order to help users configure the crossfade in the transition between songs. It’s simple, easy to understand and to interact with.

slider example from Spotify settings

Yes, we know we said that it’s good to display as much information as possible to the user. But that’s only when they’re performing a task that implies a slightly larger cognitive load than adjusting the crossfade between songs. Otherwise that information is surplus to requirement and clutters the screen. In this case, the discrete slider is perfect for the job.

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10. Let users manually alter values

The New York Times has a buy-vs-rent calculator which is one of the most creative and innovative that we’ve seen to date, if we’re being honest.

Their slider takes the form of a graph. The track and knob represent the x-axis, where the user can slide the knob along to choose the home-price value while showing them the equivalent rent.

UI slider design - manual input field

However, the user is also free to manually enter a home price into the calculator, which automatically moves the knob to the equivalent point on the slider. In doing this, they’re giving the user the choice to be as specific or as vague as they want. Wherever you can, try and include a manual input field!

11. Use plenty of padding for the knob

Always make sure that the knob or handle or bar is large enough for the user to be able to easily click on it with a mouse. The above is a great example of how this simple graphic design tweak can help improve usability and reduce frustration.

The padding around the knob becomes even more important if you’re going to be using a mobile UI slider design, as a thumb or finger is typically larger and less precise than a cursor.

12. Make sure the track fills

All this talk of tracks wouldn’t be complete without a car example. European car dealership, SEAT, have found an innovative use for a slider to demonstrate headlight settings for their Ibiza model. As the user moves the knob along the track, at various snappy intervals, the user can view the various headlight settings available, from the lowest setting all the way to full-beam.

UI snappy slider design - headlight options

An innovative idea, we’ll give it that. But what stands out to us even more is how they used the simplicity of complementary color combination to make their UI slider design accessible and intuitive. The track is a light, off-white against a dark beige background and fills up with a bright white color as the user moves the knob along the track, letting them know how far gone they are and how many options are left.

13. Add microinteractions if possible

Adding a microinteraction is always a great idea to boost the impact of this highly interactive UI component. However, if you are going to add in a microinteraction design, just make sure there is not too much visual information going on at the same time.

UI discrete slider design - microinteraction

Image source: Dribbble

What do we mean with that? For example, if there’s a value that changes as the user moves the knob along the track, it might be just enough to simply change the color of the knob or the track so the user knows they’ve activated it. Giving the user too many details to focus on can increase cognitive load.

However, a discrete slider, like we referred to above, gives a bit more freedom in this respect. The example above is a simple but impressive way to add extra life to a slider and is just the right amount of detail.

14. Decide between vertical or horizontal

This one is quite easy to forget, but remember that it’s totally possible to have vertical sliders as well. The problem, however, comes in deciding which type to use, with horizontal sliders being a much more common feature. In fact, nine times out of ten, you’ll probably choose a horizontal slider.

At first, we might think it comes down to space, and we wouldn’t be entirely incorrect in assuming that. But the truth is, it’s a little more complex than that, especially for a website if we consider that most users might find sliding a knob up a vertical track is harder physically with a mouse than moving it horizontally.

UI slider design - horizontal vs vertical

On the flipside, on mobile devices, this movement tends to be easier, yet a horizontal slider is what people are used to, and in our opinion, it’s more visually appealing.

If distribution of space is a problem and you must use a vertical scrollbar, make sure you place it near the right side of the screen. The reason for this is that most users are right handed and therefore, will tend to use their thumb to move the knob.

15. Add left/right buttons to a 360 tracker

Spinning a three-dimensional object a full 360 in space is just another one of the many practical applications we can apportion the UI slider control. In the example tomorrow, the user can spin the Peugeot around from left to right using the slider.

UI slider design - 360 view rotation

What makes this slider extra user-friendly are the directional “<>” symbols on the knob, in addition to the “L” and “R” buttons on either side. The latter helps add context but also serve as a way of manually adjusting the slider.

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Mobile vs web slider design

In truth, many of the classic guidelines for web sliders also apply to mobile sliders. However, much like other aspects of UI design, a mobile design means there are other factors to consider. When discussing how mobile slider design differs from those used on websites, the most crucial factors to bear in mind is the user’s touch and the lesser space available.

There are two things to consider here: the size of the user’s finger and its effect on the user experience. Ultimately, UII slider designs that are handled with a finger need to allow enough space for the slider handle to move freely.

design factors to consider in mobile sliders

Additionally, the knob needs to be extra sensitive to stoppage, that is, when a user lifts the finger off. Many slider controls are susceptible to nudging as a result of not being sensitive enough or being oversensitive. This means that lifting the finger means that the knob gets nudged into a different position. This tends not to be a problem so much in website slider design as the mouse is more precise than a finger.

Another practical effect of mobile slider design is that labels must be placed properly in the space available. When users handle the slider in order to complete a task, it’s important their finger doesn’t cover the relevant labels. This means that labels need to go either on the sides or above the slider itself. That way, the user can see everything while they interact with the component.

UI kits for slider design

Web or mobile wireframing UI kit

These are two UI kits that come with Justinmind that can cover a lot of ground in any design project. Including UI classics from both web and mobile settings, these UI kits both represent an incredibly versatile tool to have at your disposal. Most design teams will invest a lot of effort into wireframing their ideas before they commit to a high-fidelity prototype, and the web wireframing kit can get the teams there faster.

web and mobile wireframing ui kits for slider design

Both web and mobile wireframing UI kit have sliders that have some pre-built interaction that can both save time and pave the way for more detailed designs.

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iOS UI kit

The Justinmind iOS UI kit aims to help designers prototype just about any type of iOS app. The kit has everything you need to create an app that reflects the classic Apple style, while giving plenty of margin to create something unique. The UI kit includes 3 different types of slider: text size slider, a volume slider and one classic simple slider. All of them include basic interaction to jump-start the design process.

ios ui kit for slider design

Material Design UI Kit

Lastly, Justinmind’s material design UI kit acts in a similar way to the iOS UI kit. It covers all the classic aspects of Android apps, offering a valuable resource to any design team out there. The UI kit includes a classic Material UI slider that is ready to be incorporated into any design.

material design ui kit for sliders in prototyping

The wrap up

A slider can change the initial impression of an interface and change the effort needed to interact with the design. It makes for a typical UI component that users have grown used to, with most of us knowing exactly how to use it when we see it. But of course, no aspect of UI design is free of its own rules and guidelines.

Luckly, slider design can be both a simple component and an opportunity to add flair to the product. It’s all about spotting the right opportunities to use a slider in the design!

Rebeka Costa
In-house SEO manager, usability enthusiast and patron of all sleep-deprived designers