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Toggle switch design: the full run through

full guide to toggle switch design

Toggle switches are a classic UI component - but what makes a good toggle switch? Read on to rediscover an old friend!

Toggle switches, just like checkboxes or radio buttons, are classic UI components that most of us know and love. They can be usually found in settings pages, be it for an overall system or for an app. They seem quite simple at first, but are they?

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What makes a toggle switch usable? Is a toggle switch the same as a toggle button? What does a creative toggle design look like?

Let’s take a closer look at an element that can be easily overlooked for its simplicity, but that can still surprise some of us upon closer inspection. From the theory of toggles, testing and prototyping them, to some truly unique toggle switches out there – this post has it all.

What are toggle switches?

We’re pretty used to seeing them everywhere, but just what are they truly meant for? A toggle switch implies that the user must choose between two mutually exclusive options. Toggles are the digital equivalent of an actual switch. When the user presses the switch, there’s a brief interaction, with the chosen option taking immediate effect. Nice and easy, right?

what are radio buttons in ui design

Toggle design can be a bit confusing at first, which is surprising for an apparently simple UI component. Much like checkboxes or radio buttons, toggle switches can be a misunderstood art. We see them everywhere, including places they shouldn’t be. They represent a potentially easy tool for designers to make users choose an option out of two – but toggle design does have game rules.

Is there a difference between toggle switches and toggle buttons?

Yes. While the main difference between the two can be simple at first sight, it has important implications on when you should use each.

toggle design - button and switch comparison

A toggle switch operates in changes in the system. Think dark/light modes on the iOS settings, or a privacy mode in a navigator. The toggle switch represents a decision that can affect all screens of the app or device – this means that switches deal in system states.

In contrast, a toggle button refers to a change that only takes place on that screen. Think flight dates and search filters. Toggle buttons are meant for contextual states.

Toggle design: best practices

1. The switch needs to have immediate effect

Consider a real-life light switch. Just imagine how odd it would be to hit the light switch, then having to press a separate button for the lights to actually turn on. A toggle switch works as a simple and straightforward UI component because it mimics a real-life switch – making it something absolutely anyone can understand and use.

in UI design, switches need to have immediate effect

This is why it’s important that your toggle switch has an immediate effect. In practice, this means your toggle switch should never depend on any “submit” or “save” buttons, acting as a stand-alone control. If you notice that your settings design would require the user to both select the switch and save their progress – you most likely should be using another UI component, such as radio buttons or checkboxes.

That is not to say that if your switch is part of a larger group of components, a save button would automatically be wrong. While the switch itself must be immediately effective, a long form might need a “save”, and that is ok. If a settings page is made exclusively of switches, you wouldn’t need any further buttons.

2. Microcopy matters

Remember that toggle switches are meant to be two mutually exclusive states. Usually, the switch is accompanied by a straightforward and concise label. That microcopy is very important, as users should be able to see and understand the function behind the switch. It’s better to avoid anything longer than two lines, as you want that first glance to be all that’s needed to use the toggle switch.

One of the most important aspects of your microcopy is that it can’t be interpreted in different ways. Your label can’t be ambiguous, forcing users to flip the switch in order to truly discover its function.

microcopy in toggle switches

Toggle hack: When in doubt, try to clearly state the function that the switch refers to and add “on/off” at the end. From there, try to soften the label into a short sentence.

Aside from the label, toggle switches are usually accompanied by a smaller label that clarifies what state each side of the switch represents. A simple “off” on the side of the switch will do the trick.

The only thing designers must bear in mind here is that the visual hierarchy and grouping of elements needs to be clear to the user. It can seem like a minor detail, but the last thing you want is for users to not understand the connection between the labels and the switch! This is particularly dangerous in desktop screens, where there’s plenty of space for spreading components and harming the visual grouping of elements.

3. Be consistent with what users already know

Like radio buttons of hamburger menu icons, part of the power in using toggle design is that people are very familiar with them. They add a sense of familiarity to your interface, representing a control that users don’t need to learn to use – as a designer, shortening the learning curve of your product is always a good thing.

Toggles are meant to be simple and easy, so creative designs do face some limitations. Any toggle switch needs to have a brief animation, with the actual switch moving to the opposite side – much like a physical switch. To add on to the visual side of toggle switches, we also have a change in color.

visual styles of toggle switches

Apple’s iOS settings have plenty of toggle switches that change from grey to bright blue, for example. This makes sense, from a usability point of view, as it offers users signals in color and in movement – making it accessible to the visually impaired, to whom a change in color alone might not be perceptible.

Just like you want to be consistent with the user’s expectations of a toggle switch, you also want to be consistent throughout the product. Remember that once users experience a toggle design, they’ll expect that same experience to repeat itself across different screens where toggles are featured.

4. Mobile toggles are just toggles

Another positive aspect of toggle design is that not much changes when adapting a screen for mobile devices. In truth, the toggle switch component doesn’t really change – it’s more about the screen as a whole. In other words, mobile toggle design is more about making sure your UI layout makes the most of the available space, while not compromising usability.

mobile toggle switch design guidelines

The way designers can go about making sure their mobile toggles respect the usability of the product is making sure that the layout generally permits two things. These are, to allow users to touch the toggle without problems and to allow enough free space between components for the interface to breathe.

Another particularly important aspect of your mobile toggles is the response time. Although this is also true for desktop toggle switches, it’s particularly important in mobile devices. In a smartphone, users might be led to believe there was a system failure if the switch doesn’t respond quickly to the touch, harming the overall experience of the product.

Awesome examples of toggle switch design

1. Night/Day mode switcher

Created by Mikhail Gribkov, this toggle design is all about beautiful visuals and smooth animation. We love that the toggle is full of details, like a shooting star when in night mode or the craters on the moon.

example of toggle switch for day and night mode

2. Toggle animation

Andrei Mironov created a toggle switch that makes the most of clean design with smooth animation. It’s visual cues make it fun and accessible to a wide pool of users, showing a smart way to create toggles that users can understand at a glance.

true or false toggle example

3. On/Off switch

Renatka Remeňová delivers an uncomplicated switch that enjoys labels inside the switch itself. It’s smart, leaving no doubt as to the relationship between label and switch. It makes for a toggle that will get the job done and work with users to accomplish their goal – making it a great toggle example in our book.

on and off switch design example

4. On/Off switch

Rita Petrilli brings us a lovely animated toggle switch. The transition between states is smooth and quick, with artwork that sends plenty of context to users. The toggle switch works due to the illustration and great interaction design, making for a memorable user experience.

toggle switch design - night and day mode

5. Lock Toggle

Mauricio Bucardo designed a detail-oriented toggle. Upon being switched, an actual key comes into view and opens the lock. It’s unexpected, quick and definitely unique. It’s true that the key might be a bit too small for mobile toggles, but we just love the creativity at play here. Another thing we love about this toggle? The integrated label!

example of lock and unlocked switch

6. CSS Toggle

Heath Taskis created the CSS Toggle for the fun of it, and it shines through the design. The toggle is all about soft lines, tender artwork and dynamic animation. We love that the states differ not just in the illustration but also in colors, with the deactivated switch being grey. It’s sweet, young and refreshing – it’s also available to all over at Codepen. Thanks, Heath!

illustrated example of toggle switch design

7. Toggle Switch

Eike Drescher created a toggle switch that draws on the simplicity of a check and an X as visual signs. The switch itself enjoys soft shades of grey when deactivated, changing into bright green once it’s been switched. It’s straightforward, gets the job done and gives users all the context and feedback they need.

toggle design example

8. On/Off switch

Sam Gardiner designed this toggle switch example as a simple switch with a twist. The simple aspect of it is that there are no other visual cues as to the state of the switch aside from the color change between states. But what about the twist? The twist is the smooth animation that elongates the switch between states, making it dynamic and fun.

true or false switch design example

9. Toggle Switch

This toggle example by Mohsen potentializes an integrated label in the switch itself. We love that the animation in the transition between states is quick but smooth, making for a great user experience.

modern toggle design example for UI

10. Light/Dark Mode

Another wonderful light/dark mode toggle switch example, done by Zhenya Karapetyan. This one also enjoys smooth animation, but also, more visual details. We love that with the animation, users can see stars or reflections of light that make the switch dynamic and fun.

toggle design example of light and dark mode

Prototyping toggle switches

A toggle switch is a single component, which makes for easy prototyping. It’s not so much as the effort to create a toggle from scratch, as most prototyping tools out there already offer toggles in their basic UI kits. But most of those toggles are missing something crucial: built-in interaction.

That’s why Justinmind makes sure to bridge that gap and offer designers toggle switches that are fully functional from the get-go. Instead of designers taking a simple image and adding interaction, they simply place the toggle in the interface and that’s that! This may seem like a small detail at first, but it makes a huge difference in time and effort needed for prototyping the product as a whole – especially large products that hold many small components.

Even better? Simply download the UI kit and find it in our prototyping tool, where you have total freedom to modify and change anything about it! It makes for a wonderful base to build a more on-brand or personality-oriented interface.

Android toggle switches

In the Justinmind Android UI kit, you can find two toggles: one whose default state is on, and another with the off state as the default. The toggle itself is made of a small bar in the back, with a larger switch that rests over the bar.

material design for toggle switch

iOS toggle switches

The Justinmind iOS UI kit also offers toggle switches that are tailor-made to fit in with the iOS aesthetic and feel. Just like the Android UI kit, this super-pack of UI components comes with toggles that rest in either the on or off default mode. The switch itself is inside a bar, as it becomes visually clear when the switch is on.

ios toggle design with the ui kit

Other toggle switches

What exciting new project are you going to be working on? Regardless of what it is, you can probably find the right toggle switches over on our UI kits page. From the classic iOS toggle, to switches that perfectly blend in with Salesforce, Kendo, to Office Fabric and many more.

toggle switches in ui kits by justinmind

Testing your toggle design

Toggle design can be pretty straightforward – but here at Justinmind, we believe in testing pretty much everything. And so, when creating or modifying a page with toggle switches, it becomes important to test that some usability standards are met, with both the general design and the specific toggle components.

The most practical and efficient method for testing your toggle design is a good old A/B test. While we won’t dive deep into the theory of how A/B testing works, let’s take a look at how you can use the method to validate your toggle design. Here are some of the things you want to test when it comes to toggle design.

how to carry out user testing for toggle switches

Test the visual hierarchy in the entire page. Create two different versions where the grouping of toggles and labels vary slightly to find that sweet spot that users can love. Validating the general composition of the page is crucial, especially if you have more than one or two toggle switches in close proximity with each other.

Test the microcopy. Finding the right words can be a process as opposed to a quick task. Don’t be afraid to modify the labels until you find one that users can understand immediately – checking how long users take to fully process the labels and flip the switches might be useful here. A pause might mean the user needed to take a few moments to come to a conclusion!

When it comes to understanding how long it takes for users to fully grasp the labels and components, an eye-tracking study might also prove useful! However, it doesn’t offer the flexibility or budget-friendliness of A/B testing.

The wrap up on toggle design

Toggles are a solid UI component that rarely fails at delivering a good experience. It’s straightforward and familiar to everyone, and works to an important end in giving the user control to customize a system. All in all, toggles can be unfairly forgotten in the search for more edge-cutting design.

But let’s not forget that even something classic and simple can be turned into a unique experience. Even though toggle switches have a certain common feature, designers can still use it as an opportunity to add personality and glamour to a screen. Hopefully, though, with this post you’ll be feeling inspired to make the most of this old friend we all share!

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Rebeca Costa
In-house writer, usability enthusiast and patron of all sleep-deprived designers