When To Use a Toggle Switch in UX and UI

One of the most commonly used elements in UI and UX design is the toggle switch element. There are a number of cases where the toggle switch is the element of your choice. Yet, in some cases you’re better off using something else.

When to use a toggle switch in UX design

Just as with any common design element, the toggle switch requires an overview of the general flow and navigation of the application you’re designing. It is a component that is common within most design systems.

As a UX and UI designer, you need to focus on what question needs to be answered. Depending on the type of answers a user is required to provide, the toggle switch UI component can be your UI element of choice.

Table of Contents

But first, we’re going to take a look at what a toggle switch is. This will include a bit of a history on the element as well as some examples of user cases where this component fits very well.

What is a toggle switch in UX?

First things first. A toggle switch is used to turn something on or off. Your users can pick only one of the two options at once. The options are mutually exclusive.

In a way, this means that this element shows a lot of similarities with a question that has two radio buttons as options. However, there’s a difference. Where radio buttons require a positive action (like submit or save, for example), the toggle switch takes effect immediately.

Toggle switches originate from real life, just as most skeuomorphism-inspired elements in UI design. If you look around your daily activities, you will see that you use a number of toggle switches. Examples include light switches and water boilers.

When should I use a toggle switch in UI design?

As previously stated, the toggle switch has a number of situations where it is best used. It is up to you as a UI and UX designer to determine when that is. Here are a few examples and guidelines to keep in mind when using this UI element.

Toggle switch states in UX design

Toggle switches are great when your users need to change or update preferences and settings. Because of this, you have to make sure your users understand the differences between states as they are important for how the rest of their experience will pan out. Here’s what to keep in mind.

  • Always make sure that you create two exclusive states that have clear labels. In most cases, this is either an on or off situation or an enable and disable type of situation. For example, ‘enable dark mode’ or ‘show preview’.
  • When you design your own toggle switch UI element, make sure you follow guidelines for the platform or operation system you’re designing for.
  • Always use states that are in high contrast with each other. This means that the on-state has an active color, which will most likely equal your primary action color. Your off-state should be closer to the color you use for disabled UI elements.

The Nielsen Norman Group also has a great page on toggle switch guidelines. If you want to know more, this is a great place to continue reading.

Toggle switch UI examples

We do not recommend designing solutions for your toggle switch UI component that are too different. Users are used to a certain type of UI element and expect your website or product to work in the same way.

Yet, that doesn’t mean you have to use a standard component. You can put some creativity into it to fit your branding guidelines. Just keep it within reasonable margins is what we would suggest to you.

Examples of Toggle Switch UI Designs Found on Dribbble
Examples of toggle switch UI designs found on Dribbble.

Take a look at some of the design examples that we’ve found over on Dribbble. They are simple yet very different compared to a default toggle switch design. These examples can hopefully inspire you to design great toggle switches for your next user interface design project.

Further reading

That’s about it. Toggle switches have their uses, but only if you use them right. As an alternative, you could use radio buttons or check boxes, for example. In both cases, tooltips could help users choose.

We have guides on when to use those two on our website as well.

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Profile picture of author Nick Groeneveld, a senior UX designer and mentor for The Designer's Toolbox

About the author

Hi! I'm Nick Groeneveld, a senior designer from the Netherlands with experience in UX, visual design, and research. I have completed a wide range of projects in finance, tech, and the public sector.

Take a look at my LinkedIn and Medium for more.