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11 May 2021

Radio Buttons, Checkboxes, and Toggle Switches: When to use which in UI Design

Posted By

TUK Team

Radio buttons, checkboxes and toggles main image

The objective of a well crafted interface is to enable designers to provide their customers with a pleasurable experience through a systematic design process. One of the most important UI design elements are buttons, checkboxes and switches. These controls allow users to take action in just one step. They usually communicate actions that users can take. From turning a feature on/off such as dark mode to selecting between options such as choice of language, these controls allow users to easily take actions.

Importance of Radio Buttons, Checkboxes, and Toggle Switches in UI Design:

Buttons and switches are usually found throughout an interface, an important distinction to note is the difference between buttons, toggles and checkboxes. Buttons are specific calls to actions while checkboxes are used to provide users with a range of options to complete their task. Switches on the other hand turn features on and off. 

GIF of how toggle switches, radio buttons and checkboxes work

Buttons and switches have actually been inspired from the real environment. From turning on a light switch to turning on your WiFi, buttons and switches are all around us. In order to ensure that customers are able to accomplish their tasks effectively and with ease, it is important to have well designed and strategically placed buttons, switches and checkboxes. However, because of their versatility it is easy to get caught in the confusion of when to use which widget. So for that matter it is important for you to know the function of each widget, and when to use it. 

Radio Buttons:

Radio buttons have only two states, and when selected, the circle is filled with a solid dot. Radio buttons may have multiple choices but behave as a single control and limit the user’s choice to just one option from the choices provided. Radio buttons are usually used in surveys where the user needs to scan a list of options and make a single selection from those options. 

GIF of Radio buttons being used in a list

Radio buttons can also be used to configure a specific setting.

GIF of radio buttons being used to configure specific settings

Because radio buttons are used to allow users to select one option from a set, makes them the ideal candidate for making a selection from mutually exclusive options such as in checkout options when users are prompted to select a payment method.

Image of radio buttons being used in payment method

Checkboxes:

Traditionally, checkboxes are presented as a small square box on the screen. They have two states: checked and unchecked. When checked, the square will be filled with a check mark.

They are used to present the user with a range of options, from which the user may select any number of options to complete their task. Unlike radio buttons, checkboxes do not limit the user’s choice to just one option from the range provided, rather each option operates individually, so the user can check or uncheck each option independently. Checkboxes are usually used in forms and surveys which may be used to either indicate an answer to a question, apply a batch of settings or allow the user to make a multi-selection from a list. 

GIF of checkboxes being used in a list

Checkboxes may also be found in signup experiences, e.g. when you sign up for a Spotify account and it asks you about your favorite artists, however this is not a simple checkbox, this is a combination of a checkbox and a card. This only shows the versatility of these widgets which can be used in any given way to achieve a desired function. 

image of combination of checkbox and card being used in spotify

Additionally, a single checkbox may be used for making single selections, such as in true or false statements and when accepting or refusing an offer like, subscribing to TUK newsletter.

Toggle Switches:

Switches are a part of our everyday life which are used to turn things on/off. To put it simply, a toggle switch is a digital on/off switch. Like single check boxes, toggle switches allow users to make on/off selections and like radio buttons, toggle switch options are mutually exclusive. However unlike checkboxes and radio buttons which have multiple options, toggle switches have only one option for a specific function. 

GIF of a toggle switch in action

Sometimes deciding whether to use a toggle switch for a specific function of your user interface or a radio button or checkboxes can be difficult. Consider this that unlike checkboxes and radio buttons, who’s selection takes effect after a user clicks a submit button, toggle switch selection takes effect immediately. So if you’re looking for an immediate call to action then toggle switches are the way to go. 

GIF of a toggle switch being used in a light and dark mode switch on TUK

Conclusion:

Knowing which element to provide is very important because even though they may seem like simple user interface components, they can make a huge impact on user experience. Checkboxes and radio buttons are usually used in forms to make them more user-friendly and choosing the right place to add them is pivotal to the overall user experience of your users and it is also important to keep in mind that toggle switches should only be used when the user needs to decide between two opposing states. Keeping the above points in mind can help you decide when to use which widget when designing an interface. 

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