This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

Why toggle switches are a bad idea for computer software

If you've ever felt stupid while using some computer software, chances are it's just bad design. And one of the worst ideas for computer software is the use of a "toggle switch".

In real life, a toggle switch works great. In fact, your light switch is a classic example of a toggle switch. The idea is to use just one switch, instead of two, to make something go on and off. And so, toggle switches have been around for a long time. Originally, of course, there would have been two separate switches - one for "on" and one for "off".

In computer software design, a toggle switch is any button that performs one thing when you click it, and something else when you click it again. A good example would be "import/stop import". And the problem with this has to do with how computers work, and store information.

If you've ever clicked multiple times on your computer, trying to get it to do something, you know that computers "store clicks". If you've clicked half-a-dozen times trying to get the computer software to respond, you know that you have to wait through the entire cycle of clicks before you are back in control. That's just the way computers are, it's just their nature. And that's why a "toggle switch" is such a bad design idea.

If you click something, and nothing happens, it makes sense to click it again. It's like ringing a doorbell. But with a toggle switch button on a computer, you have now set in motion two clicks - the first one performs the function, and the second one turns it off.

It would be nice if software designers didn't use toggle switches. To be fair to them, they can't see the problem. They designed it, and chances are they will never have a slow computer, a slow connection, or just not be paying close attention when they click the toggle button. It would be nice if it would go away, but it probably won't. In the meantime, what I do when dealing with a toggle switch, that is if I know it's a toggle switch, is to click it, and then tap my fingers on my desktop. The idea is to leave it alone while it does its thing.

Bad design, but what else can you do?