Toggle buttons should do three things — change states, show the current state, and reveal unselected options. If your toggle button doesn’t do all these things, it has poor usability.

Many single toggle buttons fail at either showing the current state or making the unselected option visible. They’re challenging to get right because users only have one button to switch states. Should a single toggle button display the state or the second option?

Many designers make the mistake of displaying the state on the toggle button. This practice is terrible because it hides the second option from users. They have no way of knowing that it’s combined with the state.

In the example above, the action to follow someone combines the state and the second option into a single toggle button. When users press “follow,” the button turns into “following,” but the unfollow option isn’t visible. The user has to press the “following” button to unfollow someone, which isn’t clear.

Sometimes users won’t see “following.” Instead, they’ll only see the “unfollow” option. Now the user isn’t sure whether they’re following this person or not. They have to assume that the unfollow state means they’re “following” that person.

In both cases, it’s clear how to follow someone but not clear how to unfollow them or if they’re following them already. This confusion occurs when you don’t display the current state and reveal the secondary option to the user.

To clear up the confusion, separate the state from the second option by displaying the toggled state in a text badge next to the profile data. Users will notice the “following” badge and know who they’re following. The follow button switches to “unfollow” when pressed, so users see the unselected option.

Toggle buttons are useful controls if you design them right. A single toggle button presents more challenges than multiple toggle buttons. If you make sure it follows these three requirements, you’ll have no trouble overcoming them.

  1. Change states
  2. Show the current state
  3. Reveal unselected options