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I'm trying to think of a nice element where there are 3 states, but a simple checkbox would be a litlte overkill for what I want (I'd need two), as the states are:

  • Enabled
  • Default
  • Disabled

But I want the user to be able to change to this at any one time and I find tri-state checkboxeIs are too difficult to figure out how to use.

What do you think is the best way to implement this? I currently am thinking of just three buttons, but there must be something really obvious that does this which I'm more than capable of programming (I'm a programmer not a UX desginer)

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

What's wrong with just using the standard element for choosing one of multiple options - the dropdown list (or combobox or select, depending on your technology)? Or if you want, you can use three radio buttons (but I prefer dropdowns for something like this).

Why create something with non-standard functionality when something already exists that everyone already knows how to use?

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True, thanks for that. Makes a lot of sense now :) – Joe Simpson Apr 9 '12 at 19:11
Good answer. You could also use a segmented control although that has more limited application. See… – Adam Smith Apr 9 '12 at 19:31
@AdamSmith - that's pretty much exactly what Christofian is talking about in his answer; he just isn't calling it that very Apple-centric name. – Charles Boyung Apr 9 '12 at 19:51
I'm using a Bootstrap+jQuery powered Segmented control at the moment which looks very similar to what Apple are saying – Joe Simpson Apr 14 '12 at 15:32
The link provided by Adam is not working anymore, due to a major update from Apple. Here is the current link to Apple's Human Interface Guideline, describing the segmented control element:… – Tafkadasoh Sep 8 '15 at 16:01

I think a button with a pop-up menu would be the best answer for this. See the image below.

3 state button prototype

You can easily create a custom control deriving from a toggle button and styling it accordingly. Depending on what technology you develop in this task may be easier or harder.

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Thanks, that looks really darn good! I might create two versions and see what appeals best to people. (P.S what did you make that picture in, if it's some diagramming software I'd love to have a play with it) – Joe Simpson Apr 14 '12 at 15:33
I'm glad you like it, I used Photoshop to create it. :) – asuciu Apr 16 '12 at 14:13

Mayby something like this:


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

A row of buttons would work great for this purpose, and it shouldn't be that hard to make.

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That's what I've got so far, I was wondering if there was anything else – Joe Simpson Apr 8 '12 at 18:30

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