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Small and big light switch compared:

small big

It's strange that this usually differs by country. The big ones are easier to hit, but the small ones provide better feedback (if you don't immediately see the light). What one is the best to use, or does this depend on other factors like country, size of people's hands?

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Feedback of the 2nd one could be improved by coloring the top edge, so that the color strip is (significantly more prominently) visible when the switch is "on". Requires that posiiton to be "On", though. – peterchen Jan 14 '11 at 13:42
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I prefer the smaller switch (first picture). Here's my reasoning (I'll admit that most of it is pretty subjective):

  • It's harder to accidentally actuate than many of the larger designs I've seen. I've leaned up against an inconveniently placed fat rocker switch in a crowded room more than once (and seen others do the same). I don't know if the switch pictured would have this problem, but it looks like it has the potential.
  • I find the smaller switch easier to locate and operate in the dark because of the shape, size, etc. of its protrusion. For some reason many of the larger switches I've seen try to keep a lower profile.
  • I find the smaller switch easier to operate in general. If the "up == on" convention is followed, I can just slide my hand up/down the wall -- finding the switch and operating it are combined in a single action. I almost never look at switches in buildings with which I have any familiarity.
  • It's easier to identify the position of the smaller switch (not sure if this is ever actually useful -- if you're smart and it really matters, you'll probably just flip the breaker).
  • In my part of the world (central USA) the smaller switches are by far the most common type, so familiarity is a major point.
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I like the big "button" switcher (second one). It is easier to find in dark and to hit it. It has strong design. Really I know one rule that should be applied to electrical devices like this one (switcher), I heard it from my teacher in school:

The switcher should be in UP position - switched ON and should be in DOWN position - switched OFF. It is a law according to accident prevention. If a person switched switcher ON and (s)he was hit by electricity, (s)he would fallen down and pushed the switcher to switch it OFF. I think it is a historical story :), but you can see this rule is applied in 90% more cases, I think.

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The rule actually comes from mechanical signals on the UK railways in the 19th Century. Snow or some other failure would force the signals to point down - which used to indicate "all clear". This led to accidents so the sense was reversed. It's an example of "fail safe" design. – ChrisF Jan 9 '11 at 12:41
@ChrisF good point! thanks for information. I think, it has more natural meaning: the sun rises (UP) and goes down. :) – igor Jan 9 '11 at 12:50
Except that the convention of Up=On, Down=Off isn't used everywhere: Here in New Zealand, it's the other way around: Up=Off, Down=On, and that's used for both lights and mains power. – Bevan Jan 9 '11 at 21:28
@Bevan it is interested. do you know any background story, why is this so? – igor Jan 9 '11 at 21:45
@igor - I've heard (but have no references to verify) that the American approach was adopted so that something falling across the switch would turn it off, not on. I don't know why things are "the way they are" in NZ. – Bevan Jan 10 '11 at 2:45

I have no actual facts to back this up - but I wonder if it's an accessibility issue? The larger switch will be easier to hit for folk who have issues with fine motor control or limited use of their hands.

The reason I wonder is that I don't see many of the large switches in the UK - and the places I have seen them are often modern buildings that have obviously been built with accessibility in mind (e.g. in the more modern hotel builds you'll you notice the lack of steps, multi-level desks, multi-level eye holes in hotel doors, rooms designed with enough turning room for wheel charis, etc. - along with these switches).

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I think that you see the bigger ones in more recent builds and the smaller one in old ones...

I believe that in the future you'll see less and less "small" light switches

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