We have an admin section with a number of different settings users can go to. In the majority of pages there is an option at the top which initially allows the users to either enable or disable that feature.

Currently we do this by just having radio buttons at the top, my gut feeling is that it needs to be something that has a primary and secondary focus making it a lot clearer when it is either enabled or disabled. I also feel that enable/disable sounds too technical, on off or yes no seems to make more sense but would be interested to hear what others think.

Does anyone have any good examples on best practices for enable/disable type functions?

I wanted to add a little more to this as its recently cropped up again and I'm hoping that maybe we can flesh out some more answers??

Currently in our application we use a very simple although slightly odd technique as shown below. This allows users to enable or disable certain features within the application.

Current Solution

The problem I have with this is that for one it repeats what you're trying to achieve plus it also just feels a bit techy to be, not really human with the words Enable/Disable

the word enable next to radio buttons saying enable and disable

Proposed Solution

An option would be to bring in the yes/no radio button so that a question of Enabled? can be asked and its clearer to see whether something is enabled or disabled.

the word enabled next to radio buttons saying yes and no

However, I still don't feel like this is that great for such a simple solution. I need to keep it in a similar format because of the layout of the application and the fact that something similar is used everywhere else. What I'd like to know is how people are handling this kind of setup, it seems so simple yet somehow complicated to get this right.

Any more input would be great?

  • 1
    "We have an admin section with a number of different settings users can go to..." - could you clarify? Are you talking about administrative users changing settings for unprivileged users or administrative users changing settings for themselves?
    – danlefree
    Commented Oct 28, 2010 at 13:10
  • The admin section is only accessible by a handful of admin users who set-up the environment for the standard(unprivileged) users. These settings might include things like automated emails that standard users might receive or a specific piece of functionality such as saying whether star rating is enabled or disabled. Hope that helps. Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 11:57
  • It seems like a checkbox is much more suited to the situation than radio buttons. Commented May 1, 2013 at 21:14
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    I would disagree with using a checkbox, checkboxes should only be used for options that may have multiple selections. Using it for an on/off scenario would break that convention even if you only allowed one to be selected. Commented May 11, 2013 at 13:29

2 Answers 2


iOS has nice controls for enable/disable states:

iPhone's services screen

The downside is that these are designed for "on/off" states, so they don't really support longer microcopy. Could you give some examples of what we're enabling/disabling? Most times, microcopy should be as specific as possible, so it depends on what the context is and what kind of changes are taking place. Space can also be a consideration.

You can also use checkboxes. It's easy to see from a checkbox whether it's activated or not, and you could have the button be "ajaxy" in the sense that (un)checking it immediately changes the state without having to click a separate button.

Either way, since we're dealing with binary states, beware of choosing a UI element whose state is ambiguous, such as a button that's red when active and blue when inactive - users won't be able to tell which is which until after they've interacted with it.

  • I very much like the apple style enable/disable concept it it very clear to me without a seconds thought. However I do think it specifically applies to mobile devices (iPhone) rather than a web page. A variation of this could work I guess but I'm not sure I've seen anything jquery or otherwise that does this sort of thing. Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 11:59
  • I have to say it probably does change in terms of what is being enabled or disabled so I'm not sure yet whether there is a solution that fits all. We have a large admin section that holds a number of feature settings and other options that control what the website looks like for other standard users. These settings might be things like star rating enabled or disabled and then if its enabled there are additional options to configure such as some custom wording or where the voting should appear on the page. Hope that helps. Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 12:03

I would go with a simple colored/uncolored state of a pixmap button. The IOS on/off buttons are somehow confusing for me, is it on when "on" is showed or do I have to switch it. I understand that the IOS uses mental model from real life switches, but a simple colored button will do the job just fine.

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    I have to disagree with you concerning the confusion. In my opinion it is perfectly clear. You see what you get (on or off) and it is even highlighted in a color (normally buttons show that they are on, e.g. orange glow on kitchen devices) to indicated, that it is switched on. Commented Oct 28, 2010 at 15:51
  • The color change won't confuse the user, but the on/off label could. Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 8:40
  • Bojan do you have an example of exactly what you mean here? Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 12:00

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