We are in the process of designing a mobile application for an Android device. It is a requirement that we have indicators for whether a function is turned on or off across the top of the screen (e.g. Connected to X, Y is activated).

The original idea was to do something like the image below, this however leads the user to believe he can turn the functionality on and off by pressing on the icon as he is used to on an Android device. In our application, it is merely supposed to be an indicator of on/off.

Navigation screen

Another idea was to simply use icons and have them green when on, grey when off, but this will not do for colour-blind users.

How do I present these indicators without leading users to think they are buttons that can be pushed and without discriminating against colour-blind users?

  • Should they not operate as links of some sort anyway? for example in this image if the Wifi is current showing as Disabled I'd ideally like to be able to choose that option to take me to a screen where I can enable it. Otherwise you're in a situation where you think 'WiFi is turned off, now I've got to go exploring to find the settings where I can find out why, and then enable it'
    – JonW
    Oct 3, 2012 at 10:28
  • @JonW One of the indicators is merely an indicator and the user will not be able to turn it on or off. Two of the indicators have massive action buttons on the screen. On pressing these buttons, the indicator will change if the event was triggered. The last indicator is GPS and that could do with a link to turn GPS on. Oct 3, 2012 at 10:59

3 Answers 3


1) Make them look less like buttons. Currently they are individual items that look a bit like push buttons. Change your visual design (e.g. change them so they don't look like separate things, rearrange them so they're more of a 'read out'). Also consider making buttons in your app more 'button like' to make the difference between your buttons and indicators more salient.

2) Consider making them buttons! Your users think they are and are trying to use them as such. This is a 'desire indicator' that they want the functionality to toggle these features on and off.

3) Regarding colour blindness: vary their brightness (i.e. so they will have a salient difference when viewed in greyscale), and add an additional visual feature (which need not be large)

  • An additional way to make them look less like buttons is to loose the 3-D look of surface and make it appear flat. Otherwise, users will be inclined to "press down" on the "bulging out" surface. Oct 4, 2012 at 11:08
  • The obvious candidate for a visual feature to show when a function is on is the underline you already have. Try having no underline (not even muted) when a function is off. This may be important for distinguishing all functions being on from all being off. Right now the only way a naive user can distinguish on from off is when they can compare them side by side. Oct 4, 2012 at 11:16

On way to let indicators not look like buttons is to lose the button visual cues. If you get rid of the button-like dividers between the indicators - your users get the impression of a bar of indicators instead of a bar of buttons.

Android indicator bar

However, as a previous Android user I would like to keep the buttons and make them fully functional instead. Then they both works as indicators and action buttons. Otherwise I need to navigate away, turn on GPS somewhere else, and by that I might lose focus of what I was doing.


Make them smaller, look at the icons in the notification area, they are there only for notification, and they are small.

There should be a certain minimum size for actionable buttons, if the icon are small enough, most people will assume it is not actionable.

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