This question is of an Android bent, but the answers could probably be applied to other domains.

There are a number of examples out there where locations are shown in both map and list view. For example:

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To switch between them in the above example you simply tap between the two icons.

However, is it acceptable to only show the one you can navigate to? On a phone, screen space is limited, and the action-bar where the icons sit might already have a search bar that should have as much space as possible.

One possible problem with the single-icon solution is that the list icon used in the examples above looks like the Android menu icon that was replaced by three vertical square dots. It may lead users to expect the icon to open up a menu and then be surprised when it actually opens up a list view.

The best solution to this problem would make the user very aware that the dataset is the same on both views.

1 Answer 1


From a pure usability perspective, I think it makes for a poor experience to show the user only the opposite state of a particular toggle control; it's initially confusing and doesn't provide any information about what the actual active state is at that moment. Either the current state should be shown (for simple on/off toggles where the behavior is easily communicated), or with more complex choices, both choices should be shown at all times, with the currently-active one highlighted, as in your examples.

If your root concern is simply about having enough real estate for the search bar, have you considered a collapsible search view? You can expose your search feature via a simple action bar button, which then expands to a full-width text field inside the action bar when the user taps the button. (You could also implement your own custom rules for expansion and collapse behavior, if needed.)

One other alternative that could give you a bit more action bar real estate would be to use a split action bar to move some of your controls to the lower portion of the screen on narrow devices.

If none of the above seem like attractive options, I'd probably consider whether this toggle functionality could be handled outside of the action bar altogether.

  • You bring up two good points. The first is, no, I had not thought of a collapsible search view but that sounds like it could be a great idea and something worth trying. The second about the split action bar. Unfortunately I already have a second action bar on the bottom for a different set of options. On tablets it's great because they merge into one and it looks good. But on phones there's not enough space. I think I may try the expanding search bar to see how it looks.
    – yarian
    Dec 12, 2012 at 23:17
  • Quick question related to this. What do you mean by "t's initially confusing and doesn't provide any information about what the actual active state is at that moment"? Wouldn't it be obvious what state you were in by whether you were looking at a map or at a list? I don't dismiss your argument, I just mean to understand it better.
    – yarian
    Dec 12, 2012 at 23:30
  • 1
    Well, in your specific case, it might be more readily apparent, that's true, but it certainly could be less obvious for more subtle differences (say, a similar toggle control that switched between "all places" and "nearby places"). It's not necessarily confusing, but IMO it generally requires the user to try it out before they really understand how it works and what it will do when they press it, so I like to avoid them sort of on principle unless I have a really good reason not to. You may find that the pros outweigh the cons for your particular case, though.
    – Cloudy
    Dec 12, 2012 at 23:44

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