When an item in a list has one of two possible states, how should the toggle switch behave when items have been selected that have different states?

Neither action is dangerous, but it may act on items in a list of thousands. In which case finding the items later on could be problematic. It's about as dangerous as starring or unstarring an item in gmail.

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Some options that I am considering are:

  1. Disable the toggle button when incompatible states are selected. I can imagine many situations where this isn't a great UX and people may have to then search for the item that doesn't match the rest.
  2. Have separate buttons for each state. Overall more powerful, but then we will have to other problems:
    • More room will be needed on the toolbar / actionbar. For mobile this may be an issue
    • I need to find an icon that is the opposite of the first state. I could use the first (in this case pause) icon and simply draw a cross through it, but visually this it not very balanced.
  3. Show an alert when multiple states are selected and ask which state should apply to all of them. This is clean, but I'm not a fan of alert boxes unless they are really necessary.
  4. Have one state override the other when different states have been selected at the same time.

Which option is better, and why? Are there other options that I haven't considered?

Some notes here. We can't consider an individual toggle switch for each item (like starred items in Gmail) as there is no place for it without cluttering the layout with many selection points. The example here is just a mockup for the question.

  • How "dangerous" is the action? Is there any follow-up action that's necessary after changing either state, is it easy to reverse?
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 16:42
  • @BenBrocka The action is not dangerous, but it may act on items in a list of thousands. In which case finding the items later on could be problematic. I'll add this info to the question.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 16:50
  • Yes, option 5: just toggle them like a toggle action should. Active ones go to pause, paused ones go to active. It's clear and straight forward. If you really want to show a notification (not modal please) that this is what happens when items of different states have been selected. Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 18:17

2 Answers 2


I don't have research to back this up, but FWIW I would expect all "checked" items to toggle "on" when the toggle is checked, and then "uncheck" when the toggle is clicked again.

For users who didn't expect that behavior, have a visible "undo" button to revert the action.


presuming the toggle is between active and paused:

why not just have a declarative action instead of a toggle? e.g. "make all selected paused" - toggling seems a bad choice of paradigm for usability here and more a convenient choice for programmers - given the volume of list items, I would recommend building in reversibility/undo/ctrl-z as part of the process

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