The checkbox input is a common design UI component that you can find even in the simplest products. It’s a component that helps the user select from various yes or no options or, in other words, selected or not selected.
In this article, we’ll dive into the different characteristics of the checkbox, including its default style and user interaction, to help you use this component effectively in your product and build it well for your design system, ensuring the component is intuitive and accessible.
Before we start, let’s clarify some terms about what a checkbox is and what it isn’t.
Checkboxes allow users to select multiple options, but with a radio button, the user can choose only one option. A checkbox requires the user to click a button to submit the information, whereas a toggle switch is an immediate response; the user does not need to submit the selection.
Now that you know you’re in the right place for designing checkboxes, let’s learn more about making them effective.
The checkbox component has a simple anatomy. It consists of an input element, a label, and a sign, which can be one of three options: none, checked, or intermediate:
The checkbox size can vary and depend on the user’s device, but usually, it will be between 24x24px and 44x44px. For a mobile phone, we’ll need to use bigger sizes so the user can click on it easily, but for a desktop, we can use smaller sizes since the user has a mouse.
A checkbox can have up to five different states: enable, disable, hover, focus, and pressed:
You may find these similar to button states, though a little less complicated.
The checkbox has three types of selections associated with it:
Let’s look at some tips that will help you design a checkbox.
As designers, we want to make things stand out, and we investigate new, groundbreaking ways to do things.
However, this is not the case when we work on checkbox design. This is because this component is a very common one, and many people know how to use it. So, keep things as simple as possible so the users will understand its function quickly.
Apart from the standard checkbox that comes alone or in a list, there is also a type of checkbox that appears in a tree view or nested list.
The checkbox works the same, but because the tree view has its hierarchical structure, if the user clicks on the parent checkbox in the list, it will affect all the child checkboxes.
This structure is useful for cases where users want to make multiple selections simultaneously. The tree view makes it easier to select multiple items at once; for example, in a table of many items, if the user wants to select all the items, they can select the parent item, and all the other items will selected:
Lists of multiple checkboxes should be organized vertically instead of horizontally because vertical lists are easier to read and scan, making it easier for users to navigate and find what they search for faster:
If the user has to select a minimum number of elements from a checkbox group, mention it; that way, they will understand how many elements they must select. This will ensure the user knows what to do to complete the task:
What happens after the user clicks on the intermediate state is a classic edge case in designing the checkbox component.
Will all the elements in the list be checked or not? There is no one answer to that, and it depends on the users’ needs whether to make all the checkboxes selected or deselected after clicking on the intermediate state:
Clickable labels enable users to select the checkbox more easily because they can click or tap on a larger area:
Writing isn’t every UX designer’s strength, but labeling checkboxes can be clear cut.
In general, 3–4 words are enough. Shorter labels are easier for users to read and remember and reduce cognitive load.
The checkbox label should be clear and understandable for the user after the first read. For example, it should be written in a language that the user can understand, avoiding jargon and technical terms.
Position the label to the right of the checkbox because this is the most common position, and it helps make your interface more intuitive.
Frame the labels positively rather than negatively. This is because positive language is more motivating and encourages the user to take action. For example, use “Enable notifications” instead of “Disable notifications.”
In this article, we looked at one of the most common elements in UX design: the checkbox. We discussed the anatomy of the feature, the different states of it, and the distinct types of selection, such as selected, not selected, and indeterminate checkbox states.
Checkboxes are essential, but they need to follow a consistent design language. This isn’t a design element to experiment on; it’s one to create as familiar and accessible.
Header image source: IconScout
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