Switches vs Checkboxes in Xfce 4.14

Steve Dodier-Lazaro sidnioulz at gmail.com
Tue May 3 16:25:21 CEST 2016

> Hi Steve,
> are the sentences "I propose we stick with that interpretation and keep
> checkboxes everywhere in the settings UIs." and "The Accessibility
> settings dialog is a good example of where we might want switches."
> contradictory? Anyway, could you elaborate why you think that Switches
> are a good alternative in the accessibility dialog? Is there a benefit
> (UI/UX-wise) in using them?

There, I tried to be concise in the conclusion and removed too many

I prefer we stick to the Google Material interpretation: all forms with
multiple settings use checkboxes exclusively. Switches are used to turn on
or off a service / feature which is a permanent component of its own (e.g.
the a11y services, the power manager, the compositor). In Xfce these are
often at the top of a settings UI and enable/disable the entire UI's

We absolutely don't need to adopt switches. We're fine as we are. Adopting
them could help users differentiate the important components (those who
have a significant impact on their experience) from the behavioural details
and could help provide a clearer visual hierarchy (where we used
GtkAlignments and widget sensitivity so far). So there is a small benefit.

Now onto the drawbacks. As pointed out by Matthew, GTK+ 3 is designed
exclusively with touch devices in mind. Ultimately, the experience of the
switches would depend on the themes used by users and on the quality of the
keyboard interaction.

Regarding themes: We should provide state information by making sure that
we only use switches in UIs where the current state is unambiguous, and we
should require friend/official themes to not display state labels like
ON/OFF or I/O to avoid state-action ambiguity. Rather, they should go for a
design similar to Material where the state label is not confused for the
outcome of taking an action. We should also ensure that the colour code
used to indicate state in the switch does not have another meaning in our
UIs (I think we're clear on that so far in Xfce). Xfce users tend to use
Numix, Arc-Dark, Greybird and a few other themes, so if we can agree on
graphic design guidelines among those themes I would be keen to use a few

Regarding keyboard interaction: it is not thought through, as pointed out
by Matthew. Yes, left/right is the immediate action that comes to mind and
sadly it does not work. We would need to get the GTK+ devs to agree with us
and change the switch before we go into production with it. This is not
very likely to happen. I'll go and test the waters in #gtk+ right now.


Steve Dodier-Lazaro
PhD Student
University College London
Free Software Developer
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