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When to use radio buttons vs. drop-downs?

🔥 Campfire 33: Two important input controls are radio buttons and drop-down menus. Both can be used interchangeably when user input is required.

Alex Dovhyi
Alex Dovhyi
4 min read
When to use radio buttons vs. drop-downs?

Forms are essential components of user interfaces, whether you're designing mobile or web apps. They are the most effective source of user interaction.

The user enters information and inputs it into forms, and the system interprets this data to fulfill the user's requests.

Input controls, input validation, error handling, and user feedback are some of the elements that make a form usable.

Radio buttons and drop-down menus are two important input controls. Both can be used interchangeably when user input is required.

However, a study of the usability of these controls reveals that radio buttons and drop-downs should be used in specific scenarios to make it easier for the user to select a given input.

The following are a few rules based on this usability study that will help you choose one of these controls when designing a form.

Use radio buttons

When you want to emphasize options

There may be several instances where you want to emphasize options:

  • There is no obvious default or recommended choice
  • You want the user to read all of the options before making a choice
  • The options are unfamiliar to the user, and he has little to no chance of predicting them

For example, using a drop-down menu does not appear to be a good idea because the default option does not provide any information about other options.

When you have less than 5 options

Lesser options should be placed side by side so that the user can easily and quickly scan the options.