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Conversion Showdown: Radio Button or Checkbox?

It's not uncommon to encounter a form that is poorly developed, but if user experience and interaction designers understand the basics they can avoid pretty much all major problems and ensure that conversions still happen.

Unfortunately, most don't really know the basics and it is negatively impacting the performance. One of the common and most egregious mistakes related to form design and development is the improper use of radio buttons and checkboxes.

When is the right time to use each?

Radio buttons are used when there is a list of two or more options that are mutually exclusive and the user must select exactly one choice. In other words, clicking a non-selected radio button will deselect whatever other button was previously selected in the list.

Checkboxes, on the other hand, are used when there are lists of options and the user may select any number of choices, including zero, one, or several. In other words, each checkbox is independent of all other checkboxes in the list, so checking one box doesn't uncheck the others.

There are many other rules (guidelines, really) that should be considered when making the choice between radio buttons and checkboxes.

+ Embrace the standards and use expected visual representations - a checkbox, for example, should be a small square that has a checkmark or an X when selected, while a radio button should be a small circle with a solid circle inside it when selected.

+ When/If possible, use radio buttons rather than drop-down menus as radio buttons require lower cognitive load because all options are immediately visible to the user and so can be easily and quickly compared.

+ Always provide a default selection for radio buttons, but do not preselect checkboxes. Essentially, make sure exactly one option is selected and no options are selected for checkboxes.

+ Never (ever) use checkboxes or radio buttons as action buttons, only as a means to change settings or preferences.

These are just some basic guidelines when deciding on whether it is best to use checkboxes or radio buttons. The most significant usability problem on forms (as well as between checkboxes or radio buttons) step from labels that are vague, obtuse, misleading or simply describe options that are difficult for a user to understand.

The distinction between checkboxes and radio buttons should now be clear - choose wisely in the future and interaction design elements will never be a barrier to conversion again.

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