What to Look for When Choosing Tactile Buttons

Last Updated: February 8, 2022

Choosing tactile buttons is an important step for interface designers and component manufacturers. The selection of a particular button mechanism will often be based on several factors including the intended applications, user preferences, and design requirements. One of the most popular button styles for modern interfaces is the tactile button, which has a perceptible physical response when touched.

In this post, we’re going to talk about tactile buttons and some of the important factors to consider when choosing a button design. This is important information for designers, end-users, and manufacturers to consider when planning the layout of a new user interface.

What is a Tactile Button?

A mixer control panel with tactile buttons

A tactile button is really defined by the tactile switch installed within the button. A tactile switch provides an increased perception of touch when pressed, as the user can feel the button return to its original position after releasing it. Non-tactile buttons, in contrast, have no movement between the button and its circuit, so it doesn’t create a perceptible physical movement or click.

The physical sensation experienced with tactile switches creates a satisfying reaction for users in knowing that the switch has been activated. Tactile buttons are relatively quiet but still have a physical reaction when pressed, as the user can feel the button click back up. This has made them a popular choice among designers and manufacturers when selecting buttons for control panels and user interfaces.

Tactile buttons are used for a variety of applications today, ranging from medical devices to industrial equipment control panels, office equipment, and consumer electronics and appliances. Some tactile buttons can be sealed, meaning they have better resistance to water and other contaminants that can impact the operation of a switch. These tactile buttons are often used for applications such as medical devices that must be cleaned frequently and may be exposed to chemicals and solvents.

How to Choose a Tactile Button

CNC machine control panel

The performance of a control panel or user interface switch depends on several characteristics that define the function of the button design. Familiarizing yourself with these parameters will help in selecting tactile switches for a particular application. The most common switch parameters are:

  • Actuation point – Force required to actuate the button
  • Tactile point – The point where you can feel some resistance before bottoming out
  • Reset point – The point when the switch no longer measures the keypress
  • Initial force – The amount of force required to move the actuator
  • Actuation force – The force required to trigger the switch
  • Tactile force – The force received by the switch when passed the operating point
  • Bottom-out force – The force received when the button is fully pressed

Each tactile switch manufacturer will publish specifications for their hardware, and you can also consider the following parameters when making a selection.

  • User Experience. When designing a tactile button, it’s a good practice to begin your planning phase from the perspective of the end-users. The button press mechanism should be chosen to give the best possible mix of feel, resistance, and feedback based on the target application. For example, strong tactile feedback would be required if a worker must access the button while wearing gloves that would reduce a person’s ability to sense changes in pressure.
  • Longevity. Each tactile switch will be rated to accept a certain number of keystrokes over its lifetime. This is an important measure of durability when designing a tactile button that will be used frequently. For other applications that receive light work, it may be better to focus on a switch that can sustain a greater amount of force or exhibits other performance parameters.
  • Button Profile. Another important design choice is the profile of the button. Many switch designs are available with “low profile” form factors that include a very thin button. Other hardware can be built around a more traditional form factor that includes thicker buttons that many people are familiar with over the last several decades.

A tactile button design should be optimized for the intended use of the hardware to which it is attached. The parameters listed in this post are just a few of the many technical considerations to make when designing control panels and user interfaces. Tactile buttons can also be used in custom control panels to create an effective and immersive user experience.

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