Style Switchers Are Back: Ideas, Examples and a Contest


Style switchers are used to provide users with a choice of layouts, fonts, colors and views they can use to adapt the design to their personal needs. Designs with style switchers are more flexbile, more adaptive and more user-friendly as different visitors can quickly modify the design for their personal convenience.

When offering different layouts and design variations your design may better suit the preferences of your visitors. After all, it is almost impossible to make the design look nice and work properly for everybody. Style switchers are also used in web-sites which emphasize the usability and accessibility in their designs.

Style Switchers Contest

Web designers can achieve significant usability-improvements by adding a simple style switcher to their designs. Style switchers are useful and powerful as they give users a better control of site presentation. However, this technique is almost never used and are sometimes considered to be unnecessary and useless which is simply not true. We would like to change it.

Our goal
We want to motivate you to figure out how style switchers work and how you can use them to improve your designs.

Your task
We’d like you to create beautiful, functional and user-friendly style switchers for your own web-sites. We’ll collect the most creative, usable and elegant solutions and review them in one of our next posts.

The award is Apple Cinema 20 Flat Panel Display with 16.7 million colors, 400:1 contrast ratio, 0.258 mm dot pitch, 16 ms response time and 170-degree viewing angles (see the image below). The winner will be chosen randomly among participants of our contest.


How do I participate?
To participate, just

  1. design a style switcher for your site,
  2. integrate it and make sure it works,
  3. put the plain text “Smashing Magazine” (without a link) on your site. No matter where: it has to be visible and can be deleted afterwards (we need to identify you as the owner of a web-site),
  4. and post the URL of your site with a style switcher in the comments to this post.

One person may submit at most 3 style switchers. However, the style switchers should be different and should be used on different web-sites.

The site with a style switcher must be online and work after the deadline. Spam will be blacklisted, so the link will never appear in our posts again.


19.06.2008. The comments will be closed at 00:01 on 20.06.2008.

The information provided below is supposed to help you to get started with style switchers.

How does a style switcher work?

When the visitor clicks on style switcher, a script changes the stylesheet on the fly, thus presenting the old content in a new layout. Let’s consider the following, very basic example. Peter Sach2 uses 4 small icons to indicate different versions of the site design. In each of these cases the background image is different. When a visitor clicks on one of the icons, the design changes.


The site offers four design variations:



A style switcher, or design elements which are supposed to stand for the style switcher (buttons, icons, plain text), can appear everywhere, but not in the footer. Style switcher isn’t really useful it it isn’t seen at all or is seen too late. In most cases icons or plain text are used.

So what can you really do with a style switcher?

1. Let the user choose an optimal font size

font size-style-switchers are probably the most popular style switchers in the design landscape. Your designs can enable visitors to choose an optimal font size which best fits to his or her personal preferences. Of course, users can achieve the same via their browser, however a style switcher is more comfortable. In best case, the font size, once selected, should remains the same on all pages of a given site. To achieve this you need to store font size settings via cookies. Style switcher can do that, but no browser is able to achieve it — unless the visitors use some specific extensions such as Userscripts6.

Let’s take a look at some examples of how style switchers for font size adjustment can be integrated in site designs. Often the choice of font size is displayed via a sequence of growing letters, in most cases “a”.

Font size-selection on Clusty.com7:


Similar approach is used by Alex King9:


Nice visual design of a style-switcher by Splitdadiz.com11. The first two options decrease and increase the font size; the third and the fourth one stand for color contrast.


Hand-drawn style-switcher is sometimes also an option worth considering:


The selection of font size can be done via plain text link, too:



Active setting can be highlighted via vibrant colors, e.g. with the red:


…or via vibrant background color, e.g. with the orange:


Sometimes the label for style switcher is A+ or A- :


You can also use visual elements, e.g. icons such as magnifying glass to indicate the font size adjustment:


Buttons can be used as well to indicate the font size adjustment:


Another option is to display two letters in different sizes next to each other. This solution, however, should somehow link to settings adjustments as it is not really clear how one can decrease the font size once it was increased. The icon on the left stands for an alternative color contrast.


Fritz Weisshart22 has integrated a style switcher right into the navigation menu. That’s reasonable and makes it easy for visitors to find the style switcher.


2. Let the user choose an optimal typeface

Apart from font size settings you can also let the user manually define the typeface he or she would like to use to read your content. Of course, it is necessary to make sure that the settings are stored in cookies, so the visitor doesn’t have to define the setting on every page over and over again.

Unfortunately, only few sites make use of this technique. Mike Davidson24 lets his visitors manually define the font size and the font for his content. Ultimately, own typeface can be specified as well. Simple and user-friendly. Besides, Mike also offers 4 different design layouts as well as a mobile version of the site. If you want to make sure that your visitors feel that the designer has actually though about their needs, this is a style switcher you should integrate in your designs.

Screenshot25 uses an extra-sidebar at the right hand side to let users define accessibility settings. Among other things one can define whether sans-serif-typeface or a serif-typeface should be used.


3. Let the user choose an optimal text presentation

Font size, font family, what else? Well, when it comes to the presentation of text, one usually has to decide whether the text should be presented left-aligned or justified. One can let the visitors decide it too. One should mention that left-aligned text doesn’t work well in Web, though. Reason: modern browsers don’t have a sophisticated hyphenation algorithm for “parsing” text in a readable manner — the way we know it from print. It may change in the future, though.

Whatdoiknow.org28 knows how to integrate a style-switcher seamless in the site design. The two rectangles at the left stand for left-aligned text and justified text.


Sometimes one can simply use plain text to provide users with the choice. Visitors from Arabian countries may prefer right-aligned text.


4. Let the user choose an optimal design

What is possible with fonts is, of course, also possible with designs. Designers often present multiple variations of site designs, usually color scheme variations, dark/bright-schemes and design with low and high color contrast. This is very useful from the accessibility point of view. If your web-site is likely to attract a number of senior users you definitely have to integrate a contrast switcher in your design.

Opencomp.de31 lets users choose a font size and select between a colorful and black-white-design.


Marius Roosendaal33 has a beautifully designed styleswitcher which is perfectly integrated into the overall site design. Three beautiful themes are available: Sunrise, Night and Day.


An almost minimalistic, but pretty colorful style switcher is presented by Urbanchip35, a design agency from Argentina. The site lets its visitors select one of 5 stylesheets for the site. The selected theme is stored in users’ cookies.


Wishtree37 offers 8 background color variations.


Diego Valobra39 has two antique styles. In both cases only the background image is dynamically changed. Sometimes, it is enough. The style switcher can be arrange vertically as well.


Werkbot41 offers a tiny style switcher with four themes — winter, spring, summer and autumn.


DSMagic43 with free color variations.


5. Let the user choose an optimal contrast

From the usability and accessibility point of view one can present visitors multiple designs, but one should also consider presenting visitors designs with various color contrast. Such switchers are also called contrast switchers.

In most cases, to make sure the content is readable it is enough to have a basic stylesheet with very light text on very dark background. Not every design is optimized for a good color contrast which is where a contrast switcher can help. Roger Johansson45 has one.


Sas-Foto.de47 has a color switcher at the bottom of the page. It would be better to place the style switcher somewhere at the top of the page to make it more visible for new visitors.


Popurls.com49 is probably the king (or queen) of style switchers. The site lets its visitors to define a variety of preferences such as whether the links should be opened in new window and how large the fonts should be. Of course, contrast switcher is also offered. Users can also arrange content blocks and select content layout.


To ensure a high color contrast Dustin Diaz51 uses green text on dark background.


Merixstudio53 hides the link to a high contrast version at the right upper corner of the design. The “high contrast” version removes all gradients and uses strong and vibrant colors. The design itself changes slightly, but effectively.


6. Let the user choose an optimal layout

You can also provide your visitors with the option to define the width of the layout and the layout itself. Most used solution is a style switcher between tiny and wide layouts which is supposed to let users with various screen resolutions see the site a way they want to.

Excusemeplease.org55 with a page layout switcher: the sidebar can be placed on the left or on the right of the content area. How the site looks like is now user’s, not designer’s decision.


Phonophunk57 has a quite distinctive layout-switcher. The used icons may not be clear enough for new visitors. Here the layout is really flexible. The sidebar can be placed to the right or to the left (two icons in the middle), two other icons stand for a tiny and wide layout.


BestWebGallery59 provides visitors with three views of the content. The settings are stored via cookies.


ShopComposition61 has a very unusual and extremely adaptive design layout. Visitors can switch between different views and define the width of the blocks. That is not really a style switcher, but the idea is interesting and can definitely be used for an effective style-switcher.


The layout switcher on Einfach-fuer-alle.de63 can switch between a standard layout and a print layout (links were translated to English for better readability):


One can also use a <select>-element to let the user make his or her choice:


Not beautiful, but quite switchy: users can change the font-size and the width of the layout:


dfTheme67 is one of the few themes which have a sophisticated style switcher integrated in the theme. Users can change the font size and the width of the layout. The theme is available for WordPress, Drupal CMS and Joomla CMS.


How do I implement a style switcher?

To embed multiple style sheets in your site you simply need to embed each of them using the <link>-tag and the corresponding relation. That’s not a big secret since designers have been doing it for years — e.g. to integrate a print-layout in the design.

Let’s consider the following example:

<link href="css/layout.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" title="Standard Layout" />
<link href="css/alt-layout.css" rel="alternate stylesheet" type="text/css" title="High Contrast Layout" />

By default the style sheet layout.css will be used. A style switcher should now make it possible to switch to alternative style sheet alt-layout.css

Using any modern web-browser users can manually switch between the themes offered on a web-site (see the screenshot below). However, nobody is actually browsing from site to site looking for a style switchers (well, nobody except of us). Hence when simply included in HTML, alternate stylesheets are very likely to be overlooked. To make sure your visitors are aware of them you need to make them visible in your design.

Style sheets can be chosen with Firefox

And to make a style switcher visible you need to use icons, buttons or at least plain text. And, of course, a switcher script, e.g. JavaScript or PHP. However, you can achieve the same with ASP or Perl. It is also reasonable to consider using a cookie to ensure the setting will be stored and applied to all pages of a given web-site. We present some of the “ready-to-use”-solutions in the reference section, at the end of the post.

Finally, an overview of tutorials, how-tos, style-switcher-scripts and resources you can use to develop your style switcher.

Tutorials and Style-Switcher-Scripts For Free Download

Style Switcher with WordPress Plugins

Good luck, folks!


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Sven is the co-founder and former CEO of Smashing Magazine. He's now writing at his Conterest Blog, where he focuses on blogs, content strategy and publishing — all in German.

  1. 1

    Let me say again, nice contest and great iniciative.

    So… my blog is actually wordpress powered, and it was a little dificult to implement the theme switcher without direct requests to the server via GET/POST, so, i’ve worked in 2 different stylesheets with a completly diferent grafical layout, changed by php session arguments.

    The Theme Switcher is on top-left over the logo banner, take a look!

    Thanks for the inspiration Smashing Magazine, actually the BLUE version is better than the default one (RED).

    The link is Here.

    Thanks for the oportunity to participate!
    Good luck to everyone!

    Best regards.
    Mário Santos.

  2. 102


    That website has an extremely good style switcher! I was just thinking about that the other day. Looks like you use JavaScript to calculate the users date and time. Very handy, I want to do some research and figure out what all you did.

  3. 203

    I built for the wife and despite my fears that her chosen orange colour scheme might be a little rich on the retina, she insisted on orange.

    A week after launching she got an email congratulating her on the site but saying the colour scheme was too bright. I was then told to immediately change the colour scheme to something less bright, so in a childish fit of pique, I added a simple colour switcher to avoid her coming back a week later for something more bright.

    Women! Can’t live with ’em, can’t kill ’em! ‘Smashing Magazine’ text in ‘About Us’ page footer.

  4. 304

    I did a design reboot of my personnal website a year ago, asking me more than 18 monthes of work.
    I wanted some switches for the visitor. So i did a black tooolbar in the upper screen of my page :
    – sizeable text (“dézoomer” and “zoomer”)
    -background lighteable (“éclairer”)
    – unactivable fancy animations (“sans anim” and “déplier”)
    Choices are stored by cookies, can be erased (“RAZ”), and are NOT displayed if javascript is not activated (since it can’t work without it). In fact, personnal styles are applied after loading, so pages may “move” after display.

    And sorry, text is in french.

  5. 405

    I just did a redesign of my personal homepage and as I was reading your article about the style switcher I had the idea to make one for my homepage too. As everything is in a space theme, you can switch the styles while choosing a planet (find it on top of the right column).
    Link []

  6. 506

    Great idea, and with the excellent wordpress theme by Jai Nischal Verma I created:

    Taijiquan & Daoyin

    which has a styleswitcher based on the Chinese Five Elements theory.

  7. 607

    Here is mine Link

    Outline rules!

  8. 708

    just curious, why will the winners be chosen at random?

  9. 809

    My site for the competition is:

    I have put the “Smashing Magazine” text in the footer of the first page.
    For this client I’ve implemented a font size switcher.

    All the best from Salzburg, Austria

  10. 910

    great great article!

    and the design in is one of the most beautiful i ever saw!

    i supose is not free…aint it?

  11. 1011

    Looks like fun … I love all these style switchers that everyone has made.

    Link []

  12. 1112

    I put “smashing magazine” into several locations – not hard to find :)

  13. 1213

    Added my site to your contest. It’s great to give visitors different ways to view your site. Mine allows user to change overall color theme of site. Good luck to all.

  14. 1314

    Florian Pichler

    June 13, 2008 8:59 am

    I coded a totally custom styleswitcher for (only for FF/Safari for now)
    Previews, backgrounds and the switcher itself are loaded with ajax, the list of available backgrounds is generated dynamically so every writer of the blog can easily add their own background.

    Hit the button “Hintergrund ändern” in the upper left of the page to open up the styleswitcher and choose a background you like.

  15. 1415

    I’ve set up multiple themes on my site that the visitors can switch between: Ledger Pad.

  16. 1516

    Another great contest!

    My site / style switcher: Link

  17. 1617

    This was fun! Link []

  18. 1718

    @SchattenMann: do you really think that design is one of the best around? It is not even tableless, come on…

  19. 1819

    Hi everyone!
    How about a site that has fifty style sheets to choose from?

    Thank you Smashing Magazine for the motivation compelling me to get busy and create a template page with the design idea I’ve had in my head for a short time.
    I wanted to allow my webdesign clients to see lots of colour schemes and layouts.

    I hope you like the result, I had lots of fun creating it!
    My LInk

  20. 1920

    this is my site for the contest, I hope you like it.

    Greetz, great site, great content.

  21. 2021


    Here is my site with style switchers:

    THanks Smashing Magazine!

  22. 2122

    that doesnt mean the design is not good to your eyes…i think is very very preaty

  23. 2223

    Here’s my entry.

    OK, it may not be the most innovative or funky website or style switcher around, but it’s my own, built with my own little hands and I am very proud of it ;). You can change the width of the website to fit an 800 by 600 screen or 1024 by 768. I also have a font-increase functionality that also change the size of the home and print icons on the side.

  24. 2324

    I totally forgot that my out-dated, old online blog uses a style switcher when the page refreshes. There are 4 separate styles that change colors, links (background images), and other elements on the pages. It’s a bit jarring to go from page to page, but that was completely intended.

    The site is

    Smashing Magazine is at the very bottom.

  25. 2425

    I’ve added a style switcher to my blog. Just have a look! I like it very much.
    Now you’re able to change the position of the sun between daylight and sunset. after this contest my site will get 4 styles: sunrise, day, sunset, night and change them automatically. I’ve kept this in mind fo a long time, but after your post I thought: “okay. you have to do this NOW” :D

    I hope you like it.

    ah .. you will find the smashing magazine “info” inside my header (code). But there’s a link to you in my portfolio sidebar. It’s always there ;)

  26. 2526

    I have often wondered how to switch styles. It seemed like it would be complex, and time consuming. Now that I see it can done with CSS I might just give it a try on my next site.

    Thanks for this

  27. 2627

    Thomas J Bradley

    June 18, 2008 6:37 am

    The style switcher on my website is controlled by the flash banner at the top of the page.
    When you click on the pink star you will be presented with a slider to glide through the different styles for the site.

    Each of the styles correspond to a time of day, and are displayed during that time period. But I wanted to have a fun hidden aspect so I provided this easter egg to slide through all the time periods / styles.

    Check it out

    Thanks Smashing Magazine!

  28. 2728

    Here is my entry.

    This is my new online resume website, it has a simple switcher for changing the background image. It’s all done with Mootools 1.2 Beta 2.


  29. 2829

    Hello. Another entry here.

    Smashing Magazine at the very bottom.

    Thank you.

  30. 2930

    We’ve been having a play with this today and have uploaded the fruits of our labours for entry :)

    Change the theme via the button in the top right – 4 to choose from. Each one changes the site holder and also a few bits in the portfolio. Smashing mag text in the footer.

    Hope you like it!


  31. 3031

    My entry is Spaksu Blog

    Thank you SM

  32. 3132

    My portfolio of website design, pure structure is my entry.

  33. 3233

    The full design is not ready yet.. but i think the switcher is more important in that contest ;) You’ll see Smashing text on the bottom of the page when you click on /root.. ;)


  34. 3334

    Here is my entry. I had to rush this one. I wasn’t planning on going live for another month. Smashing is in the footer.


  35. 3435

    My site has a style switcher that changes depending on the time of day.
    The user can also pick their desired style if they prefer.

  36. 3536

    Here is my website entry. I used PHP sessions to easily make a “low vision mode” for users with bad eyesight. The alternate stylesheet has increased font sizes. The text “Smashing Magazine” is at the very bottom of the page. Thank you!

  37. 3637

    Hi there,

    Another entry here.

    Link []

    I love Smashing Magazine at the bottom.

    Thank you and good luck everyone!

  38. 3738

    This styleswitcher is very clean – just changes the main color. I love the clean style :-)
    Additionaly I build in a resizer, which not only scales the font size but the whole site because it’s all based on ems.


    smashinmagazine is in the bottom left

    Best regards, nicole

  39. 3839

    It just so happens that I was already planning a color-switcher for my personal site. It’s very minimalistic but uses transparent png.s and background-color to save on loading different logos for each selected color: Link

  40. 3940

    The style switcher is in the navigation on the home page and the Smashing Magazine is on the articles

    The style gets picked randomly and gets put in a cookie. The cookie gets deleted after an hour so when the user comes back the look is different. The Smashing Magazine is in the bottom right.

    I submitted earlier but it was on a wifi connection and really slow so I just wanted to make sure it went through.

  41. 4041

    The style switcher is in the navigation on the home page and the Smashing Magazine is on the articles

    The style gets picked randomly and gets put in a cookie. The cookie gets deleted after an hour so when the user comes back the look is different. The Smashing Magazine is in the bottom right.

    I submitted earlier but it was on a wifi connection and really slow so I just wanted to make sure it went through.

    Comment entered for Luke Larsen

  42. 4142

    Ok, this bad-boy was made exclusively for Smashing Magazine using transparent PNGs and jQuery. Check out the all-powerful Foliage-O-Meter!

    Look for it on the right sidebar above the text “Smashing Magazine” and enjoy.

    P.S. Break out the machetes.

  43. 4243

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    June 19, 2008 11:25 pm

    Comments are closed now. Thank you for participation. We’ll publish the results next week.


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