Buttons are used to initialize an action. Button labels express what action will occur when the user interacts with it.
Buttons are clickable elements that are used to trigger actions. They communicate calls to action to the user and allow users to interact with pages in a variety of ways. Button labels express what action will occur when the user interacts with it.
When to use
Use buttons to communicate actions users can take and to allow users to interact with the page. Each page should have only one primary button, and any remaining calls to action should be represented as lower emphasis buttons.
When not to use
Do not use buttons as navigational elements. Instead, use links when the desired action is to take the user to a new page.
Each button variant has a particular function and its design signals that function to the user. It is therefore very important that the different variants are implemented consistently across products, so that they message the correct actions.
|Primary||For the principal call to action on the page. Primary buttons should only appear once per screen (not including the application header, modal dialog, or side panel).|
|Secondary||For secondary actions on each page. Secondary buttons can only be used in conjunction with a primary button. As part of a pair, the secondary button’s function is to perform the negative action of the set, such as “Cancel” or “Back”. Do not use a secondary button in isolation and do not use a secondary button for a positive action.|
|Tertiary||For less prominent, and sometimes independent, actions. Tertiary buttons can be used in isolation or paired with a primary button when there are multiple calls to action. Tertiary buttons can also be used for sub-tasks on a page where a primary button for the main and final action is present.|
|Danger||For actions that could have destructive effects on the user’s data (for example, delete or remove). Danger button has three styles: primary, tertiary, and ghost.|
|Ghost||For the least pronounced actions; often used in conjunction with a primary button. In a situation such as a progress flow, a ghost button may be paired with a primary and secondary button set, where the primary button is for forward action, the secondary button is for “Back”, and the ghost button is for “Cancel”.|
A button’s text label is the most important element on a button, as it communicates the action that will be performed when the user interacts with it. In a contained button the text is always left-aligned, not centered. By default Carbon uses sentence case for all button labels.
If a text label is not used, an icon should be present to signify what the button does.
1. Contained button
A. Text label
C. Icon (optional)
3. Ghost button
A. Text label
C. Icon (optional)
2. Outlined button
A. Text label
C. Icon (optional)
4. Icon button
B. Container (optional)
Buttons are named according to their size and usage in the Carbon Sketch kit and in the code. The table below adds more context around the use case for each size. For guidance on button heights as well as type sizes and tokens, see Sizes on the Style tab.
|Button size||Use case|
|Full bleed||Use when buttons bleed to the edge of a larger component, like side panels or modals. Note: This variant is not offered in the kit because it does not have a coded counterpart. Carbon only offers this button in the context of the modal component.|
|Default||Use as primary page actions and other standalone actions.|
|Large expressive||The larger expressive type size within this button provides balance when used with 16px body copy. Used by the IBM.com team in website banners.|
|Field||Use when buttons are paired with input fields.|
|Small||Use when there is not enough vertical space for the default or field-sized button.|
You don’t necessarily need to use the buttons in the order that their labels imply. For example, you don’t always need to use the secondary button as the second button in your layout. The most important thing is to establish a visual hierarchy between the buttons in your UI. Keep these best practices in mind.
A single, high-emphasis button
As a general rule, a layout should contain a single high-emphasis button that makes it clear that other buttons have less importance in the hierarchy. This high-emphasis button commands the most attention.
Multiple button emphasis
A high-emphasis button can be accompanied by medium- and low-emphasis buttons that perform less important actions. Keep in mind that you should only group together calls to action that have a relationship to one another.
Although secondary buttons have less visual prominence because they are less saturated than their primary counterparts, they are still tonally heavy. If your layout requires multiple actions—as is the case with some toolbars, data lists and dashboards—low emphasis buttons (tertiary or ghost) may be a better choice.
Alignment refers to whether the buttons are aligned to the right or the left of a window, container, or layout. Buttons are unique, more so than any other component, in that their alignment depends on where they appear and whether or not they’re contained within another component.
As a general rule, on full-page designs, the primary button is on the left side of the page. When the browser window is large and the user is scrolling to read, it’s best to have the primary button where the user’s attention has been focused all along. Whereas in wizards, where a user is progressing through a series of steps or dialog windows, the primary action traditionally sits at the bottom right. Buttons within components such as notifications, search fields, and data tables are also right-aligned.
In some cases a button group—or even a single button in the case of a side panel or small tile—may span the entire width of a window or container. Typical nested button locations include:
- Banner calls to action
- Dialog windows
|Left-justified||Banner call to actions, in-page forms, and nested buttons in components like tiles|
|Right-justified||Inline notifications, inline field buttons and data tables, progressive forms, wizards, and single-button dialogs|
|Full-span||Dialogs, side panels, and small tiles; currently Carbon does not offer a way to implement full-span buttons in code, without an override, they max out at 320px|
Fluid versus fixed buttons
Button alignment is also closely related to whether the button is treated as a fixed or a fluid element within a layout. When we say “fluid”, we mean that the button becomes a part of a larger, compound component by bleeding to two or more edges of its container. Rather than defining the a fluid button’s width in columns or mini units, its width is defined as a percentage (often 50%) of the container’s width. Also, as a general rule, fluid buttons are never left-aligned in a layout or a container—they’re always either right-aligned, or span the full width of the container.
Fluid components like button never exist in isolation. As you can see in the examples above, they are always part of another component, like modal or form. Other fluid components include tiles and most recently, text inputs.
Fluid button border
Many product designers have approached us looking for more guidance around
borders between all fluid buttons. In a
recent update, we
added a 1px border between all fluid buttons that call the
$ui-03 token for
subtle borders. This feature adds a 3:1 distinction between the two interactive
UI elements. The border is a recommended feature to improve accessibility in
data visualizations, and the same logic should apply here.