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Is there any standards out there when it comes to a mailing address form? I need to collect the following fields:

  • address line 1
  • address line 2
  • city
  • postal code (or zip)
  • province(or state)
  • country

The country and province will be drop downs. (the province one being dependant on the country)

so my question is: is it better to have the fields in a similar layout to a standard mailing form: ie:

address line 1    
address line 2    
city   province   postal code
country

or in a more logical order like:

address line 1    
address line 2    
city   postal code    
country province
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Can you give us an idea of how many countries you're supporting? All of them? It can make a difference. –  Virtuosi Media Sep 24 '10 at 20:14
    
pretty much all of them yes. The boss has decided on the country/province being drop downs –  Patricia Sep 24 '10 at 20:17
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Not all countries have their postal code after the city. So I wouldn't put them on one line unless you know that the countries you support all have the same way of formatting an address. –  Marjan Venema Sep 24 '10 at 20:23
    
ahhh, great point, thanks Marjan –  Patricia Sep 24 '10 at 20:38
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5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Luke Wroblewski wrote an article at UX Matters about international address forms. I'd recommend consulting that article as it lists some best practices, patterns and conventions distilled from user research. Luke also wrote a book about web forms called Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks which covers this topic as well.

Near the end of his article, he also highlights Amazon's form, which is generic and supports all kinds of inputs. Amazon would be a good place to do some research for your form design. Amazon's address form design

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great link and example! thanks –  Patricia Sep 27 '10 at 13:46
    
This is far from perfect, City and Zip is mandatory and it formats it like a US address. Most postal services will probably deliver it eventually; even if you fill in nonsense data or repetitions of valid data to satisfy the incorrect validation on the form. But its output is not a correctly formatted Norwegian address no matter how you fill in the form. –  Stein G. Strindhaug Mar 30 '11 at 14:05
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Saying you "need" these fields frightens me. You certainly don't need all these fields for a Norwegian address.

Not only does splitting address input into that many fields cause problems for the user trying to force their address into a form made for another country, but how should the address data be reformatted into a correct address?

How do you suppose a Norwegian address on this form, should be forced into these fields? And when the "city","postal code (or zip)", "province(or state)" fields are randomly assigned some of these values, how should you print the label in the correct order?

<Name>
<Street-name> <house-number>
<4-digit-post-code> <uppercase place name>
NORWAY

E.g.

Ola Normann
Karl Johansgate 13b
0599 OSLO
NORWAY

I'd reccommend using just:

Name:    [ text line input    ]

Address: [   multiline        ]
         [   text area        ]

Country: [select box or text line input]

Why make it more complicated than that? This should work perfectly for any type of address, and easy to use.

(If for some reason Americans are unable to write their own address properly, just make a US specific form when USA is chosen as country, and let anybody else fil out the simple name/addres/country form)

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I suggest multi-line text boxes for addresses even when all addresses will be domestic. People have been writing free-form addresses literally for centuries, and the mail gets delivered -even for Americans :-). Today, we have algorithms to extract city and region information from free-form addresses with sufficient reliability for aggregating and reporting purposes. The need for multiple address fields no longer exists. Save the user from all this tabbing and force-fitting. –  Michael Zuschlag Mar 30 '11 at 11:51
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These forms annoy me. Most of the time they ask for way more information than is needed. I don't know about the UK, but all that is mandatory in the UK is house number and post code. That's it. But it's different in different countries.

So.. actually how about outsourcing this whole mess to someone who has solved it and keeps it all nice and up to date for you? QAS seem to do a pretty good job -- see their interactive demo and, WOO, their UK lookup, just like I said, only needs house number and postcode.

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that is a pretty cool tool! though it came up with about 20 options for the 2nd address i tested, and having to search a list and the extra clicks isn't really any less annoying then having to fill out a form with a couple text boxes and 2 drop downs. it also failed on my own address. not allowing for my unit # in a townhouse complex. –  Patricia Sep 24 '10 at 20:37
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Indeed. By relying on just number/postcode without a backup method you will exclude people with fresh postcodes (new postcodes come into existence, and the Royal Mail PAF database released to the rest of the world isn't always up to date - depending on what subscription servcie they choose.) –  adrianh Sep 25 '10 at 9:10
    
The problem with consulting external services is that you're introducing a dependency into your form that can have accessibility problems as well as be unintuitive compared to just filling in your address. LukeW talks about his research into this area a bit in his book. –  Rahul Sep 27 '10 at 9:07
    
You don't need to restrict the form. Keep all fields available. But you can put ZIP right after street address and then auto fill the rest if applicable. (BTW, why are there always 2 lines for address...does anyone ever use that second line?) –  DA01 Sep 27 '10 at 14:20
    
Actually this is not true; Royal Mail specifies the "locality" element as mandatory. Still, mail addressed to "123 / AA1 1AA" will probably get there. But they do want you to specify the town. –  romkyns Aug 21 '13 at 16:59
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1: Adress line 1

2: Postal code and city

3: Country and providence (only show providence if supported)

Under line 3 put a link "Set a secondary address", and if it's pressed, you get a replicated form like the one on line 1, 2 and 3, but with a headline á "Address line 2".

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I like the idea of Stein G. Strindhaug, but there are two issues with a multi-line text area for international addresses.

  1. Users often forget to enter a part of their address, for example a house-number, or a postal code. Separate inputs for each part of the address helps the user to enter all required address information.
  2. A multi-line address text area can only be used if you print the address on a package or invoice and don't need separate parts of the address. It is often very difficult to see which part of an foreign address is the street and which part is the region. So if you need to enter the address into the database of for example a forwarder you have to separate the multi-line text field into street/ area/ postal code again which is difficult with a lot of foreign addresses. This issue makes it also impossible to check whether the address is correct if you don't have extensive knowledge about the foreign address format.
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If the user "forgets" part of their address, the postal service in their country is forgiving or they're not really interested in getting mail delivered. The Norwegian postal service is quite forgiving, I (eventually) received a Scientific American that was essentially addressed to my name; oslo; norway; and this was BECAUSE of an overly detailed address form that discarded "invalid" inputs. –  Stein G. Strindhaug Mar 30 '11 at 13:42
    
It would indeed be hard to extract nonexistent information from an address, such as "state" or "region" from my address that does not include such info (hint: Norway don't have states, and the administrative subdivisions is not used in the address). Adding such info (as American forms often do) to a Norwegian address will cause confusion and probably delays in the delivery. Why would you need to split such info up in the database anyway? A big string field for the address would be sufficient. –  Stein G. Strindhaug Mar 30 '11 at 13:46
    
If you insist on splitting the address into several fields, you really need extensive knowledge of the address format of all countries to be able to string it back together in the correct format. Having a free form field requires no knowledge from the developer about address formats, because the user formats it like they know it's supposed to be formatted. The only thing you need to do is make sure there is enough space for the pre-formatted address on the shipping label/envelope window. –  Stein G. Strindhaug Mar 30 '11 at 13:51
    
>> If the user "forgets" part of their address, the postal service in their country is forgiving or they're not really interested in getting mail delivered. Or the package is sent back to it's origin on the other side of the world. Most international forwarders need specific data to send a package, which you need to enter in their system. –  user4386 Mar 30 '11 at 15:47
    
If I mess up my own address in a free form text area so bad that the package is returned, I should pay; if the address is split up into lots of irrelevant fields and then reassembled into something that is messed up beyond recognition its not my fault! International mail needs just ONE piece of information: the name of the country, when the mail is in the correct country the local part should be formatted in the local fashion. –  Stein G. Strindhaug Mar 31 '11 at 11:58
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