I am redesigning a system where the user can enter various contact details for associates via a personal details form.

In this form, there is a phone number input field. After a phone number is entered it appears in reading view as a clickable number. So it will dial the number for the user if clicked on.

There are a finite number of characters allowed in the field aside from numbers - hyphens, full stops, spaces, parenthesis, hash key e.t.c

Some people choose to input company contact numbers containing phonewords (or vanity numbers). For example - 18000 Call Sony

However some users are just flying through the form and putting letters in the phone number field that eg 1800 876 5432 (Call After 6) or 1800 876 5432 Ext450

I am trying to design a form that will accept phonewords as viable contacts (converting letters to numbers behind the scenes - and therefore making it diallable) but at the same time run a validation error against other letters/words that cause a system error when entered as part of a dial code.

The current issue is people are entering in a lot of unusable data in there

Phonewords (or vanity numbers)

e.g 1800 Call Sony

attached is an image of phone section of the form

enter image description here

  • BTW the solutions I am currently thinking of are: (1) if the user enters any letter and clicks save, he/she is met with a notification window asking him/her 'Does this text entered form part of a vanity number?' (2) If the user begins to enter letters in the phone field, it will be flagged and a notification will appear underneath the text field stating sometime like 'Letters are not valid unless forming part of an alpha numeric phone number - if you wish to enter text you may do so in the notes field below.'
    – Spiral13
    Feb 29, 2012 at 16:47

2 Answers 2


As far as I can tell, all that matters is that the user specifies a valid number, regardless of how they enter it.

I would recommend:

  1. Letting the user know that you accept alphabetic characters, corresponding to the number on a US keypad*, perhaps giving an example, such as 1800-EXAMPLE would become 1800-3926753. Just adding a label before, after or next-to the input fields would be sufficient

  2. Converting the number and displaying to the user the number they've entered and the number you've converted it to. This step is important, because it re-enforces the concept and allows the user to realise if they've misunderstood

  3. Not worrying too much if the user is entering a valid official vanity number (such as the 1800 CALL SONY example you gave), just if the text they've entered could be converted into a valid number.

I would also recommend avoiding the term "vanity number", but only because the word "vain" has negative connotations. However, this is just a personal gripe of mine, so you can take it or leave it.

For 1 and 2, I would recommend something like (quick example only!):


I like that you've given the user space to write an extension and notes. I think this is a good approach to combat the problems you've already got with data entry.

*I'm unaware of any differences between keypads on US/UK/Other etc. phones, but it's probably safest to say which keypad standard you're using, unless you're sure they're all the same.

  • +1, solution #2 was my first instinct on reading this question. It provides immediate feedback and stops forcing users to return to an old field several steps later on form submission. Feb 29, 2012 at 18:09
  • Some good points there. I suppose i have some issues with each of them, let me explain: 1 - If let's say only 1% of the users are entering these vanity numbers, then I'm not sure I want a label consistently there as it won't matter to 99% of the users. Maybe it only appears after the user types a letter in the field? 2 - This is a good approach I like this. I just wonder if a user is entering multiple entries and moving really quickly through the form and the number is converted and presented to them will this cause them to stop and compare/check numbers and letters match up?
    – Spiral13
    Mar 1, 2012 at 9:07
  • I also totally agree with you re: the term vanity number. It's a horrible phrase. I certainly would not use it. I'm going to try think of an alternative. So if anyone has any ideas, feel free to shout :)
    – Spiral13
    Mar 1, 2012 at 9:12

Like LordScree, my instinct is to perform inline transformation, turning letters into equivalent numbers as they are typed. The only disadvantage is that it will imply phone numbers will be displayed as digits rather than text to the end user, and I'm not sure if that's your actual intention.

If not, may I suggest displaying the transformed phone number to the side of the form field? This will at least indicate that the entered text is being parsed as a number.

I do not recommend relying purely on labels or explanatory text. Users invariably skip this text, as on most sites, it isn't worth reading.

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