In a typical mobile phone IVR voicemail system you are read out a long and (most likely impossible to remember or recognise) telephone number before playing the message the person who called you recorded.

This means that if the message was valuable you have to replay the message to get the number (assuming it isn't just saved on your phone anyway) and if it wasn't then you've just wasted time listening to a number.

Edited to add: it reads the phone number which called you and left a message, despite having it in your phone history anyway.

Why are these systems typically designed like this?

  • It's so old (convention) that they hadn't heard the thing called design or user friendly.
    – rk.
    Jun 11, 2013 at 12:28

4 Answers 4


Don't look for a design rationale for everything. Many products and services are simply badly designed.

In this case, voicemail is a minor feature of phone service plans. No one picks a service provider based on the quality of the voicemail. And users are not free to pick a different voicemail service; they are stuck with whatever their phone company provides.

Because there is no competition and it does nothing to attract customers, phone companies have little incentive to spend money giving their voicemail systems a good design.

  • I think you're right!
    – Liath
    Jun 11, 2013 at 12:13
  • don't forget Visual Voicemail, which was introduced by the iPhone some years ago. That was a killer feature and I would bet that attracted at least some customers in buying the iPhone, just because it fixed the broken voicemail service providers offer.
    – David K.
    Jun 11, 2013 at 13:19
  • @DKOATED, thanks, I didn't know that. Apparently, you can add "patent wars" to the reasons voicemail is not well-designed.
    – user31143
    Jun 11, 2013 at 13:22
  • Also worth noting, if you get a Google phone number, with many phone services you can use that instead of the default voicemail.
    – aslum
    Jun 11, 2013 at 17:52

Surely voicemail is trying to emulate an email. First you find out who it is from and second you find out the subject?

I'm not defending it by the way - I completely agree, visual voicemail is one of those

Let me give you an example of a general user interface that users just accept (I heard about this the other day) - the common toaster. Do you, or do you not always check your toast to see if it's done and then pop it back it for a little bit longer? Take a look at this: (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sage-Heston-Blumenthal-Smart-Toast/dp/B00CI32SBQ)

The features are: 'A Quick Look' raises and lowers the carriage to check toasting progress without interrupting the cycle. 'A Bit More' button for when your toast needs a little bit more time. Motorised toasting carriage effortlessly lowers your bread and raises your toast. Count down indicator, to let you know how long there is to go. Extra wide self centring toasting slots, position the bread in the centre of the elements for even toasting

Surely this is the same as what visual voicemail did to voicemail - it challenged the status quo of voicemail and reinvented it. The same with so many other products out there (Walkman, Betamax, Dyson with all their products and patents...)

Not necessarily an answer apart from the first sentence, but hopefully food for thought.


I was always taught that, when leaving a message (in the days of digital answering machines), I should leave my name and number FIRST, and then my message. The reason? If somebody needs to hear your number again, or has to fetch a pen/paper to write down your number after deciding your message warranted a callback, they would not have to listen to the entire message to get to the phone number at the end.

This could very well be a holdover from that -- the system wants you to be able to hear the number (both for callback and ID purposes) before the message, so that you don't have to wait for that information to come up within the message.

With visual voicemail and missed call logs, this seems unnecessary and perhaps obtrusive, but for people without those things this still provides information in a helpful way. They could move away from it for some customers, but a consistent experience is important as well.

Edit to add: You also make the assumption that the number is logged on your phone already. This may be the case for most people these days, but consider that some people may check their voicemail from a different line -- checking your work voicemail from your personal line, for example. In this case the VM provided number may be the ONLY identification available to you.

  • That's a nice thought - makes sense to me!
    – Liath
    Jun 11, 2013 at 15:22

The feature exists to save those calling from another line to check voicemail. This is the principle UX reason.

Without this, remotely, you could listen to the entire voicemail without knowing who it was from.

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