The zip code itself has a lot of information in it to speed up and auto-complete address information on the fly. Not to mention it has a nicer number only keyboard on all systems.

Are there any mobile examples of typing in the zip first as a way to speed up cumbersome address entry?

What suggestions or drawbacks are there?

  • 2
    Postal area codes are not always numeric and they are not used in every country. Some codes that look like area codes may not even relate to a certain area. Even where they always consist of digits, they usually are not truly numeric, e.g. because leading zeros carry meaning and you can’t do calculations with them. Asking, deriving or guessing the default country early on may help more. – Crissov Jan 23 '16 at 23:34

My car navigation system (Tom-Tom) asks for city/zip first. This allows the system to filter down auto-complete street names in order to limit typing. I find it very helpful in speeding up the entry, and showing relevant matching street names based on just a few characters.

That said, the interface breaks up each step into its own screen. First screen asking for city/zip. Second screen asking for street name. Last screen asking for house number. Breaking it up like this makes it easy to digest and understand, even if it is non-standard ordering. However, if they had them all on one screen laid out in this reverse order, it would've made my brain melt.

When it comes to being "non-standard" I wouldn't worry about it too much as long as the UI makes it easy for the user to understand and doesn't give them a WTF moment. If your address input fields are all on the same screen then it needs to be in the order you read it on a piece of mail.


This is fairly common in the UK.

A form will ask for House number then Postcode then will pre-fill the address fields with the street name/town/county and so on.

Or will provide a dropdown of all the addresses in a postcode.

  • do you have any examples in an app form or web? – halfbit Jan 24 '16 at 18:39
  • @LamonteCristo sorry but I don't – James Fenwick Jan 24 '16 at 18:46
  • @LamonteCristo royalmail.com/find-a-postcode - type in postcode, all addresses are then drop downs – mgraham Jan 26 '16 at 11:29
  • @mgraham That's similar but is more like Google's single search bar – James Fenwick Jan 26 '16 at 11:31
  • It's common, but it can also be really annoying if implemented badly, as the databases people use for the completion (even including Royal Mail's own website) are not always correct (e.g. they mislabel flats at the same house number in a way that would make mail undeliverable). Because of the nature of the UK post code system, the sequence tends to be: 1) type post code; 2) select address from a list; 3) discover your address isn't in the database and manually edit one or more fields. Occasionally, it is implemented with no chance for step 3, making the form unusable. – IMSoP Jan 26 '16 at 19:28

Postal codes are not unique by country. For example the postal code 50170 appears in 10 different countries. You should ask for the country first, or at least set it as the default based on the user's current location.

Also, Ireland doesn't use postal codes outside of Dublin.


I think you've already listed a benefit, which is faster form completion. The average form asking for an address is usually in this order (assuming US address):

  1. Street Address 1
  2. Street Address 2
  3. City
  4. State
  5. ZIP Code

This is the normal way mail or packages are addressed, and often times the way a person usually reads or gives out an address verbally. This is drastically different; however, from what carriers actually do. Take for example, USPS (https://about.usps.com/publications/pub100/pub100_078.htm), they sort mail in the exact opposite order of the list above. In other words, they initially sort mail by ZIP code, and then ultimately use the street address to deliver it.

Here's some advantages and disadvantages to asking for the information in reverse order.


  • In most cases a ZIP code can map to a unique City, or at the very least State, this means your app or service can autofill at least one if not two fields, which reduces user effort
  • A bonus of the point above is you can reduce user error along with user effort. If your service or app can at the very least recommend the City and State (even if it lets the user change it), chances of typos or spelling errors are greatly reduced.


  • The biggest disadvantage is like I mentioned above, it's not normal to ask for ZIP code first when entering a complete address. This uncommon ordering could cause users to be initially confused.

Ultimately, you'll have to weigh the benefits and problems to determine if a streamlined form is better for your users, or if the risk in possibly confusing users (possibly losing conversions) is too great.


I like the concept of beginning with country or zip code, and it is likely worth an experiment, yet there are some risks. Unless all users will be from the same country there may be users without zip codes. Users may be confused by an unexpected address block layout. Here is an informative article about address form UX design patterns that looks at these and other issues and recommends design solutions.

I saw two interesting suggestions in the comments on the article:

  • Attempt to use geolocation to auto fill as much information as possible
  • a "google like" solution might be a single text area parsed on the backend

The "google like" concept got me thinking... It might be interesting to offer a single text field that allows free-form address entry and then display a map search result that the user can reference to visually confirm the address has been interpreted correctly.

  • Interesting feedback! When you say geolocation, do you mean prefilling the address for by grabbing the device's location? If so, there're a couple downsides to that: 1) it requires the user grant access to their location data, 2) it might not be accurate if they're using a VPN, 3) if it's a shipping addr, they might be shipping to a different location. The idea behind entering the postal code first is to solid point from which to populate the address. – Patrick Berkeley Jan 24 '16 at 15:54
  • I've updated what I proposed to handle users in countries that do not have postal codes. Supposedly these gist.github.com/kennwilson/3902548 are the countries that don't have postal codes. Unless the OP has significant needs for internationalization, it's probably not necessary to create multiple versions of the form and rather use the Generic Format outlined in the article you linked to. – Patrick Berkeley Jan 24 '16 at 15:55
  • @patrickberkeley True, users may choose to disable geolocation, but that's their choice. Hopefully it remains accurate to at least the equivalent of country and state/province. The goal is to autofill as much as possible to speed up form entry, with graceful fallback if that fails. – Michael Hogan Jan 24 '16 at 16:02
  • @patrickberkeley an important UX design pattern is "progressive enhancement". Design for a basic browser, detect browser features, and based on features detected enhance the web application to improve UX. It may be possible to use A/B style testing, Design of Experiments, or user observation to compare the performance of alternative form designs. – Michael Hogan Jan 24 '16 at 16:26
  • Understood on progressive enhancement. However, if for example we populate a shipping address with the current user's address, it will often lead to frustration. A more fail-safe – and progressive enhancement – is to first ask for the minimal amount of information we need to guarantee we have the correct address, and fall back to allowing the user to enter their full address if they either don't have or don't know their postal code (based on a great suggestion from you btw). – Patrick Berkeley Jan 24 '16 at 17:01

A zipcode cannot automatically decipher building number and street address. The best it can figure out is city and state.

I would present the address in the following order.

  1. Street Address Line 1
  2. Street Address Line 2
  3. Zipcode
  4. City
  5. State

This order is not really out of the world and still helps with the auto-complete without messing up the primary info like building number that you would typically see first.

  • "The best it can figure out is city and state." = This isn't entirely true, either. There are ZIP codes that traverse state lines. – DA01 Jan 25 '16 at 20:36
  • Not true. A full zip code is (I think) 9 digits long and is much more precise (down to the street). Unfortunately, most people don't know the whole thing, so it's pretty useless. – user69458 Jan 26 '16 at 1:50

As other answerers have pointed out, the main disadvantage of asking for the zip/postal code first is it's non-standard. I've seen several applications – I cannot recall which ones – counter this disadvantage by breaking the address entry into two distinct stages.

Step one: enter image description here

Step two: enter image description here

By doing this, the user doesn't experience entering the zip first as non-standard because – on step one – it's not part of an full address form at all. After entering their zip, they're pleasantly surprised on step two to see the bulk of their address filled out.

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