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Shipping addresses should have multiple fields for address line 1, address line 2, city, state/province, and zip/postal code. This is of course pretty standard.

However, what if the information for an address is not for shipping? Then will it be acceptable to have a single field to input an address?

For example, an app like urbanspoon will require every restaurant to enter their address. The address will be listed on their page and the map. Will having a single field have any downside to this? Will it affect the SEO? Backend? Or is there a psychology behind having multiple fields (less cumbersome)?

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    I actually question the validity of the assertion in the first paragraph. Just look at all the internationalization, validation and sanitization questions regarding addresses around here. Implementers always assume a data model too simple for the real world and force it upon users, which frustrates them more often than you wanna know, because they have formed a mental model for addresses themselves. Alas, most are now also used to bad multi-field forms for address entry, so that some halfwits may even expect that as the only possible and trustful solution. (That’s our collective fault.) – Crissov Jan 30 '16 at 9:27
  • A nice tweet about this topic: "the World is complex but UI doesn’t need to be complicated.". – Aldo Apr 26 '18 at 7:50
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It sure can be!

Let me offer two real-world examples from Google products.

Google Maps

Google Maps

Google Calendar

Google Calendar

The question as it stands is a bit broad. The other answers bring up valid points, but they are chiefly implementation challenges.

Implementation problems

The way Google solves all of these problems is to pass what you type in real-time to an API that then provides suggestions based on what you have typed. Then, the user can choose from an address the service knows about — is already validated — or can just choose from whatever their free-form text entry was.

If you care about data integrity at all, I would argue that this is the only way you can accomplish this with any reliability.

UX ?

This also arguably provides an improved user experience over a multi-field form because the user can enter a partial address but obtain a full address via the validation service, via autocompletion. Many exist.

Some research would need to be done to see if the implementation panics tools like screen readers. You may want to consider providing the multi-line alternative people are familiar with.

If you don't care about data integrity — for example, the address is solely for the use of the user who entered it, so they will recognize it even if it is not shippable — you can definitely do it.

  • Note that Google’s long single-line input approach likely also works better with auto-completion than a multi-line text field or a number of short single-line fields, which, on the other hand, would seem more natural for entering postal addresses (i.e. to be used in shipping something). – Crissov Jan 30 '16 at 9:16
  • Indeed, that's what I was referring to in my first paragraph in "UX ?". – msanford Jan 30 '16 at 20:08
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There are two reasons:

  1. Usability. People are accustomed to separate fields for an address form.
  2. Data/backend. If you allow the user to use a freeform field to type their full address, you'll get a TON of different variations. It's also a pain in the ass on the backend. You'll have a hell of a time sanitizing, sorting and storing the data.

Example:

123 Main st. Some State, zip

123 Main STREET, ZIP CODE, STATE

123 main street state zip

All three examples are the same address, but they are all different.

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There is a chance this would be more usable but it would take a tremendous amount of work. I think it would be lovely to just copy and paste your address in one field and have the backend take of the rest.

There are so many usability issues and technical difficulties that would have to be researched, tested and solved before having a single field address would make sense. Even then, after doing user tests it might end up being more useful to stick with the status quo.

Possible questions that need answers

  • How will the backend store data?
  • How will the backend parse the data?
  • How will the backend allow the data to be edited?
  • How will the user get error messages?
  • How will you validate the address?
  • Will not having the numpad come up on mobile for the zipcode affect usability?
  • Will the user easily adapt to the new way of entering their address?
  • Will it be more usable then standard forms?
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Just one field with a reference example next to it will suffice if you don't plan to automate the work with that data.

See Luke Wroblewski providing arguments in favor of a one input phone number entry.

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