Address Book: The problem with field labels

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
January 9th, 2004 • 12:58 am

Mac OS X’s Address Book application is a database application. As such, its interface is based on the “card stack” model made popular on the Mac with the good old HyperCard in the 1980s.

There are serious problems, however, with the way card fields are labelled in Address Book’s interface. One major problem is that the fields for email addresses, telephone numbers and mailing addresses don’t have labels that say, respectively “email address”, “telephone number”, and “mailing address”.

Instead, they have those ubiquitous “work”, “home”, and “other” labels, which can even be customized by the user.

In order to compensate for the lack of accuracy of the description of the field contents, Apple uses the following trick: When you are in “Edit” mode, if a field doesn’t contain anything, instead of an empty box you have a word in a pale shade of grey that describes what is supposed to go in the field.

The assumption is obviously that, once you have put something in the field (thereby erasing the grey text that effectively labels the nature of the field), the contents of the field are enough to indicate what type of field it is. After all, something that looks like “” is obviously an email address, something that looks like “(888) 666-7777” is obviously a phone number, etc. So it’s not longer necessary to indicate in a label what the field is for.

This is fine in theory. In practice, however, there is a major problem. What happens, say, if the user accidentally pastes an email address in the telephone number field labelled “work”? First of all, Address Book doesn’t warn you at all. It gleefully accepts the email address as a valid phone number (!).

Then once you exit the “Edit” mode, there is absolutely no visual indication that there is anything wrong with the card. Look at it:

Is there anything here that tells you that the email address is in a telephone number field?

Didn’t think so.

So what happens next? The user goes to Mail, starts typing the name of the individual, and… Mail doesn’t autocomplete it by retrieving the email address from the Address Book. Why? Well, because it’s in a telephone number field. But the user goes back to the Address Book and checks the card, and sees nothing wrong.

This is all wrong, very wrong. The Address Book interface assumes that the user won’t ever make any errors, such as pasting the wrong data in the wrong field. It’s bad.

One Response to “Address Book: The problem with field labels”

  1. John Wilen says:

    Is there a way to import the data from Hypercard’s Rolodex into the new OS X “Address Book”?

    Many thanks!

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.