Phone numbers should be numbers

19 Nov 2006 - 7:27pm
7 years ago
22 replies
1127 reads
Mark Schraad
2006

With out a doubt my favorite user unfriendly mechanism... that which
I pick on most is the ATM... with its mix of screen buttons, real
buttons and unpredictable sequencing.

Second place for most annoying, but surely the most frequently
indured is the alpha phone number... such as 1 866 DIAL-NOW. Am I the
only one here? Rarely are hey easier to remember, catchy in message
and almost always slower to dial? Why must marketers continue to
torture me (us)?

Any thoughts?

Comments

19 Nov 2006 - 7:28pm
Dave Malouf
2005

> Second place for most annoying, but surely the most frequently
> indured is the alpha phone number... such as 1 866 DIAL-NOW.
> Am I the
> only one here? Rarely are hey easier to remember, catchy in message
> and almost always slower to dial? Why must marketers continue to
> torture me (us)?
>
> Any thoughts?

Actually,

While the translation of letters to numbers is difficult, remembering words
is a lot easier than remembering number comibinations, so I'm not sure I
agree with your complaint here.

AND! It has also helped to teach us how to text message. ;)

-- dave

19 Nov 2006 - 7:43pm
Christine Boese
2006

I HATE telephone numbers with words and letters.

I should qualify that. I hate telephone numbers too. As in, I still can't
remember my own landline number, which I've had nearly a year.

I should qualify both of those things. I'm a compensating, functional
dyslexic. I can't hold a number in my head for more than five minutes. I
only get right and left correct 50% of the time. The people who make me
remember multiple registration IDs and passwords are the bane of my
existence. IxD people will design for all kinds of disabilities, but nobody
wants to make life easier for those whose eyeballs scramble letters and
numbers.

So my pulse just automatically jumps when I encounter a phone number with
words or letters in it. I start to sweat. Each letter involves staring at
the phone for long seconds, going from key to key, trying to find the right
combination. The only thing I remember that was worse was working retail in
the late 1980s, when I had to manually enter product SKU numbers into the
cash register.

Chris <---- will NEVER be able to text message on a cell phone

On 11/19/06, David Malouf <dave at ixda.org> wrote:
>
> > Second place for most annoying, but surely the most frequently
> > indured is the alpha phone number... such as 1 866 DIAL-NOW.
> > Am I the
> > only one here? Rarely are hey easier to remember, catchy in message
> > and almost always slower to dial? Why must marketers continue to
> > torture me (us)?
> >
> > Any thoughts?
>
> Actually,
>
> While the translation of letters to numbers is difficult, remembering
> words
> is a lot easier than remembering number comibinations, so I'm not sure I
> agree with your complaint here.
>
> AND! It has also helped to teach us how to text message. ;)
>
> -- dave
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
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--
christine boese
www.serendipit-e.com

19 Nov 2006 - 7:59pm
Esteban Barahona
2006

People aren't that great memorizing random numbers. It's better if we used
something like URLs divided by zones, ie:

country province/state city (name, "URL", or number)

CRC SJ CC 8234

For national dialing it could omit the *country*, and for local dialing it
could also omit the province/state

19 Nov 2006 - 8:08pm
DanP
2006

Hi David,

I do find some numbers easy to remember in alpha form (PICK-UPS for
instance) ... however, the convenience is cancelled by the process of
locating letters each time, and I end up memorizing the number
anyway. This was never so prevalent until my new Motorola "Q" phone
running Windows Mobile showed up. It has no mechanism at all for
dealing with alpha phone numbers!

1-800-NO-ALPHA

-Dan

On Nov 19, 2006, at 4:28 PM, David Malouf wrote:

>> Second place for most annoying, but surely the most frequently
>> indured is the alpha phone number... such as 1 866 DIAL-NOW.
>> Am I the
>> only one here? Rarely are hey easier to remember, catchy in message
>> and almost always slower to dial? Why must marketers continue to
>> torture me (us)?
>>
>> Any thoughts?
>
> Actually,
>
> While the translation of letters to numbers is difficult,
> remembering words
> is a lot easier than remembering number comibinations, so I'm not
> sure I
> agree with your complaint here.
>
> AND! It has also helped to teach us how to text message. ;)
>
> -- dave
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
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19 Nov 2006 - 8:19pm
Dave Malouf
2005

> This was never so prevalent until my new Motorola "Q" phone
> running Windows Mobile showed up. It has no mechanism at all for
> dealing with alpha phone numbers!
>
> 1-800-NO-ALPHA

Wait, isn't this just a design problem w/ your phone?

See, for my blacberry I have the same problem, but for my Treo, I don't.
Ya see they both have a single keyboard, but b/c the Treo (which I would
rate yards better than both of the others) has a touch screen, and thus I
have an alternative touch screen version of the telephone touchpad which
comes up on command, and even displays when I'm using the hard-button
numbers.

Actually, the latter of displaying the touchpad on screen is something that
doesn't require the touchscreen itself for. I mean, on the Blackbetter, why
do I need to see the my call history when I'm dialing a number? Or maybe, I
can see the call history AND the touchpad.

Now, lets forget for a moment about the 1-800-N0-ALPHA issue for a moment.
I have the darndest time using a smartphone's number pad when trying to use
an IVR system. E.g. Please type in the first 3 letters of the last name of
the person you are trying to call--on a company directory listing. Or "Type
in the 3 letter airport code of your departure city".

The fact that smartphones have "done away" with the letters on the keypad in
my mind is a huge oversight in their design. Hmmm? I'm in the market for a
new smartphone, I may just now figured out how I'm going to make up my mind!

-- dave

19 Nov 2006 - 10:32pm
DanP
2006

> Wait, isn't this just a design problem w/ your phone?

Palm is worlds better - I so agree. If they had it running on the
smaller form factor Q, I'd be in Heaven. Regarding whether it's a WS
(Smartphone) software issue or a Motorola hardware issue, I tend to
think the software designers must have known that some of their
target phone developers wouldn't be using touch screens? Its a small
leap to discover that QWERTY keyboards won't allow for alpha entry...
This is an area where Interaction Design could have helped.

It's funny, but customers have solved this little dilemma by hacking
the dial screen to display a simple number->letter map!

I was curious whether the new Samsung "Q Killer" had this figured out.

Good luck with your phone choices!
-Dan

On Nov 19, 2006, at 5:19 PM, David Malouf wrote:

>
>> This was never so prevalent until my new Motorola "Q" phone
>> running Windows Mobile showed up. It has no mechanism at all for
>> dealing with alpha phone numbers!
>>
>> 1-800-NO-ALPHA
>
> Wait, isn't this just a design problem w/ your phone?
>
> See, for my blacberry I have the same problem, but for my Treo, I
> don't.
> Ya see they both have a single keyboard, but b/c the Treo (which I
> would
> rate yards better than both of the others) has a touch screen, and
> thus I
> have an alternative touch screen version of the telephone touchpad
> which
> comes up on command, and even displays when I'm using the hard-button
> numbers.
>
> Actually, the latter of displaying the touchpad on screen is
> something that
> doesn't require the touchscreen itself for. I mean, on the
> Blackbetter, why
> do I need to see the my call history when I'm dialing a number? Or
> maybe, I
> can see the call history AND the touchpad.
>
> Now, lets forget for a moment about the 1-800-N0-ALPHA issue for a
> moment.
> I have the darndest time using a smartphone's number pad when
> trying to use
> an IVR system. E.g. Please type in the first 3 letters of the last
> name of
> the person you are trying to call--on a company directory listing.
> Or "Type
> in the 3 letter airport code of your departure city".
>
> The fact that smartphones have "done away" with the letters on the
> keypad in
> my mind is a huge oversight in their design. Hmmm? I'm in the
> market for a
> new smartphone, I may just now figured out how I'm going to make up
> my mind!
>
> -- dave
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
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19 Nov 2006 - 11:08pm
Forrest Maready
2006

Alpha characters as a mnemonic device is not entirely wrong- Without
letters, we would have http://223.129.295.25 to remember instead of
google.com. The two together become difficult. Why else would many
password requirements include numbers and letters? Passwords are
supposed to be difficult to remember.

19 Nov 2006 - 11:16pm
VenkatVijay
2005

I think passwords are supposed to be easy to remember but hard to crack?

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Forrest
Maready
Sent: Monday, November 20, 2006 9:38 AM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Phone numbers should be numbers

Alpha characters as a mnemonic device is not entirely wrong- Without
letters, we would have http://223.129.295.25 to remember instead of
google.com. The two together become difficult. Why else would many
password requirements include numbers and letters? Passwords are
supposed to be difficult to remember.

________________________________________________________________
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20 Nov 2006 - 9:45am
Cinnamon Melchor
2006

So, Chris, what strategies help you remember a phone number, or enter
one? How about ATM PINs?

I'm wondering things like:
On a form, are three fields for phone number better (area code,
exchange, number)?
With or without example text in the field? Near the field?

Cheers,
Cinnamon

Cinnamon Melchor
<www.akqa.com>

On 11/19/06, Christine Boese <christine.boese at gmail.com> wrote:
> I HATE telephone numbers with words and letters.
>
> I should qualify that. I hate telephone numbers too. As in, I still can't
> remember my own landline number, which I've had nearly a year.
>
> I should qualify both of those things. I'm a compensating, functional
> dyslexic. ...IxD people will design for all kinds of disabilities, but nobody
> wants to make life easier for those whose eyeballs scramble letters and
> numbers.

20 Nov 2006 - 10:16am
Christine Boese
2006

I figure most people have different memory tricks that work for their own
strengths. For my car licence plate, because I can read backwards, I
remember what it says backward. One half is the year after my brother was
born, and the other half is the word AGE spelled backward.

I sing songs for passwords. My best passwords take a phrase from a favorite
or emblematic song, deep in, usually, and grab the first letter from each
word in the phrase, then mix in some numbers. I am incapable of typing the
password without singing in my head, however, so I can't repeat my password
to anyone (like my dad, for power of attorney stuff, for instance) without
putting my fingers out and pretending like I'm typing while I sing.

I tend to like a single field for phone numbers, but that's because I forget
where I am when moving from field to field. I also prefer no dashes on
credit card entry forms. That seems counter-intuitive, since the dashes
chunk up the number. But for me, it's the looking back and forth from the
card to screen that leads me to transpose things and screw up. A solid
number allows me to stare at the card and touch-type the numbers.
Proofreading is harder, I suppose. Examples near the field are essential for
anyone, I think, to allow us to complete the task faster (less uncertainty,
dashes, no dashes?)

To complain further, I have to say the TOTAL bane of my existence are
electronics serial numbers, teeny weeny, etched in some corner. Because you
have to move your eyes back and forth, and usually write by hand. And there
are letters and numbers, and I'm sure most people have trouble telling the
o's from the 0's. When you hit software serial numbers that can't be cut and
pasted, with some caps and some lower case, I get crazy. I mean, I have just
as much of a right to register for my software/warranties as the next
person, right?

Chris

On 11/20/06, Cinnamon Melchor <cinnamon.melchor at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> So, Chris, what strategies help you remember a phone number, or enter
> one? How about ATM PINs?
>
> I'm wondering things like:
> On a form, are three fields for phone number better (area code,
> exchange, number)?
> With or without example text in the field? Near the field?
>
> Cheers,
> Cinnamon
>
> Cinnamon Melchor
> <www.akqa.com>
>
>
>
> On 11/19/06, Christine Boese <christine.boese at gmail.com> wrote:
> > I HATE telephone numbers with words and letters.
> >
> > I should qualify that. I hate telephone numbers too. As in, I still
> can't
> > remember my own landline number, which I've had nearly a year.
> >
> > I should qualify both of those things. I'm a compensating, functional
> > dyslexic. ...IxD people will design for all kinds of disabilities, but
> nobody
> > wants to make life easier for those whose eyeballs scramble letters and
> > numbers.
>

--
christine boese
www.serendipit-e.com

20 Nov 2006 - 10:18am
Mark Schraad
2006

The plus or minus seven rule that determined the original configuration still holds true and is a direct result of considerable researach regarding cognitive load. Certainly the break up of (three) three - and four digits helps us to remember the number either in whole or in chunks. The real problem is the mapping of the aphabetical version to the same key on the phone pad.

The alpha phone number is not at all about function, but about an eroneous theory of retention sold to business customers of the phone companies. I suspect the real culpret was a phone company exec or sales guy's initiative to charge the surplus to businesses for the selection of a specific phone number. In most cases it simply does not work and the usability suffers. Yet companies still buy into it.

Another example of trading b*llsh*t for money. And we wonder why sales has such a dubious reputation.

Mark

On Monday, November 20, 2006, at 10:03AM, "Cinnamon Melchor" <cinnamon.melchor at gmail.com> wrote:
>So, Chris, what strategies help you remember a phone number, or enter
>one? How about ATM PINs?
>
>I'm wondering things like:
>On a form, are three fields for phone number better (area code,
>exchange, number)?
>With or without example text in the field? Near the field?
>
>Cheers,
>Cinnamon
>
>Cinnamon Melchor
><www.akqa.com>
>
>
>
>On 11/19/06, Christine Boese <christine.boese at gmail.com> wrote:
>> I HATE telephone numbers with words and letters.
>>
>> I should qualify that. I hate telephone numbers too. As in, I still can't
>> remember my own landline number, which I've had nearly a year.
>>
>> I should qualify both of those things. I'm a compensating, functional
>> dyslexic. ...IxD people will design for all kinds of disabilities, but nobody
>> wants to make life easier for those whose eyeballs scramble letters and
>> numbers.
>________________________________________________________________
>Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
>To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
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>Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
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>
>

20 Nov 2006 - 10:39am
Dave Malouf
2005

Mark Schraad wrote:
> The alpha phone number is not at all about function, but about an eroneous theory of retention sold to business customers of the phone companies. I suspect the real culpret was a phone company exec or sales guy's initiative to charge the surplus to businesses for the selection of a specific phone number. In most cases it simply does not work and the usability suffers. Yet companies still buy into it.
>
Mark, the above suffers from "truisms" that really don't speak to my personal observations of reality. Can you please explain where it has failed.

I guarantee you that if I see a poster that says 1-800-CALL-VON at the bottom of a the add, I will remember it when I get home without writing anything, compared to seeing the numbers associated to it.

While, I do have to do the conversion when I get home and look at the dial-pad, the gain to the business is huge b/c the alternative is that the customer doesn't remember the number and thus can never call.

Basically, can you give something a bit more substantive to break what appears to me to be a truly useful tool.

Is that tool useful in all contexts? Of course not!
For example using just the alpha number on a web site is a waste of time. But using the alpha followed by the pure numeric after it or under it makes sense because you are re-inforcing the brand, helping the user remember when they are "offline" or away from the web site, AND giving them what they need now to help with the conversion process.

I'll be even stronger here. I can't imagine a world without it. now, I don't know what they do in non-latin alphabetic countries. I know in Israel for example they have the latin letters, but I have never seen them used in adverts for phone numbers, and there is no conversion to the hebraic alphabet on the phone AND further reading words and reading numbers are in opposite directions in Hebrew.

But for the couple of billion people who do have latin alphabet languages, I see great value here from a marketing perspective.

Sell me the goods of your complaint with some data that counters what is just common sense to me about memory, numbers, and words.

-- dave

--

David Malouf
Vice President
dave(at)ixda(dot)org
http://ixda.org/
http://synapticburn.com/

AIM: bolinhanyc // Y!: dave_ux //
MSN: hippiefunk(at)hotmail.com // Gtalk: dave.ixd(at)gmail.com

20 Nov 2006 - 10:56am
Mark Schraad
2006

Dave,

That is exaclty the sort of input I was hoping for.

It does not work for "my focus group of one" because I tend to write down or remember the company - then reference it later via the phone book or the net.

So - I spent a couple of days last year and asked (as I recall) about 20 poeple on campus that I regularly encounter and counted only one that actually thought the alpha version of the number helpful. What I got from well over half of the others was utter disdain... especially when the full numeric version was not presented as well.

The dificulty is not in memory... it is with the speciic mapping of alph reference to our common scema of numerical dialing.

I will completely admit that my theories are not based in academically or even basic research. I can not cite sources... just my own experience, observation and a psuedo and random dample questioning. This is just the sort of thing I wish I had time to do now - or had taken the time to research formerly in grad school. I was hoping someone on this forum had done so.

If I win the lottery... you can hold me to this... I will pursue it n a more formal and rigid study... ;-)

Mark

On Monday, November 20, 2006, at 10:38AM, "Dave Malouf" <dave at ixda.org> wrote:
>
>
>Mark Schraad wrote:
>> The alpha phone number is not at all about function, but about an eroneous theory of retention sold to business customers of the phone companies. I suspect the real culpret was a phone company exec or sales guy's initiative to charge the surplus to businesses for the selection of a specific phone number. In most cases it simply does not work and the usability suffers. Yet companies still buy into it.
>>
>Mark, the above suffers from "truisms" that really don't speak to my personal observations of reality. Can you please explain where it has failed.
>
>I guarantee you that if I see a poster that says 1-800-CALL-VON at the bottom of a the add, I will remember it when I get home without writing anything, compared to seeing the numbers associated to it.
>
>While, I do have to do the conversion when I get home and look at the dial-pad, the gain to the business is huge b/c the alternative is that the customer doesn't remember the number and thus can never call.
>
>Basically, can you give something a bit more substantive to break what appears to me to be a truly useful tool.
>
>Is that tool useful in all contexts? Of course not!
>For example using just the alpha number on a web site is a waste of time. But using the alpha followed by the pure numeric after it or under it makes sense because you are re-inforcing the brand, helping the user remember when they are "offline" or away from the web site, AND giving them what they need now to help with the conversion process.
>
>I'll be even stronger here. I can't imagine a world without it. now, I don't know what they do in non-latin alphabetic countries. I know in Israel for example they have the latin letters, but I have never seen them used in adverts for phone numbers, and there is no conversion to the hebraic alphabet on the phone AND further reading words and reading numbers are in opposite directions in Hebrew.
>
>But for the couple of billion people who do have latin alphabet languages, I see great value here from a marketing perspective.
>
>Sell me the goods of your complaint with some data that counters what is just common sense to me about memory, numbers, and words.
>
>-- dave
>
>
>--
>
>David Malouf
>Vice President
>dave(at)ixda(dot)org
>http://ixda.org/
>http://synapticburn.com/
>
>AIM: bolinhanyc // Y!: dave_ux //
>MSN: hippiefunk(at)hotmail.com // Gtalk: dave.ixd(at)gmail.com
>
>
>________________________________________________________________
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>

20 Nov 2006 - 12:26pm
Becubed
2004

Speaking of the various idiocies of phone numbers, here's the one
that kills me: you dial a local number that requires the area code,
and the system returns an automated message informing you that "local
calls require you to dial the area code."

Nice. How about some clever behavior instead? If I dial a 7-digit
number in an area that requires 10 digits, it would seem safe to
assume a local call in the current area code. Just connect it. Just
as it's possible to leave out the prefix and suffix in many web URLs,
where the browser assumes "www" and ".com" automatically.

--
Robert Barlow-Busch
Practice Director, Interaction Design
Quarry Integrated Communications Inc.
rbarlowbusch at quarry.com
(519) 570-2020

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20 Nov 2006 - 4:35pm
Jeff Howard
2004

Hey Mark,

Just wanted to chime in with a defense of Bell Labs' mapping of
letters to numbers. It was originally a mnemonic device unrelated to
marketing. Up until the 1950s, phone numbers here in the US weren't
strictly numeric. The first two numbers corresponded to the first two
letters of the name of the exchange where that line was located.
"Operator, get me Murray Hill 7-0093" became MU-7-0093
(68-7-0093).

http://ourwebhome.com/TENP/Recommended.html

The switch to all-numeric prefixes and area codes only came when Bell
belatedly realized that they were running out of number combinations.
That left the letter-mapping as a vestigal tool that could be
leveraged by marketing.

So while Bell's intentions were originally pure, they were later
co-opted in a way that I hate almost as much as Mark does. The
conversion for input is maybe a trivial inconvenience, but it
infuriates me. I think people's position on this has something to do
with how well they retain numbers. I don't remember a 10 digit
number, I remember 3 chunks. In most cases I can discount the area
code, and when I was growing up I could discount the prefix as well.
That means I can still order pizza from my high school pizza joint by
remembering 2300 and constructing the rest from context.

A few other observations. Memory (of letters or numbers) isn't as
much of an issue any more. These mnemonic devices are useful if you
encounter a marketing message and phone number in some environment
without access to a phone. Like the 1980s. But now you have your
phone with you. Call it. Or take a snapshot. And once you've called
a number, you rarely have to remember it again. Your phone does it
for you. But there's a disconnect: it doesn't show you the letters,
it shows the numbers. During input, that makes the visual readout that
modern telephones provide for error correction much, much less
helpful. And heaven help you if you try to recognize "CALL-VON" on
your phone bill when all you see is 225-5866.

Yellow cab has a nice mnemonic here in San Francisco that gets around
this problem. 333-3333. No letters, but super easy to remember.
Although, like Steve Wozniak's 888-888-8888 number, potentially easy
to accidently input.

20 Nov 2006 - 11:26pm
Robin Jeffries
2005

It always amazes me when people who design interactions themselves can't
figure out when something is a case of a usability tradeoff. Are we really
so accustomed to companies making anti-usability decisions that we can't
identify a situation where we do something "bad" in the small to prevent
something worse in the large? (Don Norman uses the example of the ledges
that block the doors in women's bathroom stalls, specifically so that the
women don't forget the stuff they put on that ledge -- you can't get out
without removing your belongings. Annoying, but not as annoying as
forgetting your keys).

The phone companies require you to enter the area code (at least in some
cases) because eventually they won't be able to distinguish which area code
you mean (e.g., places where they intend/hope to introduce overlays, which
are the only places I know of where you have to dial the area code for a
local number). This is actually a great usability solution -- you plan many
years ahead, you educate people in a situation where you can give them
unambiguous feedback about the (future) error condition, and when the actual
changeover happens, it goes pretty smoothly. There may be better
solutions, but this isn't a priori stupid

The browser case is not equivalent (maybe for the www, but not for .com).
If I assume you meant .com and you really meant .net, well, some website got
an extra page view and you lost a little time. For a phone call it might
mean you woke someone up in the middle of the night with a wrong number.

Robin Jeffries

On 11/20/06, Robert Barlow-Busch <rbarlowbusch at quarry.com> wrote:
>
> Speaking of the various idiocies of phone numbers, here's the one
> that kills me: you dial a local number that requires the area code,
> and the system returns an automated message informing you that "local
> calls require you to dial the area code."
>
> Nice. How about some clever behavior instead? If I dial a 7-digit
> number in an area that requires 10 digits, it would seem safe to
> assume a local call in the current area code. Just connect it. Just
> as it's possible to leave out the prefix and suffix in many web URLs,
> where the browser assumes "www" and ".com" automatically.
>
> --
> Robert Barlow-Busch
> Practice Director, Interaction Design
> Quarry Integrated Communications Inc.
> rbarlowbusch at quarry.com
> (519) 570-2020
>
> This e-mail message (including any attachments) is intended only for
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21 Nov 2006 - 12:43am
Esteban Barahona
2006

What about using a map? ie: clicking on a geographical area and then typing
a number? ...that implies a touchscreen though.

21 Nov 2006 - 6:54am
Mark Schraad
2006

You do not have a firm grasp of how packet switch phone technology
works. The reason stated is not the cause of this schema.

On Nov 20, 2006, at 11:26 PM, Robin Jeffries wrote:

> The phone companies require you to enter the area code (at least in
> some
> cases) because eventually they won't be able to distinguish which
> area code
> you mean (e.g., places where they intend/hope to introduce
> overlays, which
> are the only places I know of where you have to dial the area code
> for a
> local number). This is actually a great usability solution -- you
> plan many
> years ahead, you educate people in a situation where you can give them
> unambiguous feedback about the (future) error condition, and when
> the actual
> changeover happens, it goes pretty smoothly. There may be better
> solutions, but this isn't a priori stupid

21 Nov 2006 - 10:06am
Becubed
2004

On 20-Nov-06, at 11:26 PM, Robin Jeffries wrote:
> It always amazes me when people who design interactions themselves
> can't figure out when something is a case of a usability tradeoff.

Hmm, apparently struck a nerve here... /grin

> This is actually a great usability solution -- you plan many years
> ahead, you educate people in a situation where you can give them
> unambiguous feedback about the (future) error condition, and when
> the actual changeover happens, it goes pretty smoothly.

A nice principle, but it's broken here. We're being given unambiguous
feedback about a CURRENT error condition, when it doesn't yet need to
be an error. When the changeover that's refererred to above happens
sometime in the future, well, THAT'S the time to introduce the
behavior that's being required now.

This behavior makes people pay *now* for a situation that might arise
in the future. So it's not promoting education, it's merely enforcing
compliance.

--
Robert Barlow-Busch
Practice Director, Interaction Design
Quarry Integrated Communications Inc.
rbarlowbusch at quarry.com
(519) 570-2020

This e-mail message (including any attachments) is intended only for
the use of the individual to whom it is addressed and may contain
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mail message immediately.

21 Nov 2006 - 3:31pm
Arias, Jovino
2006

I guess I am odd-man out here. I actually *like* alpha phone numbers. I
find them playful and fun in the instances when your favorite homosexual
friend's number spells "man munch", or when you are frustrated by the
brown delivery service and you can't be bothered to remember a
particular number and suddenly "pick UPS" pops into your head, or when
your computer crashes and you sob "SOS APPLE" into your keypad.

While telephone mnemonics did not begin that way, the accidental
evolution has taken a barely functional system from a strictly
utilitarian one to a friendly one. And while the underlying technology
behind the telephone is rather archaic, just fancy the idea that all of
the telephony systems around the world somehow manage to be able to
"talk" to each other.

So, when you can't manage to input a mnemonic-based phone number on your
fancy 100 pin-head -sized button cell phone, don't blame the system;
blame the manufacturer.

This is just my opinion.

jovino
falcon studios

21 Nov 2006 - 3:31pm
Tom Corbett
2006

Mark,

The system that Jeff describes below worked quite well. Numbers were easier
to remember and chunks could be constructed from context.

The fact that Bell only "belatedly realized that they were running out of
number combinations" relates to namespaces. Last year 10,678 of 17,578
airport codes were in use. Although that left 6,900 valid airport codes
available, those 6,900 were not necessarily desirable. In namespaces,
certain symbol combinations tend to be favored. After about 50% of the
namespace has been filled, it becomes increasingly difficult to find favored
combinations. This explains, for example, why Calgary airport is coded
"YYC".

-Tom

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jeff Howard" <id at howardesign.com>
To: <discuss at lists.interactiondesigners.com>
Sent: Monday, November 20, 2006 1:35 PM
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Phone numbers should be numbers

> Hey Mark,
>
> Just wanted to chime in with a defense of Bell Labs' mapping of
> letters to numbers. It was originally a mnemonic device unrelated to
> marketing. Up until the 1950s, phone numbers here in the US weren't
> strictly numeric. The first two numbers corresponded to the first two
> letters of the name of the exchange where that line was located.
> "Operator, get me Murray Hill 7-0093" became MU-7-0093
> (68-7-0093).
>
> http://ourwebhome.com/TENP/Recommended.html
>
> The switch to all-numeric prefixes and area codes only came when Bell
> belatedly realized that they were running out of number combinations.
> That left the letter-mapping as a vestigal tool that could be
> leveraged by marketing.
>
> So while Bell's intentions were originally pure, they were later
> co-opted in a way that I hate almost as much as Mark does. The
> conversion for input is maybe a trivial inconvenience, but it
> infuriates me. I think people's position on this has something to do
> with how well they retain numbers. I don't remember a 10 digit
> number, I remember 3 chunks. In most cases I can discount the area
> code, and when I was growing up I could discount the prefix as well.
> That means I can still order pizza from my high school pizza joint by
> remembering 2300 and constructing the rest from context.
>
> A few other observations. Memory (of letters or numbers) isn't as
> much of an issue any more. These mnemonic devices are useful if you
> encounter a marketing message and phone number in some environment
> without access to a phone. Like the 1980s. But now you have your
> phone with you. Call it. Or take a snapshot. And once you've called
> a number, you rarely have to remember it again. Your phone does it
> for you. But there's a disconnect: it doesn't show you the letters,
> it shows the numbers. During input, that makes the visual readout that
> modern telephones provide for error correction much, much less
> helpful. And heaven help you if you try to recognize "CALL-VON" on
> your phone bill when all you see is 225-5866.
>
> Yellow cab has a nice mnemonic here in San Francisco that gets around
> this problem. 333-3333. No letters, but super easy to remember.
> Although, like Steve Wozniak's 888-888-8888 number, potentially easy
> to accidently input.
> ________________________________________________________________
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22 Nov 2006 - 1:10am
Robin Jeffries
2005

There may be different situations when this occurs, and we may be comparing
apples to oranges. The last time I remember this happening to me, there
were two area codes overlaid on the same area, but almost no numbers had
been given out for the second. Connecting to a wrong number (especially
for the recipient) is a a) a very bad outcome and b) doesn't provide any
opportunity to educate the caller (the recipient probably doesn't say "oh,
I'll bet you forgot to dial the area code").

I don't know if the switches can determine whether there is ambiguity on a
number by number basis. If not, then always giving the error message is the
better/only strategy. If they can, then I guess it rests on whether it is
better to give a consistent answer or an answer that will change number by
number. I suspect if it changes per number, people call and ask why, and
phone companies will do anything to minimize customer service costs.

And I don't see any usability difference between me getting the error
message when the ambiguity is possible vs. when the ambiguity is real. I
have to make the switch from 7 digit dialing to 10, if not today, then next
month. What is the usability issue of forcing me to do it earlier? (the
ones that annoyed me were -- and this happened long ago, I think that the
phone company learned from experience -- was that it would delay connecting
you while it played a message about how you needed to change your dialing
habits. I never learned, I suppose because it's somewhat a muscle memory
thing, but I had to sit through that message many times. Forcing me to
practice the right behavior would have been better, which is what they now
do.)

Robin

On 11/21/06, Robert Barlow-Busch <rbarlowbusch at quarry.com> wrote:
>
> On 20-Nov-06, at 11:26 PM, Robin Jeffries wrote:
> > It always amazes me when people who design interactions themselves
> > can't figure out when something is a case of a usability tradeoff.
>
> Hmm, apparently struck a nerve here... /grin
>
> > This is actually a great usability solution -- you plan many years
> > ahead, you educate people in a situation where you can give them
> > unambiguous feedback about the (future) error condition, and when
> > the actual changeover happens, it goes pretty smoothly.
>
> A nice principle, but it's broken here. We're being given unambiguous
> feedback about a CURRENT error condition, when it doesn't yet need to
> be an error. When the changeover that's refererred to above happens
> sometime in the future, well, THAT'S the time to introduce the
> behavior that's being required now.
>
> This behavior makes people pay *now* for a situation that might arise
> in the future. So it's not promoting education, it's merely enforcing
> compliance.
>
> --
> Robert Barlow-Busch
> Practice Director, Interaction Design
> Quarry Integrated Communications Inc.
> rbarlowbusch at quarry.com
> (519) 570-2020
>
> This e-mail message (including any attachments) is intended only for
> the use of the individual to whom it is addressed and may contain
> information that is privileged, proprietary, confidential or subject
> to copyright. If you are not the intended recipient, you are
> notified that any use, dissemination, distribution or reproduction of
> this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this
> communication in error, please notify the sender and delete this e-
> mail message immediately.
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
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