EITHER mail OR phone required in a form?

31 May 2011 - 3:29pm
5 years ago
10 replies
2071 reads

I have a client that is requiring EITHER a phone number OR email in exchange for some valuable whitepapers. Has anyone experimented with conditional validation that requires one of the two fields?

I wonder how to even inform users that we need one or the other. I could just as easily require email and make phone optional if this is a bad idea. My only thought is that users who would rather receive a phone call might not want to provide their email address and abandon the form.


31 May 2011 - 3:38pm

Is two clearly labelled fields with a big word OR in between, and some javascript to give the user feedback of when the form is happy, too weird? It was my first thought.


31 May 2011 - 5:56pm

Is overloading a single filed out of the question? I would think validation could be problematic, but it might be an interesting exploration. Any negatives asside, the affordance would be only one or the other. With some creative JScript, you could make it work.

1 Jun 2011 - 5:54am
Scott McDaniel


Would you mind clarifying your question a little? Are you asking how to technically accomplish this, design & content presentation or something else?

Cheers, Scott

1 Jun 2011 - 5:26pm

Design and presentation. How would I clearly state that I am requiring one or the other, but not both. Is it really as simple as visually grouping them and putting a big "OR" between them? What would the labell say? And would it be more confusing to users who are accustomed to seeing name and email required, but phone optional?

7 Jun 2011 - 7:05am
Danny Hope

1 text field with the label "Phone or email address", like this:

Phone or email address: |______________________|

Technically, you should be able to detect whether a person has tried to enter a phone or email address.

And, as Caroline says, ask this question the user has what they want.

1 Jun 2011 - 4:25pm
How about a label "how can we contact you:" then a drop down of "email" or "telephone" and a text field that is validated based on the selection in the drop down. Code wise it would be trivial to switch validation based on the drop down. I think it's nice that the client can be flexible about the requirements so you should try to communicate this in the form.
2 Jun 2011 - 11:49am
Caroline Jarrett

The real answer is: don't require either.

Offer the whitepaper first, then request the contact details afterwards. Make all the fields optional.

Rationale: you'll get better conversion, and more accurate data, if you exhibit trust by allowing the user to download the content first.

Susan Weinschenk quotes a study that tested this exact scenario in her book "Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click". The study tested two conditions:

1. Visitors asked to provide personal details on a form ahead of accessing useful information (Reward condition)

2. Visitors allowed to access information first, then asked to fill out the form later (Reciprocity)

Condition 2, Reciprocity, were twice as likely to fill out the form (i.e., to provide real rather than faked information) than in condition 1, Reward.

If this isn't enough to convince your client, and you have to ask ahead of time: try making both fields optional.

If you've still got to do the silly thing and require, then try to do something along these lines:

"We'd like to contact you to ask you whether this whitepaper was useful. Which method do you prefer?

o Phone, and my number is_________________

o Email, and my address is__________________


Caroline Jarrett
Twitter: @cjforms

3 Jun 2011 - 11:47am
Jochen Wolters


If you do require your site's visitors to choose exactly one of the two contact options, I think you should follow Caroline's suggestion of (what looks like) a pair of radio buttons.

dom's idea is a viable alternative, but the radio buttons have the advantage that you can immediately see which options, and how many, are available.

That said, why force this decision onto the user at all? You could implement Caroline's layout suggestion but without the radio buttons. Instead, present the two options with their own entry fields, and validate for at least one of the two fields being filled out correctly. You can then detect the user's preference by checking which field has been filled out.

If they fill out both, decide at the company's end what method of contacting the user you find preferrable. (A phone call requires more effort, but makes it easier to ensure that you receive the feedback you are looking for. Sending out email questionnaires can be automated completely, but may remain unanswered.)



5 Jun 2011 - 4:38pm

Thanks for all the suggesitons. I really like the reciprocity approach, but don;t think the client will got for it. I may be able to A/B test that interaction to work out what is more effecitiove for this audience.

I also really like Caroline's idea:

"We'd like to contact you to ask you whether this whitepaper was useful. Which method do you prefer?

Phone, and my number is_________________

Email, and my address is__________________

It's elegant, compact and clear.

Thanks everyone.

6 Jun 2011 - 9:05am

I love that as well Caroline. Outstanding idea. 
Thank you!

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