Capturing contact details

I had a realisation the other day, a realisation that for years my automatic approach to capturing contact details was akin to some kind of old-time East End gangland hoodlum, saying in a gruff voice to users 'I know where you live'. Or rather, 'I want to know where you live'.

Accordingly, by default and unthinkingly, whenever I've built a form I've assumed a need to ask for the user's name separated into first names and last name, their email address, their home address, and two phone numbers, main and other. Using our CMS form page template feature I'd created a Standard Contact Details page with these fields on, and whenever a service area has wanted to deviate from those standard fields on that page I've been quite resistant, saying 'we have standards for a reason', and only accepting a modification to the standard contact details if they could make a compelling justification for deviating from it.

The thing which occurred to me the other day, though, is why do we by default tend to ask for the full suite of contact details anyway? What are we even doing with them? If the user provides their email address they can at least get an acknowledgement automatically sent to them, and we can send email updates if appropriate, and if they give us their name we can make our communication look personal.

But unless there's an actual service delivery reason to separate out the components of their name, and capture their physical address and more than one phone number for them, why do we automatically ask for them? Are we still writing letters to people? Or phoning them up, trying the other number if the first one isn't answered?

Obviously for a lot of forms we do indeed need to capture full contact details, so there's no bother about doing so. But good data protection principles, as well as good principles of usability tell us we should only ask for information if there is a point to it. If there's no point in us knowing the user's address, if we're not actually going to do anything useful with that information, we should not be asking for it.

Accordingly, I've modified the form design guidelines of my content and user experience strategy to suggest a notion of tiered standard contact details capture - Tier 1, for occasions when actual name and email address and/or phone number is sufficient for both ourselves and our user's needs, and Tier 2 for when we actually do need more contact information from the user. And because on occasions we do also have a genuine need to know things like date of birth or National Insurance number, which our service area clients might often ask to put on a contact details page, or an About You page, I additionally designate that as custom Tier 3 information, which should be captured separately.

By way of Show The Thing I've made an example here on a Standard Contact Details demo.