Size Does Matter

I was asked recently how long an address can be, and in answering it’s important first of all to define which part of an address we’re referring to.

An address can have at least 4 sections:

  • Personal or company information – a name, job title, company name, department name etc.
  • Internal addressing – a description of what should happen to mail after it has reached the delivery point – rooms numbers, mailstops etc.
  • National postal address information – the parts of the address the delivery service uses to get the mail to the delivery point – building name and number, street name and number, place names, postal code, region and so on
  • International postal address information – usually just the country name, but sometimes requiring more information.

Creative Addresses

There’s a fairly woolly standard applying to the international postal address information and some national standards (though fewer than you might imagine) applying to the national postal address information.  The personal and internal addressing can be as creative and meandering as is required and desired.

So it’s not impossible (though pretty unlikely) to find addresses like this:

Yep, that’s 16 lines.

Addresses can be small too. With about 50 inhabitants and no named roads to speak of, Pitcairn Islanders don’t have a national postal address element at all in their addresses (unless posted from the United Kingdom, when a postal code may be used).  The name of the person, and the country (well, two actually) is enough:

Then there’s the length across the rows to think about.  Personal names, job titles and company names can extend to well over 100 characters.  Street names can come close.  The example shown below contains abbreviations and would contain 89 characters if written in full.

Place names, region names and country names can all be very long when written in full.  Bangkok’s full local name may be rendered as “Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit”. The longest region name I know of is “Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region” in Ethiopia (try squishing that into your form’s two-character state field); and you might be reading this from “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, the world’s longest country name.

Faulty Forms

These examples are all exceptional, but long addresses with long rows are by no means unusual.  When I started in this business most companies were still trying to force addresses to fit onto four-line labels with no more than 30 characters per line, and too many companies still are.  Others have taken these norms and applied them to newer techniques, such as their web forms, causing no end of problems for their customers, who have to puzzle and muse on how to abbreviate and concatenate and chop their information up so that it will fit into a system and still mean something. It is hardly surprising that site abandonment when customers are asked to fill in forms is so incredibly high.  When you design systems for world addresses, they have to be based on world addresses and not on modified forms of national addresses.

When it comes to addresses, size does matter.