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Previous Post The Best Format for Phone Numbers (206) 555-1212 Next Post

In the past several years many designers have take to present phone numbers in a format with dots. For example: 206.555.1212. But I have no idea why they do this. It is difficult to recognize as a phone number. This dotted format – at quick glance – looks more like an IP address than a telephone number. So I ask, which group of numbers below is more easily recognized as a phone number to you?

(206) 850-9798
206-850-9798
206.850.9798

I’d argue day and night that (206) 555-1212 is the easiest to recognize format.

Aside from human recognition, some applications (like Microsoft Outlook 2003) won’t recognize 206.555.1212 as a phone number. This led me to check in with the Microformats folks to see if they had a specification or a standard format for phone numbers. Unfortunately, their list of Microformats doesn’t turn up anything for phone numbers. vCards are as close as they get.

Looking past function for a moment consider the aesthetics of the three options above. The (206) 555-1212 format is much more beautiful and elegant. It has subtle curves in the parenthesis, more white space overall and a clear call to locality (that is, separating the area code from the local number).

Do you feel as strongly about using 206.850.9798 as I do about using (206) 555-1212? Tell me why in the comments below. If we end up getting any comments on this (especially from non-American viewers who have different phone number formats) then we’ll have to expand the discussion to include international telephone number formats.

10 Comments

  1. how says:

    I do feel pretty passionate about the use of dots in my phone formatting (as well as in time and date)*. Probably as much as I do using the European method of presenting dates (07.08.27 not 08.27.07) and having the toilet paper roll being put on properly.

    To me the use of dots adheres to the minimalist approach of getting the information to someone without visual clutter. The dot creates a negative spacing between the clustered numbers and the numbers themselves help in the pairing and easy memorization of a phone number as they clearly present themselves without any other graphic distractions.

    With the parentheses method, a person with poor writing skills (aka most doctors), can draw a () that can easily be mistaken for a 1, 2, 4, 7, maybe 9, C, I, L…you get the point. The dot on the otherhand, is an element that is down below, out of the way and can not be mistaken for a number or anything else.

    I agree that the parentheses have an somewhat beautiful look, but it is distracting from what I need to know and retain. I find the numbers themslves much sexier than having to add an elegant element to compete/distract. And isn’t the – a harsh looking element.

    In todays world of homogization and globalization, is knowing someones locality such great importance? Not really when conducting business, but when wanting to get together with friends who move to Arizona, yes!!

    *this posting would not have been made possible without the use of parentheses.

  2. How,

    Great comments. I’m glad to get the conversation started here. I’d love to hear from others, particularly around the pure aesthetic appreciation of the different formats. My heart and mind still lies with (206) 850-9798 : )

    – Kevin

  3. Gayla Herrington says:

    I need to know the correct format for writing this?

    (325) 677-1444, ext 8074

    Is there supposed to be a comma in this or not?
    Gayla

  4. Gayla,

    There is no formal microformat specification for telephone numbers at this date. For extensions, I feel that this format below is the most readable and economical:

    (206) 850-9798 ext 201

  5. PI says:

    I do feel pretty passionate about the use of dots in my phone formatting (as well as in time and date)*. Probably as much as I do using the European method of presenting dates (07.08.27 not 08.27.07) and having the toilet paper roll being put on properly.

    To me the use of dots adheres to the minimalist approach of getting the information to someone without visual clutter. The dot creates a negative spacing between the clustered numbers and the numbers themselves help in the pairing and easy memorization of a phone number as they clearly present themselves without any other graphic distractions.

    With the parentheses method, a person with poor writing skills (aka most doctors), can draw a () that can easily be mistaken for a 1, 2, 4, 7, maybe 9, C, I, L…you get the point. The dot on the otherhand, is an element that is down below, out of the way and can not be mistaken for a number or anything else.

    I agree that the parentheses have an somewhat beautiful look, but it is distracting from what I need to know and retain. I find the numbers themslves much sexier than having to add an elegant element to compete/distract. And isn’t the – a harsh looking element.

    In todays world of homogization and globalization, is knowing someones locality such great importance? Not really when conducting business, but when wanting to get together with friends who move to Arizona, yes!!

    *this posting would not have been made possible without the use of parentheses.

  6. Peggy Higginson says:

    many years ago the phone company (Bell?) did research that proved that people couldn’t remember more than 3 digits at a time. The longer the number the less chance of being able to repeat it. It drives me crazy when people don’t put in the hyphens – their contact info becomes unreadable and I’m sure it has cost many companies potential orders. The easier you are to reach the more likey someone is to call you!!
    The dots just aren’t “visible” enough to separate the numbers in someone’s mind and therefore make it easier to remember. Try it yourself!! It really is true!!

  7. Peggy Higginson says:

    I also hazard a guess that some people “software” is incapable of handling hyphens (huge error on software developers part!!) so they have no choice but to use dots or nothing at all!!

  8. Brian says:

    I came across this blog through a google search for this topic, spurred by having just written two phone numbers to a friend, the first using dashes and the second dots. Obviously my feelings are not particularly strong (as I use both), but it made me curious about my own transition.

    I think my transition came from some years living abroad in Italy where I found the dots more common, but now that I reflect I think its continuation comes to typing muscle memory. In hand writing, I will always use the dashes, often with area code parentheses. But in typing I tend toward dots. I think the period is just a more instinctive key in my muscle memory, whereas the dash is used rarely enough that I still need to take the effort to lift my hand to ensure I’m headed for the right key.

    Unrelated, I’m also curious how much effect the use of cell phones has had on the removal of a distinctive parentheses around the area code. In a high cell phone high mobility culture, the area code more frequently than not becomes a necessary part of all phone numbers rather that a typically optional component.

    All that said, in reading a phone number I find the parentheses & dash combination by far the easiest.

  9. hello tell me how write a phone number in Phone should include only digits, hyphens, periods, parentheses or spaces

  10. Mike says:

    Dear All,
    I am ofiginally from uk!
    I believed that the three digit code was in parenthesis when one dialled a number from within that City. Now 99% require ten digits, so now need to be dropped.

    As regards the . Or the – , i prefer the . (period) because it allows the numbers to stand out on their own withoutbeing attached to any number. The number 4 is worst for dashes! -424-4142.

    The comment about a series of numbers with periods looking like an ISP, has validity, but when prefaced by Mobile Cell Office Fax, makes that arguement fallacious.

    So i am in favour of periods, even though living in USA now.

    Yours sincerely…..

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