You know, I’ve just about had it with the poor design of all the address books out there. I use Apple’s built in Address Book at the moment, mostly because of iPhone integration and all that whatnot, but over the years I’ve used a LOT of different address management applications and they all operate with a very basic assumption that is just wrong.¬†They assume that address books are basically holders of business cards. One card per business contact. That contact may have lots of associated information (for instance, the name of a spouse, so that in business correspondences I can always inquire about “the wife”), or birthday so I can remember to send a card.

While early address books had a very business bent, today they’re used to manage all our personal contacts, too, and I gotta say: they really fall far down on the job. Here are a bunch of things I want my address book to be able to do that it just can’t:

  • The husband and wife have different last names, I want to keep them both.
  • Someone has a nickname or other name that I might want to search on.
  • I want to keep track of my friend’s maiden names – sometimes I know them by an older name, even though they have a new name – heck people change names all the time, but Address Books don’t seem to like that very much.
  • I want to track not only my friend’s children, but the children’s birthdays.
  • Come to think of it, as those children age, I also want their email addresses captured…
  • … and their messaging address, Facebook page, Twitter handle, etc.
  • I want to look at a kid’s information and see who his parents are. And his grandparents.
  • Why isn’t it easier to just find my family in my address book? Why do I have to create an explicit group? My Address Book should know about my relationships: this is my uncle, those are his kids – that makes us relatives. Done.
  • When I go to automagically print out address labels, they should be to everyone under the same roof, not just the husband or wife (or girlfriend, boyfriend, domestic partner, whatever).
  • For that matter, the whole system should know who the members of a household are. When the family moves, all their addresses should be correctly updated. There’s no notion at all in any of these address books that people share a physical address.
  • There’s also no notion that people might share an email address, and no good way to keep my emails up to date with the mail that actually comes in.
  • In fact, it’s really annoying that I have to manually enter all this information that is constantly streaming past me: email addresses of people I correspond with, Twitter accounts of people I follow, Facebook names for my friends. This stuff should just get captured for me. I constantly find that people I’ve been corresponding with for months are really only known from within my Mail application on my desktop. I can’t write them from my mobile device because I haven’t manually entered their information into my Address Book. How broken is that?

There’s a bunch more. I think the entire basic premise of Address Book design (the card) is probably wrong… The entire design just looks like a barebones front end of a database, with no real finesse or understanding of actual use. It’s up to the user to massage her data into it’s narrow view of the world. It’s ripe for a major redesign. I hope I get some cycles this year to twiddle on this, but if not maybe I’ve inspired you!