No field length guidelines

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I found myself last year working on a UI heavy project, in which we were specifying detailed requirements associated with individual UI elements.  One of the elements that the customer wanted to define were the field lengths for when users enter text.  This text might include street address, city name, zip codes, etc.

Seems simple.
I’ll just go look up the standard lengths for such things.
Except there aren’t any.
I sent Emails out to friends of mine who specialize in information management, and got a common theme back.  No standards.  All pointed me to a book by Luke Wroblewski called Web Form Design.  Unfortunately, this simply contained some general guidelines.
We chatted a bit about why these standards don’t exist, and came up with several possibilities:
1.  Database design is being done first, and once field lengths are set in the database, that becomes a technical constraint on the UI.
2.  Arbitrarily large limits are set in order to make sure that fields of “any” length can be handled (allocating 255 characters for last name is PROBABLY sufficient, right?).
3.  Good standards aren’t really possibly, due to localization issues.
The reality is that all three have led us to where we are today.
Anybody want to write a standard?

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