Adding fields to your Outlook contacts

A friend of mine wrote to ask how you can add custom fields or attributes to your Outlook 2007 contacts.  I’d never tried to do that before, so I fired up Ye Olde Virtual PC to find out (I’m running the Office 2010 technical preview on my laptop, and Outlook is considerably different).

Turns out it’s actually pretty simple and yet still remarkably obscure and confusing in that magical way that only Outlook can be!  As with most tasks in Office, there’s probably more than one way to do this.  Here’s what I did:

Open Outlook, go to Contacts and select the “Phone List” view from the list of views on the left-hand navigation pane. 

Click View > Current View > Customize Current View…

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Which gets you this:

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Click the “Fields” button and you’ll see this:

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Click “New Field…” to get this:

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Here you can define your custom field with a name (Favorite Color in my example), a data type (like text, numbers, currency, etc.), and a format.  Do your thing and then click OK three times.  You’ll be back in the Phone List view of your contacts.  Scroll all the way to the right and you’ll see your new field as the last column.

The nifty thing about the Phone List view is that it’s sort of like an Excel spreadsheet.  You can edit your contacts directly without needing to “open” them one by one, which is handy when you’ve added a field that you may want to fill in for all of your contacts (like adding everyone’s favorite color).

If you open an individual contact, you can see your custom fields by using the “Show” area on the “Contact” tab of the Ribbon:

IndividualContact

Click the “All Fields” button and select “User-defined fields in folder” from the Select From menu.

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One caveat is that your custom field is only added to a specific contacts folder.  Most home users of Outlook only have one contacts folder, and don’t really even think of it as such (because Outlook does such a great job of partially obscuring the underlying structure of your data).  However, it is possible to have multiple contacts folders, and in that instance, you’d have to add your custom fields to each folder separately.

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