In Defense of Lorem Ipsum

Lorem Ipsum is just like every other tool in a designer's toolkit. When used intentionally, it can help the design process.

Lorem Ipsum is one of those things like silicone breast implants or orange spray cheese in a can that just seems wrong. It's fake. It's unabashedly fake. It calls attention to itself by being so fake, making you look at it in wonder, asking: "What is that? Can that be real?"

We don't like fake, right? We like organic cheeses, and, well, organic breasts, and we're 100% in favor of real content in our designs.

What you put in your mouth or have surgically inserted into your body is your business. What you put in your wireframes or your design comps? Well, that's a heated public debate. With respected thought leaders asking us to pinky-swear that we'll never, ever use Lorem Ipsum ever again, I want to say a few words in support of greeked text.

A Symptom of a Bigger Problem

I'm a word person, okay? I start with the content, and design around it. I often show draft copy in design reviews. And yet, I still use Lorem Ipsum. I believe wholeheartedly that greek text has a place in the interaction designer's toolkit. Even content strategists can find a place in their hearts for it.

Now, look. if you're running a project where you mock up designs, get them approved, code them up, build a CMS, hook it all together, and then everyone looks around and says "Who's got the content? Wait, this content doesn't match the designs and it won't fit in the CMS!" then you have a problem. A big problem.

But you know what? Lorem Ipsum is not the cause of your problem. It's a symptom. The real problem is an overall process that treats design and content as separate tracks without appropriate communication, collaboration, and checkpoints along the way. Thinking you'll solve your content strategy problem by signing a purity pledge that you'll never use Lorem Ipsum is like saying "you're a crapass designer and the solution is you should quit using drop shadows." A step in the right direction, perhaps, but one that focuses on changing a superficial behavior rather than fixing the underlying problem.

Why They Say You Shouldn't Use Lorem Ipsum (and Why It's Okay)

The internet mob is out in force, waving sticks and torches and demanding Lorem Ipsum's head on a platter. Why so much hate for nonsense text?

Designs can't be evaluated without real content

I’ve heard the argument that “lorem ipsum” is effective in wireframing or design because it helps people focus on the actual layout, or color scheme, or whatever. What kills me here is that we’re talking about creating a user experience that will (whether we like it or not) be DRIVEN by words. The entire structure of the page or app flow is FOR THE WORDS.

—Kristina Halvorson, Death to Lorem Ipsum & Other Adventures in Content, Adaptive Path

For those who would argue that it's impossible to evaluate designs without real content, let me ask this: why then, is it okay to evaluate content out of context of the designs? To review copy decks devoid of color, typography, layout, and styling means that readers are missing out on the important signals communicated by design—cues to priority, weight, and hierarchy of information, but also emotional and aesthetic appeal. If content strategists want to ask designers to stop using Lorem Ipsum, maybe designers should insist that content strategists add style sheets to their copy decks that match the proposed design direction.

Or maybe not. How about this: build in appropriate intersections and checkpoints between design and content. Accept that it's sometimes okay to focus just on the content or just on the design.

Fake data breaks down in real life

Using dummy content or fake information in the Web design process can result in products with unrealistic assumptions and potentially serious design flaws. A seemingly elegant design can quickly begin to bloat with unexpected content or break under the weight of actual activity. Fake data can ensure a nice looking layout but it doesn't reflect what a living, breathing application must endure. Real data does.

—Luke Wroblewski, Death to Lorem Ipsum, Functioning Form

For better or for worse, websites are templated. Content management systems and other publishing platforms make it possible to display different content in the same template. When you're publishing thousands of articles, or product pages, or user profiles, each with variable sizes and business rules for different content elements, it's easy to see how unexpected scenarios can break the design.

This is a complex problem, and the solution isn't as simple as just avoiding Lorem Ipsum. Using test examples of real content and data in designs can help, but this doesn't guarantee that every outlier will be caught and fixed. A prototype or beta site with real content published from the real CMS is the only way to really be sure—but you're not going to get there until you go through an initial design cycle.

I've found that Lorem Ipsum actually helps in the design stage, because it calls attention to places where the content is a dynamic block coming from the CMS (as opposed to static content elements that will always stay the same.) A block of Lorem Ipsum with a character count range provides a tangible reminder to double-check that the design and the content model match up.

Or how about this approach?


Distracting copy is your fault

If the copy becomes distracting in the design then you are doing something wrong or they are discussing copy changes. It might be a bit annoying but you could tell them that that discussion would be best suited for another time. At worst the discussion is at least working towards the final goal of your site where questions about lorem ipsum don’t.

—Kyle Fiedler, Lorem Ipsum is Killing Your Designs, Smashing Magazine

If the copy becomes distracting in the design it's because it's working.

Lorem Ipsum doesn't exist because people think the content is meaningless window dressing, only there to be decorated by designers who can't be bothered to read. Lorem Ipsum exists because words are powerful. If you fill up your page with draft copy about your client's business, they will read it. They will comment on it. They will be inexorably drawn to it. Presented the wrong way, draft copy can send your design review off the rails.

Telling a client to ignore Lorem Ipsum is a one-time thing. They quit reading it because it doesn't make sense. Telling a client to ignore draft copy can be a never-ending battle. I show draft copy quite frequently, and in every meeting I usually get a handful of confused questions about it. I've had terrible situations where work-in-progress showing draft copy gets passed around to client stakeholders who haven't participated in review sessions, and then fielded angry phone calls about the "wrong" content appearing in the designs. Show draft copy—I'm not telling you to only use Lorem Ipsum—but make sure you're prepared to handle the questions, confusion, and even meltdowns that can result.

Permission To Use Lorem Ipsum

Lorem Ipsum: a sign that you're a traitor to all that is good and right and holy in the world of web design, or an occasionally useful tool that, used intentionally, may help solve some problems? I'm going to go with the latter. If you've got a problem with content strategy, fix the bigger problem. Otherwise you're just treating the symptoms, not curing the disease.


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