Why Lorem Ipsum Is a Bad Idea

samjDo you know about lorem ipsum dolor? That’s Latin for I don’t have a clue about Web design. Well, not quite.

Early in the 1960s, graphic designers used this text from an essay by Cicero that was included in an early desktop publishing program as a way to fill up text blocks in publications. When we first developed a prototype magazine issue of Network Computing back in 1990, the entire text of the issue contained the filler words, prompting some readers to email us that they thought they had read the same article several times. LOL.

But Lorem Ipsum has evolved since those early days. Now there are dozens of variations, some using only words for pork products, dialogue from Star Trek or scatological rants from Samuel Jackson (think Pulp Fiction) or worse. There is even a =lorem() function in some versions of Microsoft Word and WordPress too.

It amazes me that it is so prevalent. While amusing, the practice represents bad Web design. You could say that Loren Ipsum is the Royale with Cheese of Web design. Why?

As my go-to UX pro Danielle Cooley says, “If you don’t know what your content *actually* is, as well as how it will be created, managed, and governed, you shouldn’t be designing yet. That’s why we have so many beautiful products that are so difficult to use or that don’t really support the content that ends up being there. People design beautiful pages with two paragraphs of Lorem Ipsum, then find out a week before launch that there’s only one sentence of content, or that they really need to put a photo or video there instead. Then you end up trying to shoehorn stuff into spaces where it doesn’t really fit.”

Well said. So have fun fooling around with the baco-ipsum, but when it comes to designing your actual Web content, know what you are going to put in place and how much room it is going to occupy. And you don’t need to say that in Latin. Or quote any Tarantino either.

6 thoughts on “Why Lorem Ipsum Is a Bad Idea

  1. >>As my go-to UX pro Danielle Cooley says, “If you don’t know what your content *actually* is, as well as how it will be created, managed, and governed, you shouldn’t be designing yet.

    Well, yes and no.

    Certainly the broad assessment that the whole thing is best designed [ahem] Holistically is correct. But you don’t really gain anything by typing “computers compters computers” over and over in a computer mag/rag/website that you didn’t have with Lorem Ipsum

    • I would argue that “computers computers computers” isn’t what the content actually will be, either. It’s not the copy itself that’s bad, but the fact that it’s filler copy at all.

      It’s ok if the copy you use in a prototype is an edit or two shy of final, or if you leave real estate for a video you have an actual plan to create, edit, and publish. But an incredible number of web sites and other digital (and paper) products start with a design comp and ipsum rather than any sense of what content will go into it.

  2. When word processors came in (pre-pc) people spent a lot more time developing and re-editing documents to make sure they were perfect, often if they were only just going down the hall. When desktop publishing programs came out, everyone became a publisher and the layouts and people spent more time trying to make their content look pretty or fill a space than mean something.

    The web has done the same thing, only electronically with word processing programs and web sites or HTML formatted mailings.

    The simple fact is this: In the end the words matter more than the method. Especially in a business environment, the goal is to impart information. If it is information that is only passed to a few interested parties, then there isn’t much point in prettifying it. Blogs and e mails are great for this. So, even is FaceBook. But, if you need to put a lot more effort into it because lots of people need to read it as a reference or it means more to present the company in a professional manner, then you need to give that content more thought. You need to write, rewrite, and edit. You might even need pictures, graphs, diagrams, or video example clips. You are much better off with a wiki, a knowledgebase, or dedicated web pages.

    The audience and how it will use the content determines how the content will be developed and presented. Concentrating on the presentation first is silly. You need to start from the right direction. Who are you telling the story to? (audience) What is the story you want to tell them? (content) How can you tell it with the greatest effectiveness? (presentation) Get the order right and you will get better results.

    If in doubt, remember that all communication is imperfect and that some attempt is better than none. If the presentation method is a barrier, then use another presentation method. If in doubt, KISS is a good rule. Plain old text in a mass e mail like your newsletter sounds dull, but it tends to get through anti-spam checks fine, shows up reliably like you intend on other people’s computers who don’t have the same browser to render HTML that you have, and it delivers the information. Some presentation methods are more difficult than others. Make it easy on yourself. Trying to maintain a difficult/demanding presentation system takes away from your ability to deliver content.

    Then again, I said “content,” not drivel. If your audience finds your content too hard to follow or low in information content, then you need to spend more time editing your content or devising ways that they can reach the *information* they need without being forced to wade through time stealing data. Information is something that increases my knowledge. Data is just something that exists for me to find, but may not deliver any information to me.

  3. If I remember correctly, lorem ipsum was also used as a text filler for PageMaker 1.0, which ran under Windows 1.03, which in turn ran on a 286 platform with 640 KBytes of memory.

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