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The dangers of lorem ipsum (and what to use instead)

The dangers of lorem ipsum (and what to use instead)

Do you love the lorem? Or do you loathe the ipsum?

I’m asking, of course, about dummy text.

lorem-ipsum-pinterest

A long-used form of placeholder text in design mockups and more, the standard use of dummy text has come under fire in recent years as web design grows (and the internet makes the spread of opinions much more efficient).

But why all the controversy? And what are we as designers supposed to do if we don’t use dummy text?

Read on, intrepid designer, and have no fear of a lorem-less future.

What is dummy text?

For the uninitiated…dummy text is the filler text that’s often used as a stand-in for regular copy. It’s used in design mock-ups to get a feel for how the final product will look, even though copy isn’t yet available.

Dummy text most frequently appears as a paragraph of Latin text that dates back to 45 BC, beginning as follows:

dangers-lorem-ipsum-example

The phrase lorem ipsum is fairly well-known in the editorial world. It’s been used since the early days of printing and typesetting – think the 1500s – and you may hear people refer to lorem ipsum when they just mean copy.

The benefits of lorem ipsum text

Something that’s been around for centuries surely has that kind of staying power for a reason. These are some of the main reasons dummy text can be a great tool for you:

  • It presents a good “feel” for how a design will be when there’s true copy on it, even if that copy isn’t available yet.
  • It demonstrates the typography and shows how it fits within the overall feel of the design.
  • It does both of these without providing a distraction — true copy would pull the reader in and serve as a distraction from the purpose of the mock-up, which is to evaluate it from a design standpoint rather than looking at the actual content.

The drawbacks of lorem ipsum text

There’s nothing really wrong with dummy text, per se. It has a role and it plays it just fine. The issue comes in when you take a look at what has been done to dummy text – and what it gets in the way of.

dangers-lorem-ipsum-sketch

Some designers view the use of dummy text as a philosophical statement, reducing content to a secondary role and thereby diminishing the true importance of copy in a website. If the design is good, the theory goes, then it won’t really matter what the copy says.

That’s obviously not true. Copy and design need to meld together to create a great user experience on a website that is beautiful, useful, and effective. Dummy text opponents point out – and rightly so – that copy and design aren’t separate elements at all. They should feed each other and strengthen each other.

In short, web design doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and any website created without an eye for what the copy will actually say will fall short and ultimately fail to deliver.

The position is that copy isn’t secondary, the final step on the to-do list before publishing a site. Instead, copy is primary, integral, and something that belongs right alongside design on the priority list. The idea that a design is “done” once the layout is established is myopic at best and a business-killer at worst.

How to move forward without dummy text

Any designer knows that web design is a process, and not a one-and-done idea generation exercise. It’s certainly possible to work on a design when the copy isn’t available yet, after all.

But the concern is an interesting one: Can you truly design a great website without having any of the copy? I (personally) am inclined toward no. Here’s why:

I do think it’s possible to develop the big ideas of a website before you have the copy, as long as you have a good idea of what the purpose of the site is and a general idea of what content will be included.

dangers-lorem-ipsum-notebook

I also think it’s absolutely necessary to have the copy in-hand and to see it on your design drafts before you can really present a fully developed, beautifully executed site. Copy is important — it’s a critical element in marketing, and its importance can’t be underestimated. (Ask any copywriter and they’ll tell you that good copy and ugly design will outsell bad copy and pretty design all day, every day!)

Design, in my opinion, should incorporate the ebb and flow of the copy itself. It might be that your design is incredibly well suited to the copy that ends up on it, but it might also be just as likely that something doesn’t quite fit correctly and needs some tweaking or modification to make the design as strong as it could be.

You’ll never know until you get the copy loaded, though. And that definitely should not be the final step in the process.

What do you think of lorem ipsum? Is it a critical part of your process, or have you opted out of traditional dummy text? Let us know in the comments!

1 Comment

  • Carla says:

    I’ve never thought of the topic of the importance of copy this way, but I totally agree. As a new web designer, I have started my projects with the design and presented it to clients who hadn’t even submitted copy yet….which is very irritating to say the least because they don’t see how important copy truly is. So, I’m now shifting my work-flow and requesting 100% of copy material before starting any project.

    Thanks for writing this article.

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