Designing with Placeholder Text

Lorem Ipsum has been traditionally used as placeholder text in graphic design. It’s a series of random words similar to Latin. Is it better to design websites with this, or relevant English?

The Big Advantage

I’ve been designing with Lorem Ipsum for most of my graphics career but lately I’ve been wondering if I’m doing the right thing. What are the advantages of designing with Lorem Ipsum?

The main advantage of Lorem Ipsum that I hear all the time is:

“It focuses the attention on the overall design, rather than individual text”

The idea here is that when presenting to clients they’ll see the text as a shape and look at it in context with the layout as a whole, rather than focusing on a sentence. I believed this logical for a long time, but I can safely say now that this is:

Absolute bollocks!

This is treating the clients as stupid and very misguiding. Everytime I’ve presented a design with Lorem Ipsum to a client they have immediately asked “Why is it in Latin?” (More often than not as a joke; they know it’s filler). The point here is that people will immediately focus on text. It is in our nature to communicate. The client and end user is always going to see the text first. We should be designing with this in mind rather than ignoring the fact.

Bad Habits

Because we are telling the client that the filler text is not important we also ignore it.

When designing with Lorem Ipsum I’ve found myself chopping it up like a carpet tile to fit the space I’ve made. “Text too long for my 200px wide menu?”—chop a few letters off. “Paragraph too long?”—chop a few words off. When the text is meaningless it becomes unimportant. It’s very easy to ignore the fact that real text is going to eventually replace the filler. Text in “the wild” does not have the zen-like fitting we’ve designed for. Therefore we should be designing to the extremes in text variation, and by using real text it’s going to look real.

The Big Problem

The problem with using Lorem Ipsum is that it doesn’t give a proper sense or provoke thoughts as to what will eventually replace it. If we are persuading the client to ignore text and look at the whole layout they will, and so will we. I’ve been annoyed many times when clients have sent over copy that is far too long and doesn’t fit into my precious design. Now I’ve started to realise that ultimately this is my fault. If a websites menu is designed with real text, that is going to provoke a conversation about the sites structure and pages that are needed. If an introductory paragraph or welcome text is real we can talk about whether this is really necessary and what it should be. These are vital talking points that need to be address – when looking at the design.

One question I always ask clients is:

“Do you feel this design provides adequate space for the text, pages, and content needed?”

It seems silly asking this question if I’ve persuaded them to ignore the filler copy and think purely in terms of layout. Both are ultimately important. I now feel that presenting a design with Lorem Ipsum justs hide important decisions that need to be made and often results in a worse design for it.

A New Resolution

I’ve decided to get rid of Lorem Ipsum in all client presentations.

At least as much as I can. Any short text such as menu items, headings, introductions etc I will be using real text. Only long paragraphs of body copy I see as acceptable places for Lorem Ipsum. It does have it’s advantages when designing in the early stages. The ability to quickly see how text is set in a certain style and adjust accordingly is the best use for it, but once it looks right I’m going to replace it with various extremes of real text.

And yes, clients will look at the text first just like they’ll look at Lorem Ipsum first, but now they’re going to see that I care about typography – and more importantly their business.

I was planning to write a rather cynical article titled “No one is going to read your website anyway” and suggest replacing all sentences longer than two lines with filler but that’s not entirely fair or true and dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Mauris sagittis lacinia erat…

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