Lorem Ipsum, Anguish Languish — or realistic text?

“Hoe-cake, murder,” resplendent Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, an tickle ladle basking an stuttered oft.

Today I tweeted* the above quote from my favorite playful work on the English language: “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” , from Anguish Languish, the 1950s work by Howard L. Chace. That tweet generated brief Twitter conversations regarding the use of dummy text in draft/preliminary screen designs.

Many designers use what’s called Lorem Ipsum to populate their designs with placeholder text, to illustrate the intended appearance of text in the design without indicating what the content of that text might be. The text of Lorem Ipsum comes from a treatise on ethics, written by Cicero in 45 BC. Lorem Ipsum is, of course, in Latin, which is especially amusing because it is used as a method of doing what is commonly called “greeking” text.

So, I tweeted that sentence from Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, and @banjobunny hooted and said she “might start using this copy in my design comps in place of Lorem ipsum – see if they notice.” I loved the idea and said I just might do the same. Then @jddj said “boo-hiss” to the very idea, commenting that “its presence always tells me I didn’t think through what kind of content should be there.”

But is that true? No, I don’t think so.

Here are the issues I see:

  • Stage of design. Sometimes (in my experience, often) you have to produce wireframes, or draft layouts, before you’ve nailed down the contents, and you want them to look somewhat realistic so you can look at the Gestalt to help you determine whether you’re on the right track. This requires having some amount of texty-looking stuff, and dummy text is the fastest way to include it.
  • Level of review. Sometimes you have to present your drafts to your client and/or to users, just to evaluate the layout without letting the content get in the way. It’s much easier to do that with text that’s obviously fake than it is to keep telling them “Ignore what it actually says; this is just an example.”
  • Generality of review. Some web sites are designed for organizations in which different groups will be responsible for creating and maintaining the contents of different parts of the site. If you use a sample of real text, you may find that one or more groups to which the content does not belong may (a) feel slighted or (b) object that the layout does not pertain to them because they have specific needs that the content area you’ve chosen does not meet. Using neutral non-content allows all groups to assess the potential of the text areas to contain their content.

Clearly, if you’re assessing a web site’s information structure or its navigation, you’ll need to use real content. How else are you going to know whether users understand it?

But under certain circumstances I see clear advantages to using dummy text. If its copyright is not an issue, next time I need to “greek” a design I may just use Anguish Language.

*“Tweeting” is posting a short comment (140 characters or fewer) on the Twitter microblogging service. You can find me on Twitter at @ebuie .

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One Comment

  1. Posted 11 January 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    My thoughts exactly Elizabeth. "Semantic Life" is my motto. It's not about who's right or wrong, but rather, what do we need now and what will serve us best at this specific time of development.
    However, the specific needs of the client tends to trump our in-house decisions.

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