Dangers of Dummy Text

Posted By Michael Montecuollo In UX & Design 09/12/2011

In a perfect world, user experience designers would receive all of the materials necessary to complete a web or mobile design project ahead of time, approved and unlikely to change.  Items such as strategy documentation, business rules, and a copy deck would all have gone through a rigorous process of creation, refinement and approval.

As we all know, we do not live in that world, and there will always be a healthy amount of assumption and iteration between business decision-makers and a user experience design team in the process of turning a good idea into a fully functional offering.  Because of this, design teams often find themselves having to structure pages, interactions and flow based on an incomplete set of specifications and little or no content.  

In order to fill gaps in content, designers often leverage a body of placeholder text known as "Lorem Ipsum" (link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorem_ipsum).  Lorem Ipsum is derived from (but not actually) Latin and is meant to fill areas of a design where actual final copy is not yet available.  Lorem Ipsum looks and is structured similarly to actual copy and, becuase of this, acts a suitable placeholder to illustrate design decisions such as layout.  

A Word of Caution

Using Lorem Ipsum forces certain assumptions to be made about page structure, content types and the amount of copy that will eventually take up a given space within the design.  Because the copy itself serves as an element of the design and helps to establish the structure and layout of the page, if the final copy varies significantly from the placeholder copy, it can have a drastic effect on composition.  

As an information architect designing the structure of a page or view without approved copy, the use of placeholders must come with the heightened awareness that a task has been left unfinished.  These “holes” in a design system must be flagged and one should work with the project stakeholders to replace them as quickly as possible with an sample of real copy.  

As user experience designers, we must be keenly aware of the fact that assumptions are being made and emphasize the importance of syncing up on copy to the client as early in the project as possible.  While lorem ipsum is a valuable tool and can even help facilitate thought being put into the structure and layout of content, it must never be viewed as anything more than a placeholder.

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