Lorem ipsum is bad for design.

We use content to realise the goal of any design. A wireframe without an understanding of the content is an easy step towards meaningless layout.

The problem for designers, who are so proud of being the solvers of problems, is that content, and particularly the text, is often absent before the design needs to be completed.

Rather than solve the problem, they absolve themselves of the responsibility by using placeholder text, known as “lorem ipsum”.

As far as placeholder text goes, lorem ipsum is probably the most meaningless. It is a bastardised quote that has been rendered non-sensical even in its original language, Latin.

Good design should have nothing meaningless in it.

By the end of a research phase, designers should have insights into parts of a client’s business that the client doesn’t even have. The designer is a consultant with a unique perspective: an outsider who can see the whole picture.

And the whole picture includes the words.

The words could even be the point where designing is no longer merely decorating. Having text that is relevant to the design is as important as having an image that evokes a response even though it might not be the final image.

When designing for a retirement community, a picture of a monkey is an inappropriate placeholder for a page describing the facilities. The designer would tend towards a picture of the bedrooms or the grounds or something else that would indicate to the client what the intention is.

Text should not be regarded any differently. Relevant text completes a design.

Using lorem ipsum, or any other nonsense text, removes purpose from the design. It says that the designer is disconnected from the design.

It says that the designer has not taken the time to think about the purpose of the design.

At the very worst it says the designer cannot fully articulate the purpose of the design.

Designers don’t need to be wordsmiths to get around this problem. Indicative text is more than enough. Sometimes it might be easiest to take existing text from the client’s other material. Sometimes it might be enough to put in a description of the type of content expected in that area.

For example: “This page is all about how good the facilities are and this paragraph is a quick summary of all the benefits.” As an introductory sentence this already provides so much more information than lorem ipsum ever could. It might not be as good as a copywriter’s text but it brings the design closer to a number of goals:

  • It tells the client how they should think about that particular aspect of the design;
  • The copywriter is now fully aware of the intention of the page and can write accordingly;
  • The coder, if there is one, knows that there is a style difference between different paragraphs and can create semantic classes accordingly;
  • Probably most importantly, it forces a connection between the designer and the work that can help make the work even better.

When a designer is finished, the work should be able to exist as a guide for style. When the text is lorem ipsum it’s not guiding anything. The conclusion could be made that the design isn’t even finished.

This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog