Should UX Writers use Lorem Ipsum?

Writers get frustrated when content takes a backseat to visuals in a design process. And for good reason: Most sites and apps may well as not exist without the words!

I fear, though, that in an effort to champion content first design, people are sending the wrong message about the role that Lorem Ipsum and similar placeholders can play in a design and UX writing workflow.

Consider these headlines:

  • “Death to Lorem Ipsum
  • Lorem Ipsum is killing your designs”
  • “Why designers should never use fake text”
  • Lorem Ipsum is a crime”

While the broad sentiment of these and similar articles is good, an important nuance is getting lost:

No design tool is universally good or bad.

Tools can be useful in one context and harmful in another.

Lorem Ipsum is not a bad tool. It’s a dangerous tool, yes. But carpentry Twitter (is that a thing?) isn’t pumping out articles like “Hammers are a crime” just because amateurs smash their thumbs every once in a while.

Here’s the more nuanced truth: Lorem Ipsum is dangerous when design teams treat it like real text. Designs with placeholder text – squiggly lines, gray boxes, Lorem Ipsum, Hipster Ipsum, or otherwise – are not done, and are not ready for review. The reason, as I shared in Writing for Designers, is this:

Everything left unwritten is a mystery box of incomplete design.

Writing for Designers

If you haven’t done the writing, the design isn’t done. Writing is not a phase that comes after design. Writing is designing.

So, how should UX writers use Lorem Ipsum?

Use Lorem Ipsum to get the writing done

Form is the shape of content.

Ben Shahn

Invoices look like invoices, sign-in screens look like sign-in screens, and newsletters look like newsletters. Both form and content contribute meaning.

The shape of a thing is critical to understanding the thing. Square green stop signs aren’t especially effective, and texting someone “I Love You” isn’t the same as writing it in the sky. 

Using placeholer text like Lorem Ipsum can help you visualize and consider what impression the form your content will have on your reader. It’s a pencil sketch before laying down ink, a hummed melody before writing the score.

Placeholders are not the place to start, but they’re a perfectly reasonable intermediary step as you iterate through the words and visuals in your design work.

You can use Lorem Ipsum in tandem with protocopy. Protocopy is lo-fidelity writing — quick dashes of text to capture your intent without worrying about making it sound good. You might find something like this in my comps, for instance:

explain when user will get first bill after subscribing and monthly rate ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Etiam consectetur mollis urna sed lobortis!

Or you could do a rough in — populating a wireframe with Lorem Ipsum, then dropping in protocopy, quotes and testimonials, bulleted lists of facts and talking points, and other inputs onto the canvas you want to reference for that piece of writing.

Lorem Ipsum is also helpful when exploring constraints. If an area has a 500-character limit, for instance, you can add 500 characters of Lorem Ipsum to see what’s possible. Does it work well as one paragraph? Two short paragraphs? Can a a bulleted list work in 500 characters? And so on.

Remember: No approvals on placeholders!

While I’m happy to defend Lorem Ipsum as a design writing tool, caution is warranted.

A good rule for design teams: No design is done until we’ve done the writing. Or maybe: No words = no approvals. Having a rule like that in place gives individual designers and writers more flexibility in how they approach their work on the way toward done — including, if they like, using Lorem Ipsum.

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