How Lorem Ipsum makes your web project fail

by Sharon Tanton on July 26, 2013

If you work in web design you’ll be familiar with Lorem Ipsum.  If you don’t, all you need to know is that it’s the placeholder copy that designers use to fill in text boxes on work in progress.

Content people really hate Lorem Ipsum. It says to us:

The words don’t matter very much. Just fill in this space with any old stuff. No one cares.

We think that the stories – words and images – are the most important things on your website.  You should be designing the site around the content, not leaving the content until the last minute. The words you use are key, they should never be an afterthought. Content IS web design.

During a meeting last week we were presented with a website that had been through 55 iterations without a real word on the site. Imagine that! 55 attempts to design the web pages without a thought to what needed to be said, or how the site was going to be used.

And it’s prompted us to write this. A plea for the end of Lorem Ipsum. Why we all need to say no!

10 ways Lorem Ipsum will kill your web project

  1. Lorem Ipsum shows you are approaching the project the wrong way round. Always think content first.
  2. It shows a lack of understanding of your audience and the way they want to connect with you.
  3. It’s a sign that you will be missing a trick – designing the site around real content that answers genuine questions is what will get results
  4. It means you are likely to get a one dimensional website – if you leave content out of the process until the end the best you can hope for is filler text
  5. It shows a lack of collaboration between designers and writers – the best projects see copy and design working iteratively, hand in hand. We work brilliantly together so make the most of a productive creative partnership.
  6. It shows you don’t have the central message clear from the start. If you don’t already have the strapline and the story why are you working on the design?
  7. Designing around the words helps refine your thinking. Your website will be all the stronger for it.
  8. You won’t get good value for money out of your copywriters if you drop them into a project at the last minute and ask them to fill in the blanks.
  9. The words on a page and the design of the page are inextricably linked. You can’t do either of them properly in isolation.
  10. Valuable content is everything to a website. If you treat it as an afterthought your web project will fail.

So are you with us?

We are thinking of getting badges printed. Let us know if you’d like one and join our crusade for putting content first.

You might also like:

Found this blog post valuable?
Get free updates, and exclusive extras:



avatar

Sharon Tanton

Sharon Tanton is Creative Director here at Valuable Content. A skilled brand storyteller and copywriter, she and her team will help you to get your message across.

More Posts - Website - Twitter

{ 2 trackbacks }

How Lorem Ipsum Makes Your Web Project Fail | Valuable Content | AcoyfellowAcoyfellow
July 29, 2013 at 12:10 pm
How Lorem Ipsum makes your web project fail | I read stuff.
August 1, 2013 at 10:58 pm

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Greg Strandberg July 26, 2013 at 7:59 am

I’ve worked on many sites with placeholder text. And just like you said, I’m dropped into a project at the last minute and asked to fill in the blanks.

I think what happens a lot of times is that a company or individual has an idea for a website and gets about 3 to 4 different people working on it, all of them separately and with no awareness of the others.

These folks think they’ll save money that way, but 55 iterations has got to cost more than doing it right the first time!

avatar Sharon Tanton July 26, 2013 at 8:32 am

Thanks Greg. It’s frustrating isn’t it! Get the content right first and the rest falls into place much more easily. Shall I put you down for a badge ;-)

avatar Piers Tincknell July 26, 2013 at 10:09 am

Nice article, however I feel that Lorem Ipsum will always have a place when it comes to designing a Website because in our world when clients budgets don’t reach as far and they need something that kinda fits then it’ll have a place. It’s like the difference between buying a custom fit suit and an off the shelf, sometimes an off the shelf will fit perfectly but not every time.

Love the badges.

avatar Sonja Jefferson July 26, 2013 at 10:37 am

Hi Piers.

Thanks very much for the comment. Businesses have a choice about a simple templated site or something that fits their business like a glove. But even when budgets are limited (and you’re absolutely right to point out the budget issue) I think that every business needs to do the thinking and planning first. If you think about the information, the content you need on your site from the start then that will guide whether you go for an off the shelf website or custom-built site, and you can make the right investment. Content and design need to work hand in hand. It’s an iterative process when it works at its best, but the thinking must come first.

This book is one of the best I’ve found on the subject: http://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/the-strategic-web-designer-a-valuable-new-business-book.

Glad you like the badges – will tell Lizzie.

avatar Tim July 26, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Nice Pistols subversion!

55 iterations is mind-numbing and something’s very clearly gone wrong. Project and account management most likely. Totally agree with the principles though. How CAN a graphic designer get a feel for page design, user experience or interactivity without a sense of purpose, audience and sample content – especially imagery?

As for album cover imagery – “How about Weasel-Words Ripped My Flesh”, by the Mothers of Valuable Content? I’ve got a graphic of this for you, but can’t load it here – can I email it?

avatar Greg Strandberg July 27, 2013 at 7:23 am

I think oftentimes it’s just a total lack of vision. Many putting that text up on their websites have no idea what they want that website to be in 5 years. Jeez, they don’t even know now.

I think many websites could do with some type of long term vision or mission statement that defines their goals and how they’ll go about achieving them. I suppose that should really come about in the conceptualization phase, and perhaps that’s why so many sites are without a sense of purpose.

avatar Sonja Jefferson July 27, 2013 at 10:00 am

Agreed Tim and Greg.

Purpose is absolutely the right word here. The website projects that we see really succeed have a very clear sense of purpose from the start. Time is taken to get clear on what the site needs to achieve, who exactly it is for, what their needs are, how you can meet them and the actions you’d like them to take. This and the central message Sharon mentions guide the design, imagery, content and copy. When you have thought about these things choices become so much easier. You’d never get 55 iterations!

Tim – email away! Can’t wait to see that.

avatar Nenad July 27, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Indeed. This is exactly what I learnt the hard way. The first thing I say when designing a new magazine is no lorem ipsum. It’s too short and Slovene words can be very long and not “attractive”. That’s one reason beside the rest you’ve mentioned. N.

avatar Sonja Jefferson July 28, 2013 at 8:03 am

Thanks Nenad. We’ll add that Slovene nail to Lorem Ipsum’s coffin!

avatar Justin Kerr July 28, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Hear, hear! I completely agree with you. Content is valuable and important and should be in the first stages of web development. When I design I work with real client content whenever possible. The only place I just Lorem Ipsum now is in the mood board stage when I’m trying to select fonts.

avatar Hari July 29, 2013 at 3:22 am

I totally agree. However, on most of project that I’ve worked on the content won’t be ready until the last minute. Even when client has their content ready, they often make changes that will require some design updates. What’s your suggestion in such cases? Thanks

avatar Jesse Liwag July 29, 2013 at 5:30 am

Hi Sharon – I agree in principle that content, along with user experience and IA, should drive how a website should be built. In the numerous website builds I’ve been part of, it’s rare to see content mapped out the the beginning of the project plan. In many cases, it’s the client rushing to get the website built and promising to deliver final content when the CMS is ready.

In one specific case, we did tell the client that we won’t go beyond wireframes until the content is ready. We worked with the client to have a detailed content outline that they were happy with. That project started and was never completed, because the client never delivered the content.

avatar Nick Taylor July 29, 2013 at 5:39 am

In my experience (as a freelancer), web development is a battle… an absolute battle, against being duped into “extra stuff”, that was not part of the brief. I’ve never known it not to happen.

So… if you attempt to write copy, suddenly you’ll be responsible for copy, and the never-ending tweaks and changes that that will entail… and I suspect very strongly that writing code is be easier than writing copy – if a coder is responsible for writing copy as well, they project will never get done.

Getting clients to provide content up front? Brilliant. Do that.

Hardly ever happens. It’s what we all want, but virtually nobody does it.

Lorem Ipsum has survived as a place-holder for around 500 years. I’m guessing there’s a reason for that that trumps the vanities of content people… even though in my experience, a good soundbite is worth 1000 pictures.

avatar G. Armour Van Horn July 29, 2013 at 5:59 am

Lorem Ipsum will live a long and productive life, right up until the time you are promoted to God. Until that day, I guarantee you that the copy will not be done in time to build the website afterward. When you are in a position to make every client write every word of their website long enough in advance of the launch that the designers and coders don’t have to start working until the copy is done, it will be a new world and Lorem Ipsum can go away.

BTW, the reason we have Lorem Ipsum is that we need to have something that looks like copy but obviously isn’t. The number of bogus news stories that were laid out on pages waiting for the final copy, and then actually went to press, is legion. Some of them were hilarious, some were litigious.

But until the client gets the copy a lot earlier than I’ve ever heard of happening, and we shoot all the lawyers so we don’t have to worry about something slipping through, Lorem Ipsum is going to be part of layouts in progress on the web, as it was for ages before.

Van

avatar Peter Sigrist July 29, 2013 at 6:14 am

If the practice of writing to length came from a world of physical restrictions, then digital spaces should free us from such limited thinking. But you argue as though words are the only conceptual start-point. What about narratives expressed mathematically, visually, aurally or through interaction? In such cases, the best design won’t necessarily depend on the fidelity of words. I agree with your argument wholeheartedly but it’s narrowly framed.

avatar Adam Marshall July 29, 2013 at 6:33 am

Another perspective.

There are companies that are set up to help clients visualise what a site might lookup like – a mockup. Mockups may be put forward from competing companies as part of pitches. This kind of activity happens before the clients even know exactly what they want.

Other clients may be so conscious about their content, that it needs to go through a long sign off process before it is even released to the web design company. One particular client asked me to remove some draft content from a web site and replace with Lorem Ipsum so that when they demoed the site to THEIR client it would be crystal clear that it is not real content. It avoids misconceptions, both “oh so that is all signed off already?” and “oh you weren’t really going to write that were you?”. Many clients can get paranoid, panicky and anxious and Lorem Ipsum may calm them down!

On a personal level, having worked on projects with a lot of iterations, sometimes those are part of the job. I’d rather meet clients needs and make them happy by going through that. In that case Lorem Ipsum is a brilliant concept. I don’t want to be editing lots of text repeatedly as the client tweaks their content, I’ll just take the first draft they want to give me and then the final final final final version.

avatar Don July 29, 2013 at 6:50 am

i work on content management systems and the design almost always outlasts the content. I’m more interested in who the target audience is, the general message the company wants to send and the perception the company wants to leave in the mind of the visitor. Which is how follow-up content should be written as well.

avatar Dennis Wingo July 29, 2013 at 7:00 am

Exactly! It took me forever to decide to even do a website because to me content is everything and there is no way that anyone who does not understand what my company does can understand the message that I want to convey to the world with my site.

I ended up doing my site myself. In the future I can have assistance from a web designer to do the technical aspects of web jockeying that I don’t have the time to learn, but the message is everything!

avatar Sharon Tanton July 29, 2013 at 7:53 am

Thanks for all the comments – I appreciate it. I agree Peter, the content is not just the words – it’s the message the words need to convey. That information could be equally well expressed as an infographic, or mathematically, but it needs to be there from the start.
And yes, G, Lorem Ipsum has been around for ever, and it’s not going to disappear overnight.
Writing from my experience of working on web projects I know the ones that end up getting the best results for clients are the ones that are designed around the message, and not the ones that are designed first and the words squeezed in at the end. It is a different way of working, and it does demand clients think harder about what people want from the website – it requires a lot more soul searching about the ‘why’ – but I believe it’s a change worth making.

avatar Abigail Sinclair July 29, 2013 at 8:50 am

I’ve worked on many projects in the past where clients have taken so long to write content that the project has either ended up never leaving development stages, or we have had to write something ourselves to get the project live.

Sometimes getting content out of clients is hard work so we tend to find out the main messages or services they need to showcase, then make sure all headers or banners contain relevant content.

In the design stages however I always use placeholder text for larger blocks and longer paragraphs. I’ve stopped using Lorem Ipsum as the client usually asks something along the lines of, “What’s all this French text in the design for?”

Instead I use something I wrote myself which explains it’s placeholder text and that once they provide copy we can then replace it.

I agree that the design needs to feel real and believable and that strong messages play an important part in this, but it’s likely I’ll continue to write this myself and the client will ask for it to be changed a couple of times before we go live.

avatar Sonja Jefferson July 29, 2013 at 9:26 am

Thanks Abigail, and all. We recognise that it’s a battle getting content out of clients – and like you have heard of projects fail because the content never comes.

When clients think about their websites they tend to focus on the design and the technical. I think it’s about all of us in the web trade (design, development, UX, content) working together to get clients to recognise that content is a major part of the success of their project and something that needs to be thought about up front.

In answer to your comments Hari and G – the content doesn’t need to be completed before the design process begins; it’s the thinking and planning that comes at the start. Then the design and content build can work in tandem. The most successful projects we’ve been involved see close collaboration between the two disciplines – all working in an iterative and agile way.

Content is now a recognised discipline. You don’t have to leave it to the client or put your hand up and get lumbered with doing it yourself. There are skilled content experts out there – all over the world – who can help the client plan and create this. It is not an easy job and often far easier to see from the outside in.

avatar Lizzie Everard July 29, 2013 at 11:05 am

Yes – working in tandem is key. Reading all these comments, there’s obviously a mix of huge corporate projects and very small, personal ones under discussion. For me, there is no difference when it comes to those earliest of discussions – the content of the project informs the design decisions.

Even if the literature is not written, starting out with a clear story is crucial. And make it a story that has legs, so whatever written content follows we are already captivated by its possibilities.

This is good for design too. Would we designers EVER just use clip art in a presentation, saying “well you get the gist – we’ll fill this space in with some pretty eye candy later.” This makes me feel faint!!

Words can be as powerful as pictures and I’m really challenged to rethink the design traditions I’ve learnt over years, as I witness a new engagement with / ownership of all our media channels.

Everyday I feel challenged to make it more real.

avatar Sonja Jefferson July 29, 2013 at 11:52 am

Thanks Lizzie. Love the clip art reference. Spot on!

avatar David July 30, 2013 at 5:25 pm

We tend to always write copy, even though it might be pretty rough around the edges to begin with (in fact, when I write it, it’s always rough around the edges…even at the end) We do this to help the client understand the overall point we are trying to make.

It’s a great discipline for me too, because if I can’t write any copy, chances are it’s because I don’t fully understand the idea I’m trying to get across.

But I guess there is a need for Lorem Ipsum when you have a client who says ‘we’ll supply the copy’. :O

In that case Lorem Ipsum (or a version of) is useful to show them roughly how long you feel they’ve got to deliver that particular pitch. As writers know, you might be able to get a point across in 100 words, but you can REALLY get that point across in 1000 words (especially if you’re being paid by word count ;) ), so sometimes it’s useful to have a Lorem Ipsum copy-count to begin the process and steer the writing.

I guess the over-riding (and interesting) point that is being made is were Lorem Ipsum is used in place of strategic or creative thinking. Slap a couple of stock images up along with a slab of Lorem Ipsum, stir in one client logo and Bam, you’ve got yourself something that looks like a website (or Ad) All it needed was a point ot make and an idea to express that and it might have been really good.

There are plenty of places you can go to get this too (Wordpress is a great place to start – their templates even have gribble copy in place for you to amend and edit) but what you may end up with is a cookie-cutter site with no content (thought) behind it, and ultimately nothing to say.

At least I think that’s what you meant.

Either way, I only came because the link promised me a badge (I was thinking Blue Peter stylie red enamel VC badge) – turns out it’s a Sex Pistols pastiche – Damn, and I was so much more a Wham Boy…

avatar Kathleen July 30, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Blaming lorem ipsum for poor content strategy is like blaming wrapping paper for a thoughtless gift.

Real copy is fine for small sites, but not for large, templated, corporate sites, content repositories, or blogs, which by nature must be designed before content is available. Real copy may also restrict design to the one set of requirements that were needed just to display that content. Content changes and grows. Lorem ipsum, used properly, allows designers and IAs to accommodate for flexible content.

Placeholders are used for many reasons, including preventing clients from nitpicking copy at the expense of all else, ESP deadlines. Content strategists, IAs and designers absolutely need to work together. Design isn’t just driven by content, it’s driven by function and usability. Content needs to consider these factors. Lorem ipsum can help keep the focus on flexibility and function, including content delivery and interaction.

A team is a team because the members all have an equal stake, and everyone learns from each other. The idea that any one discipline leads the others is why sites are often such a mess.

avatar David July 31, 2013 at 8:14 am

Forget the badges, can we get a like button for Kathleens post?
Like all good things Lorem Ipsum should be used in moderation, and only by responsible adults.

avatar Sonja Jefferson July 31, 2013 at 8:16 am

Hi David. That’s exactly what we are saying (and very beautifully put). It’s about a quality of thought before getting started on the page design vs. your “cookie-cutter site with no content.” I think you’ve just given Lizzie a new challenge on badge design!

Kathleen. Thank you very much for your comment. I totally take your point about the pragmatic use of placeholder text. Our argument is for content as part of the web design team upfront, alongside designers and IAs. It’s changing, but there are still too many projects where this is not prioritised. Being confronted by nothing but Lorem Ipsum for us is a sign that it has not been thought through.

We believe that content strategy goes further than providing the copy. It’s more than what words go into the site. As the brilliant Kristina Halvorson put it: “it’s what, why, how, for whom, by whom, with what, when, where, how often, what next.” Once this thinking is done content creation and design can work iteratively, side-by-side, learning from each other as we go.

avatar Sonja Jefferson August 6, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Thanks for commenting David! Lizzie’s badges are so cool I think even Wham would have wanted to wear them……maybe.

avatar Titus Yusinyu August 22, 2013 at 10:47 am

Thanks for the heads up. Good to know this before I enter the web dev world fully. I’m fully with you

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: