Stop using lorem ipsum - Technical.ly Philly

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Nov. 4, 2014 10:23 am

Stop using lorem ipsum

A case for why designers should ditch “Greek” copy as a placeholder during website development.

Shout-out to Cicero.

(Photo by Flickr user Blake Burkhart, used under a Creative Commons license)

This is a guest post by Dante Murphy, the Global User Experience Director for Digitas Health.

A few weeks ago I saw someone wearing a T-shirt that said “Greek is Good,” and my first instinct was to agree. The food is fantastic, from souvlaki to spanakopita. The Aegean is spectacular. And then there’s the history, philosophy, architecture, theater. The list goes on.

But then the contrarian in me found one thing I just can’t abide, and it’s this: “lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.”

In fairness to all things Greek, this isn’t. It’s Latin, or a pale imitation of Latin, but in the advertising trade we call it “Greek copy” and use it recklessly and with impunity while we develop the look and feel of our content.

It’s so popular that a whole sub-culture of faux-Greek-copy generators has sprung up, creating nonsense copy about bacon, fish, hipstersStar Wars, even off-color quotes from the films of Samuel L. Jackson (warning, this one is NSFW).

As amusing as it can be to lay the “foot massage” scene from Pulp Fiction into the comps for the new website, poster, or mobile app you’re working on, it’s a mistake, and here’s why.

Layout

One of the key uses of Greek copy is to figure out layout, but the truth is this practice has outlived its usefulness. If you slap four paragraphs of “lorem ipsum” into your layout, that’s what you will make room for. But what happens if you have six paragraphs of copy? Or one?

This isn’t to say that you need a final manuscript to start tinkering with layout. Whatever you know about your content, use that. You must have some idea what the content will be, or how you could select the right imagery and visual treatments, don’t you?

Just use angle brackets — <that’s what these things are called> — as a reminder to anyone who reads your content that it’s not final. This might require some explanation to your clients, especially the first time they see it, but it will also engage them in a preliminary review of the entire concept, rather than a visual idea disconnected from the copy it supports.

image001

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This example wireframe from a prescription pharmaceutical product website shows how using representative copy instead of “Greek” influences the size and shape of the accompanying charts and action buttons. It also enables a stakeholder to review the content and layout together.

Another use for Greek copy is to see how lines break, but this doesn’t help you if the content is not indicative of the length and vocabulary your manuscript will contain. “Lorem ipsum” doesn’t contain terms like “histocompatibility” or “luminescence” or “sesquicentennial,” but the copy we write does. How can you know if your bullet list will line-wrap if the longest word in it is “tincidunt”?

Labeling

Using placeholder copy that is representative of your final manuscript will also give you clear cues on how to label and structure your content. Where to place subheads and how to align them with your overall message is an essential part of designing a piece that is easy to scan.

You may already have a sense of the subheadings that you will use in your copy from a content outline, but if you don’t, you can start with a discussion about the key points you want to make on each piece, page, or section you are creating.

If you are creating a website, you will want to work with your search optimization (SEO) team to make sure that these labels align with the keywords your customers are using both to improve your search position and to make your content more accessible to your audience.

image002This example layout of a navigation option for a home improvement store shows how the use of literal labeling can be informed by SEO analysis to match the language of the customer. By using literal labels instead of “Greek” copy, the design and content strategy teams can identify any areas of duplication or ambiguity.

Linking

We are now firmly in the post-digital era in which more than 58 percent of Americans own a smartphone and 70 percent have broadband connectivity, which means that every piece of content we create can (and should) be connected to other content and experiences. Whether we are placing links on a website or enabling a SnapTag on broadcast TV, we need to know where to contextually place these links for maximum relevance and effectiveness.

This requires close alignment with the actual copy that makes up your message. Even if it is not the final language, a general sense of what concepts emerge in which paragraphs will shape your approach to embedded links, related content and recommended topics.

image003

Adding subheadings to this article makes it easier to scan and navigate to specific sections. Literal content, rather than “Greek” copy, informs the linking strategy to other articles on the host website and on other trusted sites.

(The text in the example is borrowed from this article in The Economist. The additions of subheadings, related links, and sidebar content are mine.)

Summary

Using Greek copy is a vestige of a linear or “waterfall” approach in which individual creative and technical professionals work in silos to deliver an idea in a simple medium. But we’re not in a simple medium anymore, we’re connecting across complex media, and we know that collaboration trumps isolation every day of the week.

The bottom line is this.

We shouldn’t be getting too far ahead of ourselves with visual design until we have a clear and detailed content strategy. And we shouldn’t be afraid of the feedback our clients and partners offer. May the Parthenon stand forever, but let’s put an end to the use of Greek copy once and for all.

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Organizations: Digitas Health
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