Do you know Lorem Ipsum?

Leanne Waldal
Oct 15, 2013 · 3 min read

No? Never heard of Lorem Ipsum? Here are some cute kittens.

Yes? Maybe you’re a designer or developer or product or marketing manager who copies/pastes swaths of Lorem Ipsum to show how text will look in a design for content (filler, placeholder, dummy text). That’s great until you show that design to a typical user.

In my work as a researcher, I work with teams who are developing or redesigning web or mobile apps. I do a lot of usability testing and research with prototypes and wireframes. For most of these projects, the design has clumps of Lorem Ipsum where otherwise relevant text content would live. When the designs are shown to users, I typically hear something like:

Why isn’t there any English on this page?

Is this for people in a different country?

I can’t find/do anything here because I can’t read this.

What does “sit amet” mean?

Is this real? It doesn’t look real.

Wikipedia describes Lorem Ipsum as something that removes the distraction of meaningful content, to demonstrate the graphic elements. That’s useful for designers, but it’s distracting for users.

Humans love to focus on what’s wrong. They are distracted by other languages, spelling mistakes, photos not matching descriptions, photos missing, the weather report wrong for the location, names not consistent between pages, and other out of context content.

Sometimes these distractions negatively color an opinion of a product or app or design. We might think we’re smarter than dogs but we’re just as easily distracted.

If you’re planning to have users review your design in a prototype or wireframe, then don’t give users anything to focus on besides your design.

Take the time to make it real for users. Then they’ll return the favor with rich feedback for you. Whatever your content is, keep it in context. Make it approachable.

  1. If your prototype, for example, is for a news web site, then use recent news story content to show how content would display in your app or web site.
  2. If your wireframe or prototype is for an app or web site with product information, then include real (or realistic) product photos and descriptions (not the same product on every screen or the same product repeated in a grid or list).
  3. If your prototype contains user profiles, interactions with others, or other social content, then create users for the prototype. Create a cast of characters. Consider the usability test/research to be a performance of your prototype, a short play, with a cast and a brief plot. This makes it approachable, and then users will engage more and respond better to your prototype.
  4. Don’t use yourself, your team, celebrities, politicians, movie characters or anyone famous. Don’t use photos of anyone you know. Get stock photos, use, make sure your characters aren’t anyone you know, and make sure the cast or characters is a mix of people (not all men, not all women, not all young or old).
  5. Fill in any empty spaces with something relevant (a photo instead of “photo will go here” or a relevant headline instead of “headline here”).
  6. If the product or app or web site has data, then make up real data. Users can be distracted if numbers don’t add up or aren’t realistic (or if a prototyped comment thread just has the same comment copied/pasted/repeated multiple times).

Yep, that’ll take more time. It’ll be SO worth it when you watch users explore your prototype.

Think of looking for a new house to buy. Some people can walk into a house that is under construction and see vision and potential for the final design. Other people see the construction and focus on the missing walls and open ceilings and walk away. When you’re testing out an idea, with users, with a prototype, don’t give the user a chance to walk away.

Or, if you must, choose your ipsum.

    Leanne Waldal

    Written by

    Research. Geek. Parent. Family sysadmin. San Francisco.

    Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
    Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
    Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade