July 11, 2019 | Sarah Danks

An Open Letter to Those Using Lorem Ipsum

For those of you that hate lorem ipsum, I already like you. For those thinking “what’s the big deal?” or that don’t know what it is, please keep reading.

Before I start, let’s look at what’s all included in this post. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor, incididunt

…ha. Just a bit of ipsum humor.

The three things I’ll cover here are:

  1. what lorem ipsum is
  2. why it’s used
  3. why it needs to die

And not just die; die a slow, horrible death from gonorrhea (would you like a cookie, son?).

What is “Lorem Ipsum”?

In my own words, lorem ipsum is Latin text taken from a long-ago blurb of content that is used as placeholder text in web development to highlight design aspects. Basically you use it when you’re showing a new design layout to a client, and you want the focus on the design instead of the words on the page.

But whoever chose this random “lorem ipsum” snippet, anyway?

Turns out that “long-ago blurb” isn’t random, after all. Apparently lorem ipsum text dates back to 45 BC with “roots in a piece of classical Latin literature, “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero.” The book is a dissertation on ethics, which is kind of funny — ironic? — since I’m here to talk people out of using it based on web design best practices.

In essence, it’s dummy, mock text to use so the people you’re designing for don’t get distracted by the content on the page. In using lorem ipsum as a placeholder, you want people to ignore the text — the thing that actually gets people to realize your product/service is what they’re looking for, and gets them to take that next step in becoming a customer — and look at how pretty the design is. Don’t look at the text! Ish.

According to Wikipedia (yes, there’s a reason I chose this definition):

“In publishing and graphic design, Lorem ipsum is a placeholder text commonly used to demonstrate the visual form of a document without relying on meaningful content.”

…without relying on meaningful content. Let that sink in for a second.

(from Wikipedia)

The ipsum text has been the industry standard for typesetting since before websites (back when people still read newspapers, and worried about above the fold for real). Of course that thinking segued from traditional print media to the web and people just kept on designing and throwing dummy text in where the real text would go later.

In fact, it’s such a ubiquitous practice (not only that, it’s everywhere) that there’s an entire microcosm built around generating funny versions of lorem ipsum — many of which are super-fun to read, but of course do zero, zip, zilch, nada to assist with real web design.

Why do we need it?

So if lorem ipsum is fake text put in place of the real content in web design…

…why is it used?

Again, it dates back (waaaaaaaaay back) to when designs were simpler. I.e., a sheet of papyrus to give to an emperor. Or, maybe a secret pamphlet about the king to distribute amongst disloyal courtiers. Later on, newspaper layouts. You get the drift — this text merely held the place of simple text in a simple layout.

Ages ago.

Now in this era of online-everything, it could stand to reason that said place holder text is still important, because we’re just reading online versions of that sheet of papyrus. Right?

Many big-box companies think so.

Massive Web Production

Big web development companies sell thousands of websites a year. Because of that, they have set “parameters” into which said sites have to fit — as in, you buy a website based on a certain number of pages. If you only have so much money, that means you only get so many pages; in this case you might have to truncate your content because of budget restrictions.

When the designers at these companies show you your “Silver Package Website” design mock-up, they do so with lorem ipsum snugly fitted into where your own content will go once the design has been approved, because at this point it’s really just about how the design looks.

Other businesses get caught up in all the bells and whistles of a really fancy website, but they don’t have the content to support it; in this case you’re creating content for the sake of filling space you purchased but don’t need.

In either scenario, lorem ipsum is a great way to showcase the website layout because the clients aren’t savvy enough to realize the design should mold to the content; not the other way around.

Web companies need to start letting go of those old ways.

Hanging Onto Old-school Ways

Unfortunately, these people paying for big-box biz websites are still being told, “content is king,” as the old adage goes. And yet, when they see their design mock-up, they’re seeing an imposter in place of the real monarch.

It’s kind of a case of the emperor’s clothes, except in this case there is an outfit walking around without a person in it.

Again, we go back to “this is how it was done way back when…”

…and marketers (some of them) are still okay with doing it this old, outdated way, instead of adapting to the user-first approach that is so very important these days online.

Kyle Fiedler, a designer/developer said (over 9 years ago, and it’s still so very, VERY true):

“Design should be the extra layer, therefore adding to the experience that helps visitors locate wanted information, read said information, or simply accomplish a task. The very second you make the decision to place Lorem Ipsum into your mock-ups, you have done a great disservice to your design, content, website and users.”

Web design should support the content, and make it easy to scan, read, and navigate to the visitors.

Ignorance…or Let’s Call it Naiveté

So when we worry about what a website should “look like” first and foremost, and we jam lorem ipsum in as a content placeholder, how do we really know how the flow and feel will be when we put the rooms into the house structure?

Actually, let’s run with that. Imagine you hire a contractor to build you a house. You say, “I’ve chosen you to build me a house from scratch!” The contractor says, “Great! What’re your needs?” You say, “Well, we can figure that out later, how about you just build the framework and we’ll figure out the inside details later?”

I’m sure said contractor will be giving you massive eye rolls thinking, “If you don’t know what you want on the inside, how can I put up a decent structure for you?” You might end up with a serviceable house, but the rooms will be oddly shaped, the layout won’t flow, etc.

But that’s exactly what we’re doing when we design a website and throw lorem ipsum text into the spot where the real content is supposed to go.

And, having worked for a big-box company that did just that, I’ve learned that it CAN work, but more often than not it didn’t. See, when content writers have to fit the copy into a prearranged layout, it doesn’t work out best for the client or their audience.

Why it needs to die

When we focus on design aspects before the content, it can be confusing for all parties involved, from the production team all the way to the client.

It’s Confusing

Because, frankly, how can we expect a designer to know how/what/where to put design elements on a web page when s/he doesn’t have the context of the entire story?

How can we expect a content writer to fit the client’s ideas, priorities, and existing messaging into a pretty design that doesn’t support them?

I know first-hand how confusing lorem ipsum can be to clients. I don’t know how many times I heard, “What’s this Latin content? We’re going to add MY content in before the website goes live, right? Can I translate this to see what it means? Why is it here???”

Design-first Approach is Wrong

The entire point of the internet is to disseminate information. While pictures and design help to mold the information, words are the drivers behind any data. The use of lorem ipsum is clinging to an old method that just doesn’t fit into today’s UX-focused world. According to many experts in design, conversion, content, and how they all work together, designing with lorem ipsum is dead wrong.

A Twitter message I received not long ago from Peep Laja, founder of ConversionXL, in regards to a Tweet about lorem ipsum, stated,

“Lorem ipsum has to die a horrible death. One should always design with *real* content…if you design with lorem ipsum, it’s design-first approach and that’s wrong.”

Oli Gardner has said so many times over the years that I don’t even know where exactly to quote him on it, “Copy informs design; not the other way around.” Since he’s co-founder of Unbounce, a company dedicated to optimizing landing pages for conversions, and he’s seen more landing pages than anyone else on the planet…

…yeah, you get the point. He knows his sh*t.

Over at Prototypr they describe how content should come first and act as the driver behind a design, versus cramming content in after a design is finished. When “mock text” is used to hold up a pretty web design, the entire point of the website is lost, and when you’ve crammed your content in after the fact, and published the website, it’s not going to perform as you think it should.

Justin Jackson — a designer, not either of the ball players — has an awesome page devoted to teaching us all about how important content is over design:

“Instead of starting with a style guide or a Photoshop mockup, start with words on a page…At its heart, web design should be about words. Words don’t come after the design is done. Words are the beginning, the core, the focus.”

Just goes to show how, once you strip away the fancy design aspects, how the content still carries the page. Duh.

Can’t Write for UX

Content-first design has been vogue — and rightly so — for years. But you can’t write for your audience and the user experience if you’re designing with lorem ipsum.

If you start with a design and have to retro-fit your content into the design prototype, you will most likely run into issues of having to truncate headlines, quotes, benefit descriptions, etc. That’s not user-friendly, which is YUGE nowadays.

Knowing what content you want to show your visitors will help you create the proper user-friendly layout with which to display said content. It also helps you build proper information hierarchy, which of course is a piece of the SEO puzzle.

Plus, it can just design itself, as with Pixar’s magical 404 page.


We design responsive websites, meaning they work across all devices. But, “working” on or being accessible on all devices doesn’t necessarily translate to being EASY TO USE on all devices. It also doesn’t translate to optimizing the content/visual experience based on screen size/device, etc.

If we lead with design, how do we know how to lay out the content in the best way possible for, say, a small iPhone? We don’t. But if we focus on the messaging we want to display to that audience, and then design around it…

…then it works out.

There have been times when the design layout has been approved by the client, and then the writer begins creating the content, and of course runs into issues with fitting the text into the space allotted. Headlines, sub-heads, even basic descriptions have to be truncated because they don’t “fit” into the existing design.

I’ve even seen cases where a layout included separate sections for “areas of interest,” but the client didn’t have content that fit into said areas. So now we’re fabricating content to mash into a design because it’s “pretty” and — more importantly — has been approved by the client.

If we do it the other way around (i.e., start with the client’s content and design an experience to fit it) then we’ll get a website that’s going to fulfill its objectives.

It’s an Antiquated Idea

Using lorem ipsum dummy text is an antiquated form of design-first website design that puts the emphasis on the colors and structure with no regard to the customer experience (or their needs, or getting them to convert, which is how a business stays afloat).

If we — the online marketers, webmasters, web designers and other similar ilk — continue to show the customer their new/redesigned websites in this manner, they’ll continue to believe that’s how it’s done, and we won’t be able to teach them the opposite is true: it’s the customer’s content that should drive their web design.

What the customer has to say about their own product/services and how they can help THEIR customers lead better lives…

…now THAT is what should be first and foremost in the marketing strategy; not a design-first approach that smashes ancient latin text in as a dummy placeholder.

Not sure how to go about focusing on customer content first instead of design? Angie’s got you covered with her content-first ideas.



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