What’s this gibberish? A look at lorem ipsum

lorem ipsum text on an apartment building

Ideally, when a graphic designer begins working on a project (in any medium) all of the content will be ready. In reality, this is rarely the case.

Typical scenario [on a Monday afternoon]:
I need this PDF info sheet finished by Friday morning. The text? No, it’s not ready yet. The Marketing Department is writing it now. They’ll have it for you on Wednesday afternoon.

If the designer is lucky, he/she will at least get some of the images or a quick synopsis about what the content will be. In order to start designing a piece that is largely comprised of copy, the designer will need to use some filler text in order to get the design completed and approved by the deadline.

Lorem ipsum to the rescue.

What is Lorem Ipsum?

Lorem ipsum is standard dummy text that has been used as filler in the printing and typesetting industry ever since the 1960s, as possibly as early as the sixteenth century.

The first sentence of Lorem Ipsum commonly reads as follows:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

The text is a slightly scrambled derivation from sections 1.10.32-33 of Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum ([About] The Purposes of Good and Evil). The original passage began: Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit (Translation: “Neither is there anyone who loves grief itself since it is grief and thus wants to obtain it“) You can read more of the translation here.

Richard McClintock, a Latin scholar, discovered the origin of the passage after searching for for citings of the rarely used Latin word “consecteur” in classical literature.

How it is used today

Lorem ipsum text is preferred over something like “Content here. Content here.” because it has a relatively “normal” distribution of letters, which makes it look like readable English. There are many random generators of Lorem Ipsum, including a Dashboard widget for Mac and lipsum.com.

Why Lorem Ipsum contributes to bad design

In the earlier example, working with lorem ipsum text was used as a time-saving device – if the designer waited until the content was ready, they may have missed the deadline.

There is an argument that using real content when presenting design comps is distracting to the client. This group believes that the client will be nit-picky about the text, and not look at the overall picture of design. In my experience, this can happen – but I’ve also had plenty of clients utterly confused at why their brochure is in “gibberish.”

“Lorem ipsum dolor has long been known as the designer’s best friend. We think it should be your enemy. Using lorem ipsum dolor reduces text-based content to a visual design element (a “shape” of text) instead of valuable information someone is going to have to enter and/or read.”

— Jason Fried, 37 Signals
“Getting Real” design tip: Just say no to Lorem Ipsum on Signals vs. Noise

“By adding Lorem Ipsum to the design you are essentially dressing your king before you know his size.”

— Design Informer, Lorem Ipsum is Killing Your Designs

When the design is completed before the content, the writers are forced to write to the space alloted by lorem ipsum. An idea that should have been two sentences is stretched on for paragraphs. Or, a complex subject requiring detailed explanation must be reduced to a sentence. As a writer, I can tell you that this is a terrible way to write. As a designer, I can also say that designing something in lorem ipsum almost ALWAYS requires a vast re-design once the real content is available.

In my experience, working with only lorem ipsum text to produce comps is a huge waste of time. It is an exercise in aesthetics, not in the communication of content.

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