UI Prototypes: Why Real Copy is Better than Lorem Ipsum

I was glad to come across a video from the acclaimed User Experience and Usability experts: the Nielsen Norman group, on a subject I learned about the hard way a while back. It was a short video with Page Laubheimer explaining a few benefits of using real content over Lorem Ipsum (pseudo-Latin placeholder text).

You see, most of us in the User Interface design world are taught that using Lorem Ipsum not only saves you time while designing, but helps your client focus on the design more than on the content. But if you’re like me and have been designing UIs for a while now, you’ll know that sometimes it doesn’t actually save time (or stress) in the long run. Here are a couple reasons why:


Lorem Ipsum tempts you to cheat

As designers wanting to achieve the most perfect-looking prototype, it’s almost impossible to resist inserting exactly the right amount of copy that makes our design look perfectly symmetrical and organized.

wireframe with lorem ipsum text
Example of using Lorem Ipsum to maintain a perfect design. Nice, isn’t it?

With Lorem Ipsum, no titles will wrap around awkwardly, no snippets are too long for their allocated space, and no calls to action interfere with the given button size. Everything is pretty, everything is perfect. It’s almost a sure-fire way to get the client to go WOW, this looks AMAZING. They will approve it, the project manager will commend you for your fine work, and development of your UI will begin and everything will be just great.

Except that’s rarely the case. As you’ll see in the next point.


Increases risk of re-design close to launch

If your plan is to design a UI, get it approved, collect your pay and then disappear into the wind, then you won’t be affected by the consequences of using Lorem Ipsum. Alas, not all of us are lucky enough to escape once our design is approved. Some of us work in a team, and we have to stick it out through the whole development process, guide the developers, adjust the UI if they complain something is too hard or time consuming, and most times poke them if something deviates from the design.

In this case, you’ll notice that once the real content starts to replace your carefully inserted placeholder copy, everything goes to hell. Spaces need to be re-adjusted, characters need to be recounted, sections need to be moved around to make everything symmetrical again, the information architecture no longer makes sense, the client points out their product doesn’t look like the design they approved, etc. The horror continues.

Having to adjust your design closer to launch is always a bad idea, and since content tends to me given at the end, you can bet if anything will prove your design wrong, it will most definitely show it’s ugly head near the very end.


Usability is in the content

As the video rightly states, usability is indeed in the content. Of course aesthetics plays an important role in making a user experience satisfying, but if the content is awry then the pretty shell won’t be enough to save your website.

If you’re designing a UI, then it’s reasonable to believe you have some knowledge in usability, so use it! Propose calls to action the website would need, make the hierarchy of the page’s content make sense with actual titles and copy. Make it realistic. Which leads me to my final point…


Doesn’t represent the final product

Think of it this way: clothes on perfectly shaped models always look good. But if you buy it without trying it on yourself first, it’s likely going to look a lot different. So naturally, the first thing you do when you see something you like is to check how it looks on you, the person it’s going to be on. The same thing happens to UIs. Lorem Ipsum is the perfect model, with it’s symmetrical and balanced design, and the content is you, trying to fit into what the model displayed so beautifully before.

The point is, a client may like the way your UI looks, but it’s not close to the final product. The closer you can get to what it’s actually going to get, the sooner the client will come up with their ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, and the smoother development and launch will go.


So, what can you do about it?

Okay so clearly using Lorem Ipsum is a bad idea, but what can you do to get your UI prototype out the door? Here are three main tips:

  • Ask the client for real content, or related content you can model your UI with.
  • If client is unhelpful, research similar content to use in your UI.
  • Test your design with the “worst case scenario” copy. Use the longest titles. If your UI survives those, it can survive anything.

I personally began inventing content for my wireframes and prototypes to avoid having to double back and adjust everything once the real content barged in and upset the mojo. The client can sometimes nitpick at the content you have, so remember to state that the content is just for realism purposes. What I have found by doing this, however, is that if the client had no idea of what content they wanted on a particular page, the suggested content acts as a springboard for them. Most people don’t know what they want, but they usually know what they don’t want. So let yourself serve as a bad example, so to speak. In the end, you’ll save tons of time and effort, and the client will know what they’re getting from the get go. It’s a total win-win.

To learn more about UI from the usability experts themselves, visit their website page with all the posts on UI prototyping you could possibly need.


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