Cringe Factor: When Designing You Need To Use Real Content

I got a design packet the other day that made me cringe.  It was full of that “LatinCryptic” placeholder text, you know the one I mean that starts of with “Lorem Ipsum” that Apple’s PageMaker has made so famous in today’s digital world.

It’s meant to be a placeholder that shows a general look and feel of the page without actually focusing on content.  When this used, it means the designers are focusing on only one possible use case.  It’s tough to break out of the box with these designs and often enough a design needs to be reworked either before or after the implementation.  When I see this sort of thing in my head I translate it as:

“Lorem Ipsum” == “I am too lazy to think up some real content that is relevant to this application”

Volume Should Match Design

Using this sort of placeholder doesn’t help communicate what sort of content we’re actually dealing with.  Is it a company article? A procedural manual? An event alert? Who knows?  Worse, what if the real content doesn’t fit within the actual design?  They’ve designed for 200 words of content and in reality there are 2000 words of content – now what?  Or what if the opposite is true? A design built for paragraphs of content when in reality only a sentence or two is needed.  What if the person writing the content starts trying to write according to how many paragraphs were in the original design?  Lengthy, wordy  and confusing content may end up in your final product simply because there was space for it.

Understanding the Context

Writing sample headlines, menus and micro copy that is specific to the application or business helps you nail the design and allows you to catch any misunderstandings with the design prototypes early in the process. Better to clear the air and catch miscommunication early in the project rather than after the design has been built out and you’re populating the website with content.

Support Real World Scenarios

One of my favorite parts of the design process is the pen and paper walk through.  Designers can create their own pictures and pixel perfect mockups, but there is just something magical about sitting down with a user and putting a pencil in their hands.  It’s awesome to see how empowered they become when they realize they’re allowed to mark up these beautiful pictures however they want.  If they don’t understand the context of what their looking at they can’t give you the feedback you need to give them the awesome user experience they want.

Don’t Become Another Visual Element

To use the often overused adage, “Content Is King.” When you use Lorem, you diminish the importance of the content to the same level as any other visual element – it ends up becoming a supporting role to your design.  Effectively, your content is enhancing your design rather than your design enhancing the meaning of your content.  Lorem is a work around that largely ignores the most important part of your site.

Ultimately your design is supposed to enhance your content and usability.  IF you have the most uber awesome site with all sorts of wiz-bang widgets and animations but your content is junk then nobody will use it.  If you build it does not mean they will come.