Lorem ipsum: why it’s the worst thing ever

I was in a user research session recently and it convinced me that ‘lorem ipsum’ should be outlawed.

User after user were flying through the screens we were testing until they hit upon a gobbledygook Latin brick wall. It was a part of the site that hadn’t yet been properly designed, but users didn’t know that, and it just freaked them out.

“I don’t understand this part,” said one user. “What does this say?” asked another.

Some users clicked back to see if there was something they had misunderstood on previous pages. It seemed to affect some users’ confidence in the entire product.

Why ipsum?

If only we’d had the foresight to use Slipsum (that’s Samuel L Jackson lorem ipsum) or Hipsum (random filler text for hipsters) — then everything would’ve been fine.

No! When testing an online product or service, there’s literally no use in using randomly generated text.

Testing a user interface (UI) without content is like testing a new TV without turning it on. You’re not going to learn anything.

Why does this continue to happen? Generally, it comes down to a lack of time.

In an ideal world, no content or UI would make it into production before it had been validated by users using prototypes. But that’s just not always realistic.

In agile teams, there are a lot of people working hard to develop a product and there’s a huge momentum towards delivery. There’s not always time to create well thought out content before certain parts of the product are seen by users.

What can you do?

As a content designer, I think you can gain insight by using the work other people have done.

For example, in the agile team I currently work in, our business analysts do an awful lot of work to figure out the user stories and specs that our product will be built to. And I work with them and our UX lead to design screen flows.

Recently, if I’m really short on time I might use the content that our business analysts have written. Yes, it’s not always the clearest content, and breaks many of the principles of writing for the web. But importantly, it’s not: ‘Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, pro dictas aliquip ne’, and I get some content that I can learn from in testing.

For example, in the homepage of the app we’re building right now, there are a number of section headers that I haven’t had time to test and validate with users. So, currently some of the section headers are labelled as:

  • Organisations
  • Your team
  • PAYE schemes

Despite these headings being passive and not very instructive, user research sessions have shown that users can complete the tasks they need to without much trouble, and importantly, by putting these screens in front of users, I’ve learnt what kind of actions users expect to be able to do within each of these sections of the site.

So, what I’m saying is, you can learn from content, no matter how unfinished it may be.

But you can’t learn very much from: ‘Yardarm rigging tackle me hearties dock loot Shiver me timbers quarter bowsprit gangplank’ (that’s Pirate Ipsem!)

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