Lorem Ipsum has been in use since the 16th century.

Lorem ipsum, the faux-latin text that means nothing and is used liberally and with little regard by designers to fill space in lieu of actual content, is a crutch.

You don’t need it. In fact, you shouldn’t use it at all. Next time you are mocking up a design filled with lorem ipsum text, slap yourself in the face and do this instead:

Write the content first.

Content Precedes Design

“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”
Jeffrey Zeldman

That quote is nearly four years old. Why do designers still use lorem ipsum text? Have they ignored even the sagely advice of the wise Zeldman?

Trust me, you don’t need lorem ipsum text. In fact, your design will always benefit from having content to work with early in the design process. As early as possible.

Sometimes things don’t work out that way. Your copywriter is on vacation or you’re in a pinch. Or maybe you fly solo. Are you a freelancer who does everything from wireframes to design to coding to maintenance by yourself? The client didn’t give you any copy? What then?

You Make Something Up

You’re a professional. It’s easy.

Method number one, steal it. Say you’re making a website for a business: don’t they have brochures? Company newsletters? Hell, e-mail signatures? Anything will do, pick and choose until it looks like you’ve got enough to work with.

If there’s no old material to work with, write your own. Anyone can write. It doesn’t have to be perfect yet, just enough to cover the basic message. Again, just enough to work with. Your clients can give you more later when you show them what’s missing.

Working with a Team

If you’re working with a team, the planning stage has often begun before the content gets written. At The Phuse, for example, sometimes our designers use Lorem Ipsum text in the wireframes. That’s acceptable because it’s still the planning stage, and it’s not the designer’s job to write the content. We want them to focus on what they’re best at.

The copywriter is then responsible to make sure the designer has content to work with by the time the planning stage is done. It’s important for a copywriter or content strategist to work closely with the design team to make sure that no lorem ipsum text resurfaces in the design. And if it does, that content gets written immediately to replace it.

Practice Makes Process

As you practice, you’ll get a feel for how long copy will be, or how much space to leave for a thumbnail.

In short, you’ll develop a process.

There are some basics. Headlines should stay on one line when possible. Make the text easy to read. Leave enough room for all the content. Have plans for moving elements around to fit whatever content your client wants to add in later.

Each project is different because the content is different. But remember: “content precedes design.”

The Magazine Method

“There are cases where designers need never consider writing a single word themselves.”
Joshua Johnson at DesignShack

In magazines, advertising, and other large agencies, there are often separate design and copywriting departments. The writers deliver content to the designers which ensures that the designers can focus on their job and not get distracted or delayed by issues such as wording, semantics, grammar, etc.

Over time, these departments get better at working with each other. Eventually, one would hope they operate like two parts of one unit.

Obviously bigger companies have the resources to allow for this kind of work, whereas if you’re a freelancer you may not be able to afford it. If monetary constraints allow, consider hiring a writer who will trade you his skills for portfolio pieces, or an old friend who has a flair with words. Marketing and English students are frequently as happy to get the work (and at a cheaper price) than seasoned copywriting vets.

This Sounds Hard

It is. That’s still no excuse for lazy design that doesn’t take into account the essential role content plays in the design of a website, advertisement, press release, newsletter, etc.

Stay away from lorem ipsum text and you will be able to focus on the function of your design as well as the form. It’s not just text and images filling your page. It’s content. Get the picture?

Tell us: what do you do to ensure that content is ready to roll before the design? What are some common pitfalls and how do you get around them?

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