Lorem Ipsum or Content Strategy: Your Choice!

Content strategy has emerged as a key component to a successful web-based project. Much like User-Centered design (UCD) is essential to create a good user experience, the basis for a good content strategy has always been a keen understanding of end users and the context in which they access your information, an understanding of the business goals of the website, an understanding of the target terminology and nomenclature used.

A great content strategy also combines these with an understanding of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). For years we have advocated working with technical writers and copywriters to create and edit content for websites, for online help and for error messaging. By forming a strategy that combines these major functional elements into the creation of the site content, the web experience is optimal from quite a number of perspectives.

Interface designers have been struggling with what sample text to use in many of the prototypes and wireframes that we present to clients. We know that our clients would likely become distracted by the readable content of a page when we want them to be looking at its visual design, or layout, or navigational features. The point of using Lorem Ipsum text is that it looks like readable English text. It feels “normal” because it contains of a variety of letters, as opposed to using a single phrase such as 'Content here, content here’ over and over again.

A number of useful websites have appeared that will automatically generate Lorem Ipsum content for your projects, See for example:

http://www.lipsum.com/
The industry standard that uses text from "de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum" (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, written in 45 BC.

http://slipsum.com/
A NSFW version that presents quotes from the Samuel L Jackson character Jules from the movie Pulp Fiction.

http://www.fillerati.com/
A version that uses text that is in the public domain from classic authors, including Herman Melville, Jules Verne, and HG Wells.

So what do you present to your clients when they want to see what they are getting for their money? The answer, we are afraid to say, depends. It depends on the stage, the fidelity of the wireframes and or prototypes that you are presenting and it depends on the level of sophistication of your client.

When you are very early in the design process and are iterating with your client on general functional and/or navigation issues my recommendation is to use “Sketchy” wireframes (see http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/sketchy-wireframes) and “filler” text such as Lorem Ipsum (I’d be careful using the quote from Pulp Fiction unless you know that your client is a big fan of the movie!). You want to minimize the amount of time that they comment on logos, color, fonts and content and maximize their attention of what really matters. By combining what looks like a hand-drawn sketch with what is obviously filler text, hopefully you can get the stakeholders in the room to focus on the portions of the interface that you are interested in getting their feedback.
Sketchy Wireframe

Once you begin showing your client, “comps” you have opened up the proverbially Pandora’s box of feedback. They are going to comment on the color, the font, the logo, and, of course the content. If your client is sophisticated enough, you may be able to continue using “filler” on the comps, but most likely you would start incorporating the output of your content strategy and present early drafts of the terminology, nomenclature and content.

A special note for authors of a functional or user interface specification documents: Always use Lorem Ipsum text in the wireframes and/or sample screenshots that are included in documentation that is shared across your cross-functional teams. This is because textual content is the most likely to be changed many times during the development process—many times at the last minute. By not including actual content in the screenshots, your team will not be required to constantly update the screenshots in the document each time the content changes.

Hopefully your development team can internationalize and externalize all of the content strings so that when, not if, changes to the actual text are required, that way the Content Strategist can simply edit a resource file.

-- Update -- What ever you do -- DON'T forget to remove Lorem Ipsum text from your site.. Opps: