It’s Lipsum to Me!

Often, when you see example sites (where the design, not the content, is what you’re supposed to be paying attention to), the headers and body test will be in Latin. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t because web designers are all egomaniacs with superiority complexes who want to lord their superior language skills over everyone else. In fact, the text you’re seeing isn’t even real Latin, it’s Lorem Ipsum, or Lipsum, and it’s been around waaaaay longer than the internet. Printers, artists, and engravers have been using Lipsum since the late middle ages to fill in dummy text, or words that are only there as placeholders to show where real words will eventually be.

Traditionally, Lorem ipsum text is taken from Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, but don’t try translating it. The whole point of Lipsum is to act as place holder text that looks like real content, but isn’t, and as a result the Latin in Lorem ipsum has been gutted and rearranged to look more like English, losing most of its meaning in the process. However, since the whole point of Lorem ipsum is to be unreadable, the loss of linguistic cohesion isn’t really a loss. This total freedom from meaning lets designers put Lipsum everywhere without worrying about grammar or sentence structure. There are even generators that can randomly generate Lipsum to fit any need you might have.

So why all the fuss with fake text? Why not just use actual, meaningful content? It’s not like there’s not tons of free, open source content out there to copy and paste if all you’re looking for is words to fill space. It would be just as easy to go copy the wikipedia article about sea turtles as to generate Lipsum, so why use the nonsense?

The reason for this (just like the reasons for everything else in design) lies deep in the human brain. People are naturally drawn to words. This comes from our brain’s love of patterns. Whether we know it or not, our brains are constantly trying to enforce order on our chaotic world. We’re always looking for recognizable patterns, symbols, and, most especially, words. We love words, and given the chance, our brains will start reading even if the words have nothing to do with anything else we’re looking at.

This quirk of human nature is what makes Lipsum necessary for design. Say I just put five hours into designing a lovely page, and, since I don’t have content for my new site, I used that article on sea turtles as my large blocks of text for the design, just to show how text will look. However, when I show my new website to my client, they will see the lovely design and the clever use of color, but all the time, their brains will be looking at the words. Even if it’s only tiny snatches, the sea turtles will be constantly distracting from the design around it, because that’s the power words have over us.

However, if I’d showed the client the same page with Lipsum, things would have gone differently. Because Lipsum is nonsense, it doesn’t distract the eye once our brains have recognized that we can’t read it. The moment we realize there’s no pattern there, the text ceases to be important, and fades into the background, leaving the client free to focus their attention on what they’re supposed to be looking at, the design. So, not only is Lipsum useful, easy, and extremely adaptable (I can end sentences in the middle of words if I need to!), it’s psychologically superior to readable text when it comes to design. So the next time you ignore the weird Latin text on the comp your designer sent you, you can rest assured that not only are you not missing some clever in-joke, you’re doing exactly what you should be doing, ignoring the content to look at the context, the design. At this part of things, style truly does trump substance, and Lorem ipsum helps us makes sure it stays that way.

Lucas Lopvet Project Management Lucas was born and raised in France and became a US citizen in 2007. He started at JHMG as a web designer back in 2010 and progressively added managing projects and company operations to his role. Those 12 years of experience working at JHMG have given Lucas the knowledge that it takes to manage projects closely and thoroughly, by planning, organizing and managing resources for a successful result. As a front-end developer, he has extensive WordPress knowledge and experience, he has been involved in hundreds of development projects by designing, developing, deploying, maintaining and repairing sites for small/medium businesses, non-profits organizations, and more. His lifelong interest in visual art began during early childhood, his areas of expertise include graphic design, web design and logo design as well as children’s book illustrations. He keeps drawing on a daily basis for fun and sometimes painting. Lucas and his wife have 2 kids and have been living in northern Argentina since 2017 surrounded by the Andean cloud forest and colorful Toucans.

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