Developers (and QA) stop using cute and funny test material

(7 minute read)

I know that you’ve seen puppy ipsum, hipster ipsum as well as Samuel L Lipsum and you found them hilarious! These things are funny and everybody will love it just like you do! Actually, not everybody might find it funny, infact some might be offended or see it as unprofessional.

… But these are so great, why would I use a boring fuddy duddy version of Lorem?

What is Lorem Ipsum

You might have heard that Lorem Ipsum is a Greek or Latin poem. You would also be partially right. The short version is it’s an old poem in written in Latin in scrambled order with random words added to make sure it has no meaning. This nonsense text is then used to show where text would be placed in a print or digital layout without distracting the user with its content.

Read the wikipedia article on Lorem Ipsum if you want the full story.

It is quite possible that you use the term “Greeking” in your day to day work. I’m talking about the same thing as Greeking but in my experience of working in the web industry we don’t use that term and generally refer to it as “lorem”. From here on out I’ll only refer to it as Lorem or Lorem Ipsum.

Why Lorem at all

We use Lorem Ipsum to show that there will be content in an area and mock up the size of the content. We could just use normal text but readers tend to be distracted by the content and will focus on that rather than reviewing just the functionality or layout. In short, Lorem allows the approver to focus on what they are supposed to approve with little chance of them mistaking the content for real content.

I’ve had countless design review meetings where the client starts talking about the text that shows up in a mocked up PSD file where we were changing something along the lines of the header. There’s nothing more fun than expecting a design signoff and having the client state “I guess the header is ok but let’s talk about the About Us menu. Do you think About Our Company makes more sense?” This was with a content management system where they could edit the menu any time they want. Using Lorem could have avoided them seeing the words “About Us” completely.

What makes the web different than print

The web is very very different than print for a plethora of reasons but let’s just focus on placeholder content. When working with print you generally have multiple steps of quality checking such as editors, typesetting, print review etc*. This allows placeholder text like Lorem Ipsum to be used for placement but keeps the odds of it ever making it to the general public very low due to multiple layers of checking. Despite these layers you might still see placeholder content get out in the wild.

While I know the dream of content editors on the web is to have multiple levels of moderation/fact checking/proofing everywhere the content is used but the reality is most sites have little to none of these things. Websites tend to also be more complex and dynamic than your standard print publication. They can have thousands of pages of content that is shown/hidden depending on your resolution and changes from minute to minute in different places. What I’m saying here is it’s hard to keep track of everywhere content will be showing up and when. Test content will slip out from web sites even more often than it does in print due to the increased complexity. Accept that your placeholder content will get out in the wild at some time. When it does get out you might have to do some explaining of what the content really is. Keep in mind the amount of time to explain Lorem Ipsum vs some funny ipsum could be very different.

Why you shouldn’t use funny test content

There are quite a few reasons you shouldn’t use it. Will your clients find it funny? How will it make you look if it gets published and the search engines pick it up? Does Andrew like olives? Will your viewers understand it?

I’ve decided to use examples vs standing on a soapbox to prove my point. All of these stories are true, the names and some parts have been changed to protect the innocent (and guilty.) I’ve even mixed some stories/sites together. This isn’t a judgement of anyone since we’ve all had at least one cringeworthy accidental publish.

Exhibit A

A developer loaded funny text from the American comedy show Saturday Night Live to the site for a test - it was never deleted after the test. Part of the text was “Suck it Trebek.“ The client was from outside of the US and didn’t get the pop-culture reference and took it as a forceful order of oral sex. I don’t need to explain why this one was awkward.

Exhibit B

A developer used placeholder content that were song lyrics. Two years into the site being live we received a cease and desist order to stop reproducing the works of a famous artist. We were very confused as to why a rock crushing (geological, not music) site would receive one of these for pop music. After going to the URL we realized it was non-lorem test content that was never removed.

Exhibit C

We used a script to check for lorem before a site launched to be 100% sure we removed all the test content. The script worked fine and we removed any lorem that showed up. What we weren’t expecting was an additional developer using Cupcake Ipsum. Our script didn’t check for that and to make things even more confusing it was for a baking site. So if you did happen to go to the About Us page for this large baking company you might think they had lost their minds. The content was just close enough to be confusing and not let people know it was temporary content.

Example: Cupcake ipsum dolor sit amet halvah powder. Jelly-o oat cake jelly-o cupcake cake chocolate bar. Soufflé dessert macaroon jelly beans bear claw dessert dessert. Cheesecake cotton candy jelly sweet.

So ask yourself, “Can I be sure this will never ever ever make it to the public?” If you can’t say “yes” then you need to ask yourself “Will the person who is accidentally reading this text understand that it’s a mistake and still think of me on the professional level that I’d like to be?” If you can say “yes” to both then great! If either are “no” you might want to use plain-old-boring Lorem Ipsum.

What you should be using and why

Good old fashioned Lorem Ipsum without any variants because boring isn’t always a bad thing.

Lorem Ipsum is:

  1. Recognizable
  2. Searchable
  3. Boring on purpose
  4. Not offensive**

Lets face it, if you managed to read this far down you probably could have guessed I was going to suggest it. Do you have to use it? Nope. The world won’t end if you use a funny ipsum in fact nobody will probably even notice.

The question is, what do you want people reading when they do notice it and how much fallout do you want to deal with?


*I have never worked in print so take this description with a grain of salt. I have however worked with some newspapers and people who worked on newspapers so I am 100% qualified to make unqualified approximate descriptions.

**I now understand that in this internet age there is at least one person in the world who will be offended by anything that is typed/said/acted/sung/mimed/danced. When creating test content for a site you want to aim for offending the lowest percentage of people possible knowing that it will never be 0%.