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business models, strategies and technologies

Rethinking “Lorem ipsum” boilerplate

Sometimes even the most mundane parts of business processes can be rethunk. Dummy text goes intriguingly literate …

A tradition of unobtrusiveness

One of the hallowed traditions in the advertising and marketing world is to pour apparently faux Latin into draft layouts so that people can see, evaluate and appreciate a new piece of visual genius or eye-catching graphic design without being distracted by what the text says.

Designers and visual people know full well that if you present a client (or worse still a potential client) with an attractive layout, they’ll easily get distracted by specific wordings, and soon start nit-picking about any tiny error or misconception about ”their” product or company. That’s why it’s long been standard practice to drop in dummy text that apparently doesn’t mean anything. It’s in Latin because that’s a language few people are likely to be familiar with – there aren’t many ad agencies that regularly do pitches for Vatican business.

According to the prime Google-ranked site providing a dummy text generator (www.lipsum.com), Lorem ipsum has been the printing and typesetting industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. Remarkably, this hardy fake text has remained essentially unchanged for over the five centuries since then, as well as surviving the vast technological leap into electronic typesetting, omnipresent computers and desktop publishing.

Computer-sourced Lorem Ipsum is designed to be always free from repetition, injected humour, hidden messages, etc. And this is important because if you just copy Lorem ipsum text from places where other people have used it, you’ll sooner or later find that itchy, bored fingers probably haven’t been able to resist the temptation to insert humour and cryptic messages – or other things much worse. That’s why computer-generated dummy text is safer.

To fully grasp the quirky magnificence and longevity of this filler text, it’s important to understand that – contrary to popular belief – it is not random, computer-generated text. It actually stems from a piece of classical Latin literature – sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero. This treatise on the theory of ethics was written in 45 BC and became very popular during the Renaissance. So this piece of text – still widely used in 21st-century advertising and marketing material – is in fact more than 2000 years old.

I grew tired of reading ‘Lorem ipsum…’ on every new design I was working on

An intelligent alternative

So there seems to be a prima facie case for Lorem ipsum. There must surely be something fundamentally sensible about an idea that’s survived umpteen centuries and multiple industrial revolutions?

But even such staid pillars of convention can be subject to a rethink that enables us to see the whole business model in a new light.

I couldn’t actually find who it is/was, but the bright spark behind fillerati.com declared that he’d ”made Fillerati because I grew tired of reading “Lorem ipsum…” on every new design I was working on.” Instead of what for graphic designers must be the mind-numbing textual equivalent of muzak, he designed a site to provide filler text from more literate sources (hence fillerati – geddit?).

Latin from 45 BC thus gets replaced by quirky, curiosity-piquing passages from renowned modern classic authors Herman Melville, Jules Verne, Jack London, Lewis Carroll, H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs and L. Frank Baum (yes, I too had to look up this guy – FYI he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).

These texts are apparently all sourced from Project Gutenberg, one of the earliest and longest-lasting online literary projects and a source of more than 53,000 free ebooks.

Quick but not dirty

The Fillerati site is a smart mash-up involving a whole hotch-potch of different sources and technologies, but it’s a refreshing new take on a tradition that extends back over two millennia. Paradoxically yet significantly, perhaps, the convention-breaking coder responsible for the idea declares that he designed, built and deployed it in a mere 48 hours.

I’m just pleased that he had the gumption to rethink such a tried-and-tested assumption, bringing an intelligent, literature-conscious new veneer to such mundane graphic design habits. Even a small project like this can be done with loads of oomph and authenticity.

External info
http://www.fillerati.com http://www.lipsum.com http://www.gutenberg.org/