Datum Ipsum: Designing real-time visualizations with realistic placeholder data

Let’s use placeholder data instead.

Placeholder data is a lot like placeholder text. It’s a design tool meant to ensure the final product — in our case, a real-time data visualization — matches our mockups. It’s useful in all the same ways placeholder text is useful:

  • Placeholder data allows a designer to test her assumptions about the product.
  • Placeholder data makes decision-making much easier by providing realistic constraints.
  • Placeholder data sets realistic expectations for clients and stakeholders.

What does placeholder data look like?

Just as with placeholder text, we can achieve varying degrees of placeholder data realism by choosing our parameters very carefully. When mocking up a page layout, I can choose the classic placeholder text “lorem ipsum dolor sit amet …” to help pick the right typeface, leading, measure, etc. A placeholder data version of “lorem ipsum” might look just like random numbers, a sort of meaningless pattern that looks like real data if you aren’t looking too hard.