As Dan Brown demonstrates on his “Representing Data in Wireframes” poster, the fidelity of your data can make a big difference in its ability to identify flaws early in the design process. The main reason designers use repetitive or otherwise lo-fi data is that it takes time and creativity to develop realistic data. Here are two tools that could help generate higher quality “dummy” data for your mock-ups and prototypes in less time than it would take for you to make up your own lo-fi samples.
Kleimo Random Name Generator
This web page uses data from the US Census to randomly generate up to 30 male and female names at a time. It has an attribute for obscurity as well. This little page can be really helpful for creating a realistic list of names. A random pop culture reference is fun to throw in every once in a while. But if your list of names reads like the credits for the Simpsons, you could loose some credibility with your clients.
Truly Random password and number generator
A lot of junk came back when I googled “random generator mask” trying to find a web-based application for generating random strings and numbers using a mask. Most of the hits were for Windows applications to generate passwords or lottery numbers. After trying several I finally found one that could be very useful for generating mock data. Solid Programs‘s Truly Random creates random strings based on a mask you provide. The mask is useful for creating numbers to match the format of your data. The downsides to this app (it’s in Windows and its not very easy on the eyes) are outweighed by the power it provides to generate plausible data quickly. It costs $19 to register Truly Random.
I wish someone would develop a web-based app to deliver both of these tools on a single, easy-to-use page (see update below). If not as a web app, a Universal Binary would be nice.
UPDATE: Benjamin Keen’s Data Generator provides the best of both tools mentioned below in an easy to use online form. He provides many useful datatypes (phone/fax, names, custom lists, etc.) that should cover most of the needs I can think of. Many of the types allow masked options editable for custom formats (like a Texas drivers license or client-specific account number). The output formats include HTML, Excel, XML and SQL. Very nice work.