Director of Education and Training
You may have heard the term “brutalism” before—most likely referring to the architectural style that emerged in the 1950’s following the end of World War II. A recent trend has emerged in web design and development that takes inspiration from this architectural style, pictured on the right, that features simple geometric designs. Let’s take a look at what brutalism means in web design and development.
Think about the websites you enjoy visiting. They may feature bright colors, pictures and videos that draw you in and keep you engaged. Although fancy websites are popular, the brutalist style of no-frills websites has made a comeback. Brutalist websites are a throwback to the early days of the internet when websites were very basic in style. With a raw and bare-bones look, brutalist websites are functional and easy to navigate. You most likely have already visited brutalist websites and just didn’t know it. For example, let’s look at the Craigslist homepage:
Notice how there are no pictures, videos, or distracting colors. Everything is laid out very simply, making it easy to get the information you are looking for and navigate to the page you want.
The Wikipedia homepage features another brutalist design:
Notice the similarities between the two. Both websites feature black text and blue hyperlinks on top of white backgrounds. They are very easy to navigate—you aren’t likely to get lost and you won’t be distracted by any pictures or videos. Brutalist websites aren’t the most technically challenging websites to design, but they deliver a very effective user experience. Other popular and successful brutalist websites include the news site Bloomberg and nonprofit network Freecycle.
With the rise of WordPress, the brutalist trend may have hitched a ride—just think about how stark the early standard templates are for WordPress sites. The popularity of blogs also may have contributed to some of the brutalist appeal. See an example of a WordPress site below.
The next time you are designing or developing a website, consider paying respect to the early days of the internet by creating a brutalist-themed website. It’s a good way to stand out from the “same-ness” of the loud and complicated websites that we see today. It can grab the attention of your visitors and make as much of a statement as you would with a more elegant website design, making sure they remember your website as different from others.
I’ve called myself a “web professional” for the better part of a decade but didn’t know anyone else used that term. For me it was a result of being a self-taught, bootstrapping, entrepreneur with a strong do-it-yourself spirit; whenever a problem came up, I figured out how to solve it and so ended up learning web design, search engine optimization, pay per click, analytics, web performance optimization, security, system administration and (most recently) accessibility.
Given that context, I am a big fan of brutalist designs. It makes me think of web usability book called “Don’t Make Me Think.” Brutalist and designs are under-rated because they are so functional. Users never get lost, they don’t struggle to figure out what some designer’s cryptic icons stand for, they load fast, they are easy to translate for international users, it’s a breeze to make them responsive (so they work well on different devices), users preferences needed for accessibility (like zoom, high contrast or dark mode) cause no difficulties at all.
They tend to be straight-forward, functional, practical websites.
That doesn’t mean they can’t be attractive, I almost always add CSS styles for rounded corners and gradients on buttons (or links styles as buttons such as calls-to-action) and subtle drop shadows for images and similar elements.
The number of website owners that want to have a slideshow of half a dozen huge, full-screen, high definition images on their homepage is astounding…and they are impressive until you emulate a mobile browser on a 3G connection that has never visited before and has an empty cache (and find out it takes 25 seconds to load their home page!)
Not to mention all the vulnerabilities WordPress slider plugins have had through the years.
My background is graphic design but discovering analytics and using data to inform design decisions instead of opinions was incredibly liberating.
I probably favor functionality a bit more than I should (attractive websites definitely feel polished and professional, while brutalist designs sometimes don’t–they can seem like a neglected afterthought) but I really wish more websites would consider the unique strengths and benefits of the web, instead of just treating websites as if they are fixed, printed brochures, where every page will be viewed in sequential order.