How We Think

Et tu, Brute? Is the Brutalist movement making a virtual comeback?

Oct 29, 2018

First things first: What is Brutalism?

While your initial inkling might lead you to something that happens in a bar after 1am, Brutalism is actually a style of architecture.

Brutalism: A Brief History

  • Began in the 50s as a descendant of the Modernist Movement
  • Classified by a solid, unadorned, modular, concrete appearance
  • Architects emphasized “honesty” in their designs by allowing the frame, mechanical systems, etc. to be exposed
  • Brutalist mentality helped bring the focus back to the design.
  • Declined in popularity around the mid-70s

Surprisingly, we have begun to see a resurgence of the Brutalist mentality not in construction but on the web. There are a variety of blogs, forums, websites that submit definitions of Brutalist web design. Considering the history of the Brutalist movement, the description presented by Nielsen Norman Group (a leader in UX research) seems to the most sense. NNG defines Brutalism in digital design as, “a style that intentionally attempts to look raw, haphazard, or unadorned. It echoes early 1990s-style websites. Sometimes this aspect of Brutalism is expressed as bare-bones, almost naked HTML Site with blue links and monochromatic Monospace text.” The Brutalist movement praises function over form, embracing usability over flashy design.

Designers want to break away from the premade-templates and challenge the visual language we’ve all become accustomed to. If you do any research on Brutalist websites, you’ll come to find that they are not likely to be classified as creative, beautiful or even imaginative, leading us to wonder, “What’s the point?”.

I think the NN Group says it best: “People don’t want to solve a puzzle when they use a product: looking around, paying attention, making inferences, reading, and thinking are all hard work.” In essence, consider simplicity…sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to soliciting action.

Fully embracing the Brutalist style is likely too extreme for most clients (though it’s sure to make a statement) but the takeaway, especially for designers is its ideology. You don’t have to use the same buttons, photography, and colors as everyone else. Toss out the rule book and let your creativity run wild –you might create something unexpected.

Tell us what you think! Are Brutalist websites just a weird trend or something to take note of?

For more great examples of Brutalist websites, check out a collection of them on brutalistwebsites.com.