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What is brutalism in web design?

The ‘ugly’ design trend taking over the internet

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A trend is taking over web design and it isn’t creating clean, tidy websites which are easy to use; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The UX isn’t even second priority in these bold, in-your-face collages of text and images, where the layout is analogous to chaotic, paint-splattered artwork. However, that isn’t to say it cannot be done well. In this guide we will take a look at the dos and don’ts of this back-to-basics style, nicknamed “brutalism,” and explore the best ways to utilise it.

Brutalism is the way it’s written.

Brutalism comes from the French word for “raw”, so keep that in mind when you’re writing your code.

A website doesn’t have to be a horror show of unordered images and clashing font colors; the way the code has been written is also symbolic of the style. Embedded CSS, untabbed code, HTML tables, the list goes on.

brutalistwebsites-com
Image: brutalistwebsites.com.

First impressions count.

So, you’ve handwritten your website code, but it looks polished? Unfortunately, you can’t get away with a beautiful website and call it “brutalism”, if it was that easy then everyone would be doing it. You’re going to have to accept that your website might be called “ugly” by some.

Think big, bold blocks of web safe colors, gradients, large amounts of “white space” (though it doesn’t have to be white) and you’re on the right track.

theoutline
The Outline is a new example of bright, brutalism-style trends without the white space.

Get inspiration from architecture.

Some people say that brutalism is based on architecture from the concrete era of the 1950s to the 1970s: harsh, square blocks of immovable, grey buildings. They’re designed to do a job and nothing else; no fancy archways or stained glass windows.

The Trellick Tower in London is often cited as an example of brutalist architecture.
The Trellick Tower in London is often cited as an example of brutalist architecture.

Forget everything you know about UX.

Hamburger menus will be the least of your concerns. Don’t be afraid of using the color combinations you were dying to try; blue with pink, yellow with grey. Pictures covering half the paragraph are not unheard of and hard-to-find links are the norm.

Popular colors for brutalist design.
Popular colors for brutalist design.

Know your audience.

Brutalism isn’t for everyone; you’re likely going to detract anyone who isn’t your target audience, even a few of those may be put off by the look. But if Bloomberg can get away with it, then full steam ahead.

Bloomberg's website redesign incorporates brutalist trends, while still maintaining some elements of a traditional, grid-based web design.
Bloomberg’s website redesign incorporates brutalist trends, while still maintaining some elements of a traditional, grid-based web design.

Is brutalism right for you?

Only you can decide this. No matter which style of web design you choose, stick with it and be proud of what you have. Supporters of mobile friendly, plugin packed, WordPress themes may not be shouting from the hilltops to declare their love for the style, but the same people may have also turned their noses up at minimalism. Web design started with pixelated gifs, brash colors and misaligned text, so maybe it has just come full circle.

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The video at the top of this article was created using After Effects template ‘Dynamic Intro‘, with music by PONYMUSIC, and video creation by Envato Studio freelancer doru.


Ben McNicholl

About the Author Ben McNicholl

Ben is a web designer, and an SEO specialist at Envato.

  1. Is this already a thing or are you coining the term of an emerging thing?

    Not sure if you’re implying brutalism = ugly, but that’s obviously a common reaction. I think UX is still important and not incompatible with this style because its a goal-based approach not an aesthetic guideline, it should be independent of style choices. Brutalism as I see it is focused on raw structure and accessibility with minimal / utilitarian design, though it deviates from minimalism by not being absolutely pure, it has embellishment, but the embellishment is raw and bold, without nuance. That’s true of the examples you gave and none of them seem to me to ignore UX principles, they’re just applying it through a different (possibly more interesting) filter than the “pure” minimal aesthetic that is currently ubiquitous.

    Anyway, thanks for the insight. Immediately after that I found another example (i think): http://fonts.greatsimple.io/