08-02-2017, Web Design
by Antoni Zolciak

Did You Know That Brutalist Websites Are a Thing Now?

Antoni Zolciak
VP OF MARKETING
More by this author

If you’re familiar with grunge music, think of brutalist websites the same way. Bands from Seattle were rough, ragged, raw. Unpolished.

Just like design can be.

As Carrie Cousins points out, brutalism is somewhat new to the web, but it has been present in the art world for decades. Brutalism was also flourishing in architecture from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. These grey buildings were serving a specific function—a job—and they weren’t built to delight anyone with their form.

Reading this article on Wikipedia we can discover that the term brutalism originates from the French word for “raw.”

But when it comes to web design…Is this something more than just a not-so-applicable trend?

Ruggedness and lack of concern

Brutalism is something that stands in contrast to being comfortable or easy to comprehend. In architecture it was, in a sense, a reaction to the lightness and optimism of 1920s and 1930s. In web design, however, brutalism may be considered ugly. By some.

New Bloomberg website screenshot

New Bloomberg website screenshot

Most probably I’m wrong but to me the first signs of brutalism in modern web design were done by Bloomberg. It may not be full-on brutalism but it’s still something. Wojtek, our creative director, agrees with that:

“To me, Bloomberg is a perfect example of using some brutalist trends. At the same time, it doesn’t overwhelm the reader. It’s still, more or less, a traditional layout that somehow may be even compared to Mashable.”

Or maybe, just maybe, web brutalism is something else entirely.

Do you remember the first days of the Internet?

Back then, no one cared about looks, or user-friendliness, or UI, or UX. Websites were being set up with a simple objective in mind: to display information online.

It may even be considered similar to the approach to architecture in the late 1940s and early 1950s, with Europe emerging from World War II. With a need for buildings that could be designed and executed as quickly as possible, the aim was to maximize capacity and minimize decoration. Lack of ornaments, in a way, relates to the earlier Bauhaus School.

This is how you get back to square one

Visit Wayback Machine and indulge in the archives

Clichéed typefaces, unnaturally saturated colors, strange compositions. Sounds like the 1990s? On Quora we can find an interesting thread related to the brutalist graphic design. Vitor Camilo, a design student, recalls music micromovements like vaporwave and seapunk as similar to what brutalism in web design may be.

Brutalist website example

Brutalist website example

Even the Washington Post noticed the trend

“There’s an interesting trend in Web design these days: Making websites that look, well…bad.”

Seriously, that’s how they start.

Katherine Arcement, the author of said article, mentions Pascal Deville and his idea for a website. Working currently as a Creative Director at one of the ad agencies based in Zurich, Pascal founded brutalistwebsites.com. He lists there every possible creation that may be considered “rugged” and “lacking in concern to look comfortable.”

The funny thing is, even now brutalistwebsites.com receives over 100 new submissions a day. Asked by the Washington Post, he replies: “It’s not only what you can see, it’s also how it’s built. In the code you can see if it’s really a streamlined application or a very rough, handmade, HTML website.”

If we dig deeper into brutalistwebsites.com, we’ll find a self-published magazine that interviews the people behind the designs. One of them, Chuck, explains the concept quite easily.

His brutalist website was created back in 2005. “We were very intrigued by anti-design on the web at a time when so many people were using Flash and very clunky UI,” he recalls. “Our website was […] a content site with creative writing, so we felt it important to let that shine and not have design get in the way.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Is brutalist web design trend here to stay?

We’re not the ones to decide. While it surely may serve some functions, or be entertaining, or simply fill a certain hole with something interesting, we don’t really think it has major commercial applications.

On the other hand, we may be wrong—hence, we’d like to hand the question over to you.

What do you think?

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