There is a current backlash against the trend of flat, material and minimalist website design. A new design movement has emerged, one which celebrates the ugly. It is called Brutalist website design.
Apple pioneered the flat design look in their iPhone and iPad operating systems. Google has joined in by creating a design framework known as Material Design. There are many websites based on Apple and Google’s design principles which use simple shapes, little in the way of gradients and are not afraid of large areas of content free space. many of these effects are created using CSS and Java.
They’re very nice looking websites, but not everyone’s a fan.
What is Brutalist website design?
Brutalist websites take the opposite approach. They are hand coded in HTML, with GIF animations that refer back to the 90s. Brutalist designed websites are garish and loud. They are the equivalent to punk rock, which was created in opposition to progressive rock with its talented musicians, intricate rhythms and spiritual themes. Punk rockers said that anyone could start a band. Not being a good musician was not a problem. Three chords and a fast beat created a punk song.
The brutalist web movement started with Pascal Deville, who founded brutalistwebsites.com to showcase sites he considered examples of brutalist design. He describes the brutalist philosophy as:
“In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism, and frivolity of today’s webdesign.”
The word brutalist was coined by a 70’s architectural movement that designed buildings featuring exposed concrete. Many of these buildings look quite hideous compared to architecture that came before and after.
Examples of Brutalist website design
An example of a brutalist web site is trulybald.com for Truly Bald records. The site heading is a garish flashing Gif. The rest of the home page features ugly type faces and pictures of Truly Bald’s catalogue, some of which are still available to buy on cassette!
Another site, posthtml.org has pictures of folders on the home page, not the elegant folders seen on the latest Mac OSX, but the type of folders used on a Windows 95 computer at 800 x 600 pixel resolution. Click on any folder and a strange image is displayed. There is no real explanation of what the site is about.
One of the most famous examples of brutalist website design is Lings Cars. Be warned though, this could hurt your eyes. The Lings Cars website generates a lot of attention because of its design, so the design (while not appearing very professional) is actually a very clever marketing ploy.
Unlike Apple’s flat web design or Google’s material design, there is no laid out specifications for brutalist design, no blueprint to follow. There is no real Brutalists’ community, just individuals making basic HTML websites that communicate their message without graphic frills.
Many professional trained web designers and graphic artists may hate brutalist websites, but these sites do appeal to a young generation bored of Apple and Google’s web design standards. As Nathaniel Smith of tilde.town put it:
“I designed a brutalist web site to show that we can still do wonderful things together on the web without so-called ‘best practices.’”
Most businesses require websites to look well designed, but the brutalist website movement has shown that not everything on the web needs to look good. Naff websites have their place.