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What can we Learn from Brutalist Web Design?

As designers, sometimes we forget about our audience. We set out to build things that are trendy or technically interesting instead of powerful and meaningful. We can spend hours tweaking the aesthetic only to populate our work with meaningless placeholder content.

Brutalism has set out to challenge what’s trendy. It ignores conventional grids, opting instead for an ugly mess of layered content. It denies users of common patterns for navigation and leaves them on their own to discover how to access other pages (or not). We find these designs shocking and obscure because they challenge the part of our craft that we seem to identify most with: our trends and conventions.

Ironically, brutalist design has itself become a trend and it won’t be long before it can’t support its own satirical weight. Until then we should learn what we can from it.

Here’s what brutalism gets right:

  • We’ve become frivolous. Our communities tend to reward displays of style and technique above meaning and impact. We should focus on saying something even when it means a design that’s less technically impressive. Not every time, but sometimes.
  • Content should not be interchangeable. It should shape the form and flow of the page. Design the content first.
  • The simplest deviations from trends seem to be the most effective. For example: replacing complex layouts with a single column, or delicate font pairings with a single rugged font. These will still be around when brutalism is not.