Brutalism 101

Brutalism is minimalism on steroids. You can think of it in two ways:

  • As a return to early days of the web, when many sites had a brutalist look, because that’s all we knew
  • A trend to buck all the trends featuring clean lines and simple designs

Here are a few examples to kick things off and get you thinking along the right lines!

“brutalism”

“brutalism”

It’s popular, and still gaining popularity. There’s a brutalist website dedicated to showcasing brutalist website designs. Here’s how it describes the trend:

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.

Design Characteristics

When it comes to brutalism, you’ll definitely know it when you see it. This is not a subtle design technique. But part of the reason it might appeal to some it because it is stark; it often mimics code visualization with a dark background, monospaced typography and white and lime green text.

“brutalism”

But there’s an almost sliding scale for brutalism. Some will tell you that a truly brutal design does not contain images. Images aren’t a deal-breaker. They can be one component of a brutal design.

  • Stark background, often black or white, with no texture or shading
  • Lack of design tricks – no shadows or gradients or patterns
  • Monospaced typography or a single font throughout
  • Crowded design with text that seems too close or elements that aren’t padded
  • No distinct hierarchy
  • Elements that overlap, but seem unintentional
  • Analog-style design elements
  • Lack of symmetry or spacing
  • No true color palette, but use of red and green are common
  • The design looks like it has visual mistakes, such as alignment or overprint mishaps
  • Lack of animation
  • Imagery is also stark, often black and white, if used at all
  • Simple or no navigation, often brutalist designs are one-page websites
  • Nonconformist visuals often relate to a message of the same type

“Bad” Design

Is brutalism just an excuse to get away with bad design? It really is a super-stripped down model of a website. The stark nature might turn some away and doesn’t create the kind of emotional connection that many websites use to draw in visitors.

All the trends and elements that you read about and that design and readability experts say a design needs for usability have been thrown out the window. Is brutalism bad design? Or is it intentionally “ugly?”

“brutalism”

Good for Conversions

One of the most interesting things about brutalism comes from Webdesigner Depot’s Marc Schenker, who argues that this design style can actually boost conversions. It’s not something that generally comes to mind when thinking about a design trend, but he makes a pretty convincing case if you find the style appealing.

Here’s what he has to say:

“Think about it: Without high-resolution images or lengthy videos, a site isn’t bogged down and can therefore load quicker than usual. How does this impact conversions? Research show that faster sites increase conversions. Kissmetrics’ infographic establishes the following:

  • The longer it takes a page to load, the higher the abandonment rate will be
  • 79% of shoppers who are unhappy with site performance are less likely to purchase from the same site again
  • A one-second delay in page speed can cause a 7% drop in a site’s conversions

There’s more to his argument – but the numbers alone are pretty convincing. Would you be willing to give up design style for increased conversions?

“brutalism”

What’s Next?

The big question with brutalism is can it ever be mainstream? The design style is so harsh, so in-your-face that users either love it or absolutely hate it. For brutalism to move beyond the realm of portfolio sites one-off uses, it has to be a little bit softer and easier on the average user.

Because of this, brutalism will influence design but not overtake some of the other more common design styles. More designs with brutalist concepts – typography styles, in particular, will become more popular. Some of the primary, bright color choices will infiltrate more designs.

Designers creating brutalist concepts will also begin to incorporate more modern flair into the stark aesthetic patterns, from hints on animation to extended navigation so increase usability. Calls to action will be a little more “designed” so that it is clear to users what they should do with a design like this.

“brutalism”

“brutalism”

Conclusion

I don’t know about you, but I am already over this whole brutalism thing. While the websites are somewhat interesting at first, they are a bit overwhelming. While I understand how they can increase conversions, in most of the designs it can be tough to even figure out what that conversion is.

The color and type choices don’t appeal to me. They lack emotional connection and overall most of the designs seem cold. Maybe brutalism is just “too brutal” for me? What do you think? Let me know on Twitter (and make sure to tag Design Shack).