Can Being Brutal Ever Be Good?

Abi Hough
  • Brutalism gives you the opportunity to break out of the mundane, replicated web design we have become familiar with.
  • It can be simple and elegant, giving your visitors and customers a simpler, quicker experience.
  • But, it’s not for everyone. However, there are brutalist elements you could employ in virtually every website.

You may or may not have heard of one of the latest web design trends doing the rounds at the moment, but it is quite likely you’ve seen it but not put a name to it. Welcome into the arena of Brutalist web design.

But what is Brutalist Web Design?

Brutalist web design is a term derived from the brutalism architectural movement popular between 1950s–1970s. This style of architecture places emphasis on the materials being used and to make the concept of the building plain and comprehensible—no bells and whistles but concentrating on function and circulation.

Brutalist buildings often trigger the “marmite” response in most people and have their fair share of haters, Prince Charles being one of the most notable critics of the movement.

However, there are many brutaphiles out there who celebrate the simplicity and beauty of these buildings.


Digital translation

So how has brutalism worked its way into our binary world of 1s and 0s? It is thought that brutalist web design is a revolt against the cookie-cutter approach we increasingly see on many websites; the same sort of thing time and time again, but with different imagery, fonts and colours.

Going brutal, therefore, offers a chance to escape the homogenised landscape and serve up something different.

There are many facets of what make a website brutal:

  • Coding – often simple and lightweight
  • Fonts – nothing fancy going on, Courier, Arial, Times New Roman all play a starring role
  • Colours – simple, browser safe limited pallets
  • Imagery – keeping it real with raw photography and rudimentary gifs
  • Language – simple to the point voice and content
  • Layout – basic, often reflecting site hierarchy

Take a look at some of the following examples to get the gist of Brutalism in action:

What can we learn from brutalism?

Though some of the examples above may have given you a migraine, or that marmite reaction we talked about earlier, if you start to look deeper into what the designers/developers are trying to achieve, you will understand how some of those ideals can be put to practical application.

They may even illuminate the way allowing you to tread off the beaten path into newer territory that may provide a better experience for your users or make your website stand out in a sea of sedentary design patterns.

But reader be aware, I am not suggesting you abandon best practices at the door as you run toward brutalist utopia, what I am suggesting is you think about how you can add an essence of brutalism ideals to your own website.

For example, brutalism allows us to present uncluttered and unambiguous content, and affords us a license to be a little different. It encourages layouts to be simple and stripped back to the fundamentals. It takes away the burden of bloated code bases and maintenance. And, when combined with good UX your site could be brutally brilliant.

Can you make money from it?

There are several very profitable websites that could be classified as brutal. Craigslist.org is probably one of the most famous touted examples fitting into the genre.

The website hasn’t changed very much since it was founded in 1996 by Craig Newmark, but despite this the company is expecting a revenue of $100 million this year, and with just 30 employees the profit margins are sizable.

The website is very simple and visitors and customers know what they are getting every time they visit, and, for the service they offer, its structure is understandable and relatable.

The Drudge report is another site worth a mention. Run by Matt Drudge, this is a North American news website with a team of three running the whole show.

Exact figures about how much money The Drudge Report generates are sketchy, but assuming the company gets $1.50 per 1,000 pages and have 1 billion page views per month, it should be generating revenue of $15-$20 million a year.

Factor in the very low development, editorial and sales costs and that suddenly becomes a sizable figure that can nearly all be attributed to pure profit.

Is it becoming mainstream… really?

As with all design trends, what comes around goes around. And, I am sure I’ll be dusting off my flared jeans in the not too distant future. But there are signs that brutal websites are becoming favourable, especially amongst those brands and industries who have the liberty to step outside the box without too many repercussions.

Kayne West and Bjork offer good examples from the music industry.

Still not convinced? I totally understand. To me, brutalist websites still evoke a flight or fight response, but they also challenge me and take me back to a time where everything was much simpler. And if you’re still not a fan, take a look at this website, which is bound to offer a glimmer of how brutalist websites can be truly frivolous, but also fun and helpful.