Sheila Berger

Brutalist Web Design: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


The brutalist aesthetic is nothing new. The term has mainly been associated with architecture defined by unflattering, utilitarian design.

Garish, tacky, and what most people would call ugly, brutalism is having a moment in the world of web design. Even sites like Bloomberg.com are embracing the brutalist look.

Then there’s  brutalistwebsites.com, a gallery proudly showing off other sites designed with this in-your-face style. But brutalism is more than just an aesthetic—it can also be a philosophy for an extremely simple, basic approach to information architecture and user experience (UX).

Brutalist web design advocates for creating broad generalizations and avoiding a complex analysis of the user. In a world where detailed user flow charts and painstakingly researched user personas have become the norm, the wisdom of this approach is questionable.  Could this design style ever really thrive, let alone become a standard? Most people would probably question the logic behind it, if not the overall aesthetic itself.

Mainstream web design showcases the exact opposite. In fact, the web has become oversaturated with beautiful sites that more or less all look the same. Tastemakers like Apple and Google have been proponents of beautiful and elegant design, and most of the internet has followed their lead. Brutalist web design may be a reaction to that tasteful, elegant style that’s flooded the internet.

Ironically, the early days of the web were unintentionally brutalist in both design and approach towards UX. Whether or not the web could ever circle back to a more primitive state is doubtful, but this mini brutalist web design movement has a lesson to teach: be careful of the status quo and allowing your site to fade into a sea of similarly designed sites. Elegance and subtlety have their place, but sometimes simple and obvious can work better. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel or ignore web design best practices, but you do need to stand out from the crowd by inventing a market space that you can own.

About Sheila Berger

Sheila is a Front-End Developer at Merit. Her experience ranges from large responsive eCommerce sites, to WordPress multi-site builds, and custom animations. Sheila navigates complexity and projects like a well-trained Ninja.

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