If it seems like website design is trending toward clean, tidy sites, this trend proves to be a glaring exception. Inspired by the architectural style of the same name, brutalism refers to a website design trend embracing a raw, function-over-form look that is anything but sleek. With basic fonts, large or busy text, and little to no visual flash, websites using brutalism certainly stand out — and whether that’s a good thing or not is a cause for debate. Take a look at these websites encompassing brutalism and decide for yourself if they’re innovative or just plain ugly.
“Classic” brutalist sites
Some websites take on a look hearkening back to the early days of website design, even when “website design” was an oxymoron. In architecture, brutalism reflects a time period where concrete ruled the day and design was spurned in favor of a structure built to last. In website design, the trend can take on the same meaning, as design is certainly not the focus but the website is simple and “just works.” Look for a basic font like Times New Roman or Arial and little to no graphic content. Some websites simply maintained the same look for years and others are designed intentionally to take on a brutalist look.
The most basic example of brutalism is Craigslist. For awhile it could only be called behind the times, but as other sites shift toward a similar look, it suddenly finds itself in a larger category instead of simply the website that never left the ’90s.
What is Picture Show? Judging from its website, it’s a TV show of some sort. That’s all you can ascertain from the site designed to look like a VCR menu from the ’90s. In true minimalist form, it features a few video clips — in 4:3 full-screen, of course, in keeping with the ’90s throwback look — and basic information on the show’s team. That’s about all you’ll find on this site, so if you want to learn more, you’re out of luck — perhaps the biggest drawback to an ultra-minimalist website.
In an effort to speed up loading time and “cut to the chase,” some major news sites are cutting out the clutter and offering text-only versions of their content.
In the most basic of basic looks, NPR offers their content in a text-only format with no styling whatsoever. This version of their site will load exceptionally quickly but offers nothing visually.
CNN didn’t take the styling out of their “lite” site completely like NPR did, but they got pretty close.
Unlike Craigslist and others of its ilk, some websites seek to look more modern but also maintain more basic elements consistent with brutalism.
Bloomberg is perhaps the most well-known website shifting to a brutalist look. With a bright purple theme and basic font scheme, Bloomberg incorporates brutalist concepts, but at the same time, it maintains a grid layout and employs a parallax scrolling effect as different elements pass over the screen at different rates.
Apple’s website isn’t brutalist on the whole, but the iMac Pro page takes brutalist cues. It features a dark gray gradient background with a picture of an iMac Pro on the screen. As you scroll down, large rows of text cover the screen listing features of the computer. It does look clean and sleek, but the giant text takes cues from the overt simplicity of brutalism. Since the iMac features Apple’s largest display, the effect seems to intentionally emphasize the iMac Pro’s large screen size.
Websites are supposed to be all about SEO, right? Not for Tristan Chambers. The implication for this musician is to be heard among the noise, as the site’s content is interspersed throughout random ASCII character symbols. This gutsy take on brutalism won’t likely show up on Google searches, but it’s enough to get featured in website design articles.
This site’s tagline is “stories with/about technology,” so it only makes sense that it would use ASCII characters to design graphics, right? Good luck finding this site in a Google search, but at least the site offers an incredibly unique visual design. Also worth noting is a large graphic just above the fold on a 1080p display, indicating to the visitor that there’s more to see below.
Awwwards.com is known for awarding website design, creativity, and innovation. In their section on brutalism, they followed the trend themselves and took it to the extreme with a gigantic 3D cursor and a header image featuring a variety of bright colors. The page features several extreme examples of brutalism, defined as “freestyle, ugly, irreverent, raw, and superficially decorative.” As the examples they featured are much more extreme than the ones featured here, it’s worth a look — unless motion sickness is a problem for you. Warning: Some of the content on Awwwards is NSFW.
With these examples in mind, what is your take on brutalism? Is brutalism for you? Let us know in the comments.