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Cover image for Brutalist Web Design. A Breath of Fresh Air in the Modern Web

Brutalist Web Design. A Breath of Fresh Air in the Modern Web

lewismenelaws profile image Lewis Menelaws ・3 min read

When I was 10-11 years old, I was isolated and timid so expressing myself creatively was often hard and I usually just resorted to video games to pass my time.

Until I discovered the world wide web. Then everything about me changed.

My first big break was on community forums such as GameTrailers.com, Newgrounds and basically any forum I could get my hands on. All the trolls and mean spirited people didn’t bother me. I just loved being online.

I used to run my own website using this free web builder where I would review games. Then, I discovered Piczo.

Piczo was a website builder where you can publish your own websites. They gave you all of the “Web 2.0” tools and widgets to make a really awesome website. There was one problem though.

They didn’t age well.

Looking at any piczo site would make anyone cringe. That didn’t matter though. It was all about simplicity and getting your stuff out there. It truly was an awesome time in life.

Where we are now

Oh 11 year old Lewis. The look of shock you would have if you find out that after 13 years this is what you do for a living. The web is a giant saturated playground.

I sometimes wonder where I even found enjoyment in the web as it has turned out to be corporate and big money.

That’s not a bad thing. As the human race evolved, we have found better ways to receive information and get access to the services that better our life. Modern day web is amazing and to be pessimistic about it would be silly.

…that being said, I get really nostalgic about how the web used to be.

Brutalist Web Design

Then, I discovered brutalist web design.

At first glance, it just looks like an homage to the old days of the web where you can have really silly looking pages. Some even use the old widgets that you would see on an old website. You look at the websites and you think that it's some sort of joke or someone has really poor taste...

...but I was wrong. So so wrong.

I was almost immediately addicted. What was this trend of web design that was just so engaging? If anything, this should make a web designer pass out on sight.

It was the underlying message that brutalism promotes in the first place. brutalistwebsites.com explains it best:

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 web design.

It's true.

Web design is extremely optimistic in every way. How many times have you rolled your eyes at the new startup that will "change the way you see things" while having the same click funnel landing page.

Brutalism is a rebellion against the modern web.

Where Brutalism Excels

Brutalist web design is very addictive to look at. I love looking at the personality that comes with the brutalist look. Just like any design, you can find lots of websites that come off pretentious rather than "brutalist".

If you have ever heard of "minimalism", it's a way of life that allows you to strip off anything that is not important to you and only focus on the essentials (to the extreme). This is where brutalism falls into.

Brutalism is amazing for content creators.

The Irony that strikes Brutalism

The irony of brutalism falls in between it's edgy design and response to modern day corporate web.

Brutalist strips everything down to it's essentials while also grabbing inspiration to the old web (which is full of non-essential items). Because of this, you will go on lots of "brutalist" websites that either are too edgy and distracting or something extremely non-engaging.

In the end, that's what makes brutalism so engaging. A way to just execute ideas without having to worry about how it looks. A way to just put things out to the world and have no worries about it. Like how the web used to be.

Here are some goodies for devs to play around with and get inspired!

While you are at it, give me a follow on Twitter :)

Discussion

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cjbrooks12 profile image
Casey Brooks

I think @ben 's website would feel right at home here 😉

benhalpern.com/

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andy profile image
Andy Zhao (he/him)

My thought process: "What's brutalist web design? ... Oh so like Ben's website"

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nabilahsan profile image
Md Nabil Ahsan

Why is this so beautiful?

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lewismenelaws profile image
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iamschulz profile image
I am Schulz

I've seen #BrutalistWebdesign quite frequently this year and I think, they mostly get it wrong.
David Copeland, the author of the guidelines you linked to, actually explains what brutalism is about and tries to adapt its philosophy onto a website. The result is a plain, white, easy to use document, and it works really well. The core statement is that unstyled documents are mostly fine as they are. Each CSS property that's applied to the document needs a very good reason to be there.
However most websites featured on brutalistwebsites.com go the other way and apply retro designs and design antipatterns just for the sake of being edgy. The user is not in focus anymore, the designer is. It's the exact opposite of brutalism.
While I love seeing weird, retro, anti-design websites and exploring their sometimes unexpected behaviour, brutalism is the wrong headline.

(I know, I must be fun at partys)

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lewismenelaws profile image
Lewis Menelaws Author

I love your fair take on it :). You are welcome to every single one of my parties. (don't forget the pizza)

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rubberduck profile image
Christopher McClellan

I hadn’t realized this was a thing! I went on a tirade a little while ago and built “the simplest website that could possibly work”. Heavy focus on the content and blazing fast page loads (because it’s mostly just HTML and a few bytes of uncompressed CSS). One of my big rules is that it has to render in the Lynx browser. If my site doesn’t work in the terminal, a screen reader won’t fair well either, so it’s broken. +100

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drylabrebel profile image
Geoff English

Sounds a lot like this random guy I found on twitter.

Roman Zolotarev

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smokefumus profile image
smoke fumus

This is purely psychological. You're not experiencing something objectively good - you are experiencing a relief.

A lot of sites nowadays are milktoast soggy wonderbread of blandness. They just feel awful to look at when every single site is batshing boring.

So naturally you're enjoying a relief when you see something interesting to look at.

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asparallel profile image
AsParallel

Make the web great again?

I kid, of course. But, I will say as much as I feel you and join in eye rolling at the trite carbon-copy plastic facade of the modern web, I also do not yearn for the warm, familiar embrace of you the man now dog :)

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

Wow, some of the websites on the list are amazing.

Thanks, I didn't know about this "current"

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hugod84995240 profile image
hugo d

Totally think the same as you, that brutalism design is very addictive to look at, because give us a break from the same type of design over and over again, but if we use to much of brutalism design it can end up as the norm an not being appealing again, more on this subject in this website to complement this vision imaginarycloud.com/blog/why-we-nee...

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quii profile image
Chris James

I am not by any means a web designer but I read about Brutalist Web Design a while ago and then immediately changed the CSS on my website to give it a go

It seems quite divisive, some people love the design of my website... and others don't :(

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michi profile image
Michael Z

Websites used to have much more personality. I love coming across some old forum. Very nostalgic indeed.

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alpercugun profile image
Alper Cugun

I did a coding challenge for an app where they also wanted a 'design'. I reckoned that I'm not a designer nor am I applying for a design position so I might as well go hard brutalist.

Of course the team evaluating it docked me points for it not being a 'professional' looking design.

They also critiqued my architecture with references to webpages which on closer reading said that my approach is perfectly fine until you're faced with larger scale issues. (I was doing the challenge in a language I'm hot fluent in and told them that I would be proficient in a couple of weeks.)

Lessons:

  • Thanks the team for sharing all their feedback with me. Rarely has it been clearer at such an early stage that I wouldn't want to work at a company.
  • Don't have your coding challenges be reviewed by a committee of anal programmers. Mark to a set of objective criteria.
  • Don't do coding challenges if you're a developer with > 5 years experience and have representative projects on your GitHub.
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liana profile image
Liana Felt (she/her)

Thank you for sharing this. I'm loving going through all the websites on the list!

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fluffynuts profile image
Davyd McColl

The biggest problem I have with the brutalist sites I've tried to look at so far (3) is simply that they are ridiculously heavy on bandwidth (waited about a minute for each to load, consuming 7-10 mbps for the whole time), crazy with cpu (Firefox warned of unresponsive sites) and mad with memory (never seen my phone go over the 2.5 gig Mark before).

I'm all for expression and doing your own thing, but the point of online content is for consumption by visitors. If your visitors can't load the site, that's a giant fail.

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brutalistfwk profile image
Brutalist Framework

Thanks for mentioning us!

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ferhatavdic profile image
FerhatAvdic

Wow some of the sites on that list are really great. The creativity goes trough the roof. Amazing stuff! Thanks for sharing.

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auricomcorp profile image
Aleks Dorohovich

This is my favorite one → lingscars.com/

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equinusocio profile image
Mattia Astorino

Brutalism is a thing of 2017/2018. Some brands are now switching away from it.

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sygyzmundovych profile image
Vitaliy Rudnytskiy

I knew it was just a matter of time for this to come back!