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Trend alert: brutalist web design. But what actually is it?

As we all know, trends come and go, affecting and influencing different industries at different times. The concept of brutalism, for example, has been around since the early 1950s in architecture, but diminished in popularity after the 1970s. However, it is now starting to influence the design of websites in 2018. But what actually is it, and is it suitable for your brand?

The brutalist concept applied to web design

Brutalism in architecture essentially means ‘raw’ and usually involves concrete. In fact, the word brutalism actually originates from the French word for ‘raw’ or ‘unrefined’, which is brut. The style became very popular, especially in educational, government or municipal buildings, and what people liked about it was its honesty in use of materials, ruggedness, functionality and lack of concern in looking a certain way.

In terms of web design, many designers and developers have been embracing this raw, back-to-basics approach recently. This unexpected renaissance of brutalism even extends to high-profile sites such as which have stripped the design right back, focusing on information over decoration.

This can be seen as a reaction to how homogenous commercial websites have become, or the desire to be different. Some wish to prioritise functionality and a simple, back-to-basics user experience rather than aesthetic bells and whistles.

So, how can brutalism be applied to web design?

A brilliant example of brutalist web design in action is the Balenciago clothing brand’s website, which features nothing more than a handful of words (the brand name, men, women and search), the hamburger menu button, a simple line structure and acres of white space. It may not be pretty, but it couldn’t be simpler for the user. And in its own way, it makes a dramatic and highly memorable design statement. It can be staggeringly, refreshingly simple.

Does brutalism have to be ugly?

One perception of brutalism, in both architecture and web design, is that it is intentionally or deliberately ugly. This doesn’t have to be the case, as you can still use some of the elements of brutalism – simplicity, honesty, functionality and the stripped-back look – to design a website that contains colour and has aesthetic appeal.

Consider these keywords when designing – ‘bold’, ‘unapologetic’ and ‘honest’. As the Norman Nielsen Group puts it when considering brutalism:

“Brutalist designers want to break away from the stale, cookie-cutter, premade-template sites that dominate the web today. They want the web to be true to itself, to feel honest and not contrived. The brutalist philosophy shares that last goal with flat design, though the two aesthetic styles achieve it in very different ways.”

A controversial trend

Brutalism is one of those Marmite trends that some people love, whether in architecture or another discipline such as digital design, or they completely loathe it. If you’re a brand that wants to make a statement or operates within a field such as the arts or fashion retail, then brutalism may work quite well for you. You’ll need to be prepared to potentially alienate some people along the way, but at least they won’t forget you!

For help with your web design, contact the expert team here at Ambos Digital.

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