October 23 2017
There is a trend permeating through the user experience design world like a fart permeating through a crowded airplane. The trend known as brutalism is an honest name with a dishonest definition.
Brutalism is described as a design style that strips all elements down to it’s basic core. It’s origins were born in architecture as cement became the material de jour. Imagine the bleak cityscapes that pervade Eastern Europe or the movie and T.V. sets of dystopian futures from science fiction.
In other words it’s ugly and used as a plot device to tell us the future is going to be miserable. It’s like having airport sushi at Dubuque Regional Airport, it’s ugly and your future is going to be miserable.
However, major brands such as Bloomberg and Dropbox have adopted it. Their designers saw airport sushi and thought ‘Mmmm, I’d like more of that please!’ If you haven’t seen the new Dropbox brand redesign, take a few crayons and throw them in the microwave. You’ll get the same result but it’ll be more fun.
As it relates to architecture, it makes plenty of sense. A building is a utilitarian object that should be easy to navigate and quick to construct. Modular elements built from powerful and plentiful material allows for the creation of structures that will last long beyond Trump’s transition from POTUS to host of the Hunger Games.
One could argue that modern web design already does this by dictating the use of modular elements used to create more complex patterns such as Pattern Lab. However, as far as this designer can gather, brutalism as described for the web, is a reaction to current and established design trends.
Brutalistwebsites.com explains it as (which stole it from wikipedia):
“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.”
Ruggedness? I’m not sure what that means as it relates to pixels on glossy screens that are prone to breaking. Lack of concern for comfort and ease? So a lack of concern for readability and user experience. A reaction to what? Sense and sensibility. Frivolity of today’s design? The industry has become increasingly friendly to accessibility.
If brutalism is a ‘reaction’ to something then it isn’t design. It’s art and that is the crux of the problem. Art is fine, it answers to no one but by definition serves no functional purpose. Design is a process, plan or intention to solve a problem. Literally the opposite to art or reaction. We design for users to create better and more meaningful experiences that enhance technology by making it more accessible and helping them achieve their goals. In design, a reaction to something should never be the objective. There is only a user, a problem, and a solution.
If your intention is to deconstruct your page or brand into simpler and more minimalist building blocks, then that is a worthy goal. If you are reacting to well established web design paradigms that have been refined through grids, readability and user testing by designing the opposite, please stop. I understand web design can feel like a boring place at times but there is no need to make it any worse.