Brutalism is best known as the modernist architectural movement distinctive for its rugged concrete construction and utilitarian lack of ornamentation popular in the 1960s and ’70s. But in recent months, the term has been applied to digital design, with “Brutalism” describing an emerging design style that favors rudimentary layouts and basic typefaces. It’s both a throwback to early web design and a rejection of the super-polished, user-friendly design so popular today.
This new form of Brutalism was originated by Pascal Deville, creative director at the ad agency Freundliche Grüsse, who started cataloging examples of it on his website, brutalistwebsites.com, in 2014. Since then, the aesthetic has only grown in popularity. Some designers even consider websites like Bloomberg, Drudge Report, and Adult Swim to exemplify Brutal web design. Earlier this year UX designer Pierre Buttin brutalized the designs of popular websites—Twitter, Google, Tinder—just for the fun of it.
They might be en vogue, but are Brutalist websites, apps, and interfaces good for the people who have to use them? A new satirical website called UX Brutalism mocks the trend by calling out how terrible it is for users.
UX Brutalism purports to be a design methodology that anyone can use, a “Brutalist framework for every step of your design process.” In reality, the site–created by the designers at uxdesign.cc–spoofs the raw, stripped-down style with tongue in cheek. “It’s about time we bring this concept to our design thinking process,” the site explains. From an ultra-simplified layout to minimal user feedback and general antipathy, the site guides designers toward a “new type of experience based on neglect.” The key? “The first (and only) step is to throw elements on the screen, without worrying too much about how they work together.”
As a phenomenon, Brutalist design is typically seen as a response to the slick, super-optimized aesthetic of tech companies and startups: polished, user-friendly design systems that are constantly iterated upon and informed by tons of user feedback. The spoof site nods to this, too, with a quote from a mock user claiming, “I am tired of Material Design.” Yet the designers at uxdesign.cc, clearly, are not fans of Brutalism either; the one-pager ends with a caveat: “UX brutalism is a relatively new concept, and we don’t expect it to last too long.” They do a fairly good impression of it, nonetheless.
With digital design, as with anything else, new trends tend to emerge in reaction to whatever is fashionable at the moment. UX Brutalism pokes fun not only at the heavy-handed aesthetic of the moment, but the overly polished, formulaic design that Brutalism rebels against.