Tara Hall

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Sep 07, 2016

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The latest web design trend Brutalist websites

Have you heard of the term brutalism? It describes a type of architecture that began in the 1950’s and remained until the mid-1970’s according to Wikipedia.

What distinguishes this type of architecture is its austerity. There’s not much that’s aesthetically pleasing about brutalism to put it mildly.

Boston’s City Hall is a prime example of this type of architecture. Among the more historic buildings that surround it, City Hall is like a block of concrete with windows punched into it.

Boston City Hall

Though brutalist architecture ended decades ago, the brutalist movement is seeing a resurgence online.


Brutalism on the web isn’t exactly new. Craigslist.org, which some consider an epitome this type of web design, has been around for more than 15 years. Despite changes and trends in web design, Craigslist has remained pretty much the same throughout the years.

Boston Craigslist.org home page

Lately, it seems that more sites have adopted this no frills look. Brutalistwebsites.com is a site that maintains an index of brutalist sites.

Brutalist websites

Earlier this year, the Washington Post published an article about the site, “The hottest trend in Web design is making intentionally ugly, difficult sites.”

The article suggests that brutalism, other than being described as “ugly,” has no common characteristics other than an attempt at being original. (I hope that ugly doesn’t become the determining factor for brutalism because it’s too open to interpretation.)

In contrast, many modern websites share some common characteristics, for instance, a full-width image on the home page occupying a significant amount of real estate.

These features are so common that even custom designed sites appear to be using the same template.

Take a look at SiteInspire.com. You’ll find more than a few similar looking websites. Swap out a few photographs, and you may not be able to tell some sites apart from one another.

A brutalist website, on the other hand, appears to have no template. Of the articles that I’ve read on the subject, it seems that these sites are primarily hand-coded with no underlying content management systems.

Apple WWDC16

After Apple launched its developer conference site WWDC16, I read a comment that described the site as brutalist.

Apple WWDC 2016 home page

I’m not convinced that the site is brutalist, but it certainly appears minimalist. If the trend in web design is brutalism, then maybe the WWDC16 site will serve as a bridge between today’s modern sites and brutalist sites.

As I would expect from Apple, the site is easy to navigate and uncluttered, but still attractive. I like that the home page doesn’t use a large, splashy image or short video. In fact, the site doesn’t use a lot of imagery at all.

While I’m not an advocate of the dark background with white or light colored text because it’s often illegible, Apple seems to make it work.

If there is a trend taking place, maybe it will look more like WWDC16 and less like Craigslist. I think sites can benefit from having fewer images for the sake of having images.

Maybe what’s coming is an attempt to make websites smaller in size. By maintaining smaller websites, we prioritize our content, cut the unnecessary and extraneous, and keep it simple both for ourselves and our visitors.

I doubt we’ll see today’s modern websites replaced with brutalist sites in the near future, but the movement does show that there are alternatives to current design trends, which look a bit cookie-cutter.

More importantly, there are opportunities for designers to be creative and to discover new best practices. If you’ve ever intentionally designed something ugly, you know that it’s harder than it seems, but at the same time, it’s also more liberating.