Brutalist web design and what we can learn from it

Grids, rules, order, harmony — qualities that typically define ‘good design.’ What happens when all of this is thrown out? When chaos is embraced and celebrated? It’s called brutalist web design and it’s taking the design world by a storm. In this post we will take a look at the brutalist movement and how brands and designers can use it to shift the way they think about web design.

What is Brutalism?

Brutalism is an emerging design trend that aims to be raw, unrefined and everything that today’s standard of a beautiful website isn’t. It is web design stripped down to the extreme, without concern for being comforting, easy to navigate or beautiful. It is even called down right ugly by some. It has been around for some time, but the dramatic rise of the trend in recent months is indicative of a reaction to the safe confines of design conventionalism. With the ease of making sites from template-based platforms such as WordPress and Squarespace, the web is becoming an increasingly homogenized space. Where clean, flat design that is comfortable and functional is regarded as a standard for most sites. Brutalism is a reaction to this safe approach to web design.

Brutalist Websites – An archive of websites that explore a brutalist approach to their design.

The origin

If we broaden things past web design, brutalism extends back to the 1950’s and can often be seen expressed in the design and architecture of that time. The industrial revolution made mass production possible where products could be made quickly, cheaply, and all looking relatively similar. As a reaction to this, movements like postmodernism emerged and artists, architects and designers shattered established ideas about style, paid no attention to traditional design conventions such as legibility, and brought radical freedom to art and design. Take for example David Carson’s article for Ray Gun magazine which was intentionally written in Zapf Wingdings.

David Carson Article

What a thrilling read.

It’s impact

Personally, I see brutalism as an expression of originality in a time when the idea of good web design is confined to a hamburger menu and large photographic landing page. In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look inherently beautiful, brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the sameness of today’s web design. The movement gives designers the opportunity to push the boundaries of design and take inspiration from its compelling and unpredictable nature. Many brands are already exploring the abilities of user interactivity through a brutalist approach—take for example B&O’s web page advertising their new range of speakers. The interactive elements on this page not only make users spend more time playing and clicking around, but it takes the web advertisement to another level by directly engaging with the user. The website comes to life as vibrant, engaging and energetic which reflects the nature of the brand. The importance of the brutalist movement is that it reveals the fact that certain elements in web design have become stagnate. That’s not to say all web sites should disregard having aesthetic appeal, good usability and strong content. In today’s world, a well designed website is critical to a brands success, and a brutalist approach provides the opportunity to stand out and be a little bit daring, maybe even a little bit weird.

Ready to get weird? Here’s a guide.


Hannah Guilford – Designer

Image courtesy of and California State University


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