Have you heard the term “brutalism” used in the context of modern web design? In that context, it is a relatively new term, because it represents a relatively new trend for web design companies. A recent article by design professional Pascal Potvin described “brutalism” as a reaction to the established trend of minimalism in many of today’s leading websites, particularly those that are attentive to the expectations of responsive web design.
Potvin suggests that some web design companies are focusing on “imperfect, hand-coded HTML sites” while actively disregarding best practices and they relate to user experience. His account of the history of both minimalism and brutalism is informative and worth reading if it’s a topic of interest for you. But we happen to think that his commentary on the topic is flawed. And we would even go as far as to say that the term “brutalism” itself is a misnomer, being ill-suited to the types of sites being described.
Different, but Not Brutal
Are so-called brutalist websites rougher in appearance than minimalist ones? Yes; at least some of the time. But those that are created by skilled web design companies are still very far away from being “brutal”. They also do not line up with the historical origins of the term as a movement in architectural design. Buildings of that style were focused on function over form, and Potvin claims that the same is true of modern websites that eschew minimalism. But his own description of many of those sites paints a different picture.
What the author calls “brutalist” and “utilitarian” is actually a movement to reclaim individual character in web design. Sometimes this might cut against user experience in a minor way. But in other cases, by stepping away from the low-contrast, short, and linear design that has become standard, web design companies may actually amplify user experience by adding a new dimension of visual appeal while making relevant content every bit as easy to find as it otherwise would be.
Bringing Back Uniqueness
The way we see it, this trend is indicative of web design companies responding to the very real issue of sites becoming virtually indistinguishable even as they become much, much more numerous. The reason this is a problem is because the massive proliferation of websites means that each individual site owner faces the challenge to set his brand apart from a multitude of competitors. The current “best practices” of minimalism may not do the trick. If you have reason to believe that your audience will respond to something more unique, with more decoration or less symmetry, that you may be well served by letting your web designers experiment a little bit.
Still, we do agree with Potvin that minimalism isn’t going anywhere. Its principles did grow out of the basic needs of web users, especially as mobile browsing becomes more prominent. But it is also a trend that has arguably gone too far and become too averse to change. Websites look much different today than they did fifteen or even five years ago. And there is no reason to believe that changes in web design standards will stop now that most web design companies seem to be hewing to a standard pattern.
The task of your web design company should be not to follow trends but to stay ahead of them and give your site the dual benefits of familiarity and uniqueness. One way to do this is by applying the familiar principles of minimalism while also peppering a site with something different from time to time, regardless of whether you call it “brutalist” or simply “new.”