Neo-Brutalism in Web Design

by | Jun 3, 2024 | Web Design

Brutalism 2.0: Why the Web’s Ugliest Trend Is Back (With a Makeover)

Remember Geocities? The garish colors, clashing fonts, and general pixelated chaos of early websites were the epitome of “so bad, it’s good” design. But there was also something undeniably bold, even raw, about it. That aesthetic spirit is having a moment… with some major refinements, thankfully.

Dubbed by some as “Neo-Brutalism,” this trend takes cues from the brutalist architectural movement: heavy forms, raw textures, and an emphasis on functionality. But unlike the harsh, concrete-heavy buildings Brutalism is known for, the website version is embracing brutalist elements with a sense of intention and sophistication.

Why Brutalism… Again?

Web design trends in recent years have leaned heavily into minimalism, clean lines, and a focus on seamless user experiences. While that’s created a more standardized (and often beautiful) online world, it’s also led to a certain sameness. Brutalism is the antithesis of this homogenized design. It’s a visceral punch, a rejection of polished perfection in favor of grabbing attention at all costs. In a world overflowing with content vying for our eyeballs, the raw impact of brutalism cuts through the noise.

The focus on clear, bold visuals inherent to Brutalism also has surprising benefits. Websites with high-contrast colors, simple layouts, and uncluttered typography are naturally easier for users to navigate – a major win for accessibility. This means brutalist elements can enhance the experience for people with visual impairments or who are simply overwhelmed by a cluttered digital landscape.

Examples in the Wild

Ezekiel Aquino: This website offers a brilliant Neo-Brutalist experience. Its stark minimalism, raw visuals, and black-and-white palette focus entirely on the core function: dynamically generated music and its notation. This prioritizes impact over user-friendliness, embracing a bold contrast that can be both alienating and unexpectedly beautiful – a hallmark of the Neo-Brutalist approach.

Secession: The Secession’s website showcases Neo-Brutalism through its emphasis on text as the primary visual element, with stark scrolling effects and minimalist image presentation. This raw, content-focused approach prioritizes direct communication over visual ornamentation. While its simplicity might seem deceptively replicable, the intentional juxtaposition of text elements creates a sense of boldness and visual tension that aligns with the Brutalist spirit.

Freak Mag: Freak Mag channels Neo-Brutalism through its deliberate chaos. While breaking traditional web design conventions, it maintains a consistent visual language of clashing colors, oversized typography, and bold imagery. This controlled disorder creates an edgy, energetic aesthetic that defies expectations while prioritizing content discoverability, demonstrating the power of intentional execution within a seemingly unpolished Brutalist framework.

Should You Go Brutalist?

Full-blown brutalism is likely too jarring for most brands. Luckily, the trend’s impact can be harnessed with a lighter touch. Here’s how to avoid scaring potential customers:

  • Micro-Brutalism: Instead of overhauling your entire site, choose one or two brutalist-inspired elements to add visual punch. A single stark, almost unfinished-looking headline font can shake things up without causing sensory overload. Consider stark black-and-white photography for a hero image, or use a bold block of color as a background to an important call-to-action.
  • Think Luxury, Not Landfill: The key to making brutalism work is through juxtaposition. Pair those raw elements with elegant touches and ample white space. This keeps it feeling intentional, even sophisticated. Think high-end fashion magazine, not an abandoned building.
  • Know Your Audience: Neo-brutalism is best suited for brands that want to come across as edgy, disruptive, or creatively fearless. If your goal is to feel approachable, warm, or timeless, this likely isn’t the aesthetic for you. Imagine if a law firm, spa, or financial advisor suddenly embraced brutalism – it would clash with the brand promise. But

Brutalism Done Right is Memorable

Whether brutalism makes you cringe or secretly intrigued, there’s no denying its power to stick in your mind. Neo-Brutalism’s resurgence offers a valuable reminder in our visually homogenized internet age: websites don’t need to be traditionally beautiful to be successful. It’s a lesson in embracing the unexpected and understanding how calculated disruption can work in your favor. Even if a full brutalist makeover isn’t right for your brand, the trend encourages experimentation and bold design choices. Its focus on raw visuals and unwavering functionality reminds us that breaking established design rules can pay off – as long as the choices are rooted in strategy, not just a desire to provoke for its own sake.