The Barbican, the National Theatre, Balfron Tower, Cumbernauld. Brutalist architecture of the ‘60s and ‘70s has left a lasting mark on our cityscapes with its divisive blend of utilitarian functionality and rugged shapes that is as controversial today as when the foundations of these buildings were first laid.
While many examples are being cast aside in the real world, the spirit of brutalism is continuing online. Carbon copy sites made from Wordpress templates and other CMS platforms are becoming something of the norm, and for good reason. Their clean, flat, and mobile-friendly design creates some very nice looking and functional websites right out of the box.
But this also means that the internet is becoming an increasingly homogenised space. Bland and inoffensive. The internet is Coldplay, it is new Top Gear, it is whatever Ant and Dec happen to be presenting this Saturday night. Enter brutalist web design, purposefully awkward hand-coded HTML sites that take their design cues from ‘90s graphic design and ignore the industry’s best practices.
Born out of a desire to make something seen as original by today’s standards, brutalist websites often hark back to the days of an earlier web. Generally characterised by their stripped back design, simple mark-up, awkward spacing and lack of optimisation, brutalist websites have developed something of a cult following. Some of the best examples have been collected on brutalistwebsites.com, a site started by Pascal Deville, Creative Director at the Freundliche Grüsse ad agency in Zurich, Switzerland to showcase this trend.
You may think that you haven’t seen a brutalist website before, but the chances are you have. Ever visited Drudge Report or Craigslist? Both sites are well known and commercially successful but are considered to fall within the aesthetics of the movement, if only because they have remained largely unchanged since they first appeared online twenty years ago.
Should websites ignore the industry’s best practices? Of course not! Best practices are best practices for a reason. From an SEO standpoint a sites usability, user experience and content are all still incredibly important ranking factors. What this breaks down to is that a site should be easy to navigate and understand, provide actionable information relevant to your search query, and of course, deliver high quality content.
Usability and user experience provide a measurable link to a site’s popularity to search engines, which they can then interpret as a signal of higher quality. This essentially translates to backlinks. If your site isn’t user friendly and your content is bad, then people are unlikely to link back to you, and your rankings will suffer.
Web designers creating sites in the brutalist vein don’t care about any of that though of course, the rebels! What the movement does expose is that there are certain elements of web design that have begun to stagnate, and for a brand to truly stand out, their presence on the web should be as unique as their offering in real life. This is where the aesthetics of brutalist web design have begun to bleed into the mainstream from Kanye West’s minimalist offering to Björk’s bizarre homepage. Even mainstream news sites are getting in on the act, the opening paragraph of this Bloomberg Businessweek article looks like a ransom note made from magazine clippings and a Craigslist ad.
Most businesses will require a website that looks well designed, but the brutalist website movement shows that not everything on the web has to look good to be good. A brand’s site should be an extension of the brand itself and if that provides the opportunity to do something a little bit different, or a little bit daring, then the opportunity should be taken.
By Euan Leopold, SEO Executive