Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
UX brutalism (uxbrutalism.com)
354 points by takinola 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 177 comments

This is funny, but I think also misses the point of Brutalism entirely.

Brutalist architecture is functional first (but often beautiful, too). The examples of Brutalist web design almost entirely miss out on being functional by being hard to read, abstract (not merely containing abstract elements, but abstract at its core), and lacking in the clean hard lines commonly seen in Brutalism.

There are some examples in the linked gallery (http://brutalistwebsites.com/) that I think can be fairly compared to Brutalist architecture, but nowhere near the majority of them. Most are just ugly and gimmicky. Brutalism may have been ugly and gimmicky at times, but it wasn't the core motivating force for any Brutalist work of note.

Arguably, a major point of Brutalism is letting the essence of the materials come through rather than covering them up. In that sense, I think "Brutalist" web design would connote embracing things like hypertext, links, and hierarchical structure rather than building up the illusion that your website is some ethereal dance of pure unsullied UX. The infamous "Motherfucking Website" [1] might be the best-known example of deliberately showcasing this approach.

[1] http://motherfuckingwebsite.com/

I think that early web (say, pre-Web 2.0) was the epitome of Brutalist design. Because resources were limited, you had to make the most of what you had, leading to that no-nonsense, sparse style. I think it's beautiful, in its own way.

That's an interesting idea. There's something very raw about those university.edu/department/~username pages that existed with the most basic of HTML--unstyled tables, blue anchor links, images only when you needed them, and almost no Yavascript.

That rawness, without too many attribute tags let alone CSS, is brutalist.

Olia Lialina has a great piece about the aesthetics of "Prof. Dr. Style": http://contemporary-home-computing.org/prof-dr-style/

Thanks for this link! Never knew someone gave this "style" a name. (And an apt one to boot)

Btw, the university pages you mention are still extremely common, at least in mathematics-related fields

When I'm searching for info on something, if I land on a page with no styling and no multimedia beyond hypertext and images, I know I've hit something good because it's almost certainly an academic's personal page!

Yep, "existed" is the wrong tense. My university's entire CS and Engineering schools run on those style of pages.

I think you're giving early web "design" far too much credit. To say something is "brutalist" describes an intentional aesthetic - early pages really where purely functional, and any aesthetic flourishes really were limited by the technology despite aspirations to design something beautiful (whatever that means).

Fair point. I didn't mean to imply it was an intentional design choice, just that it was "selected for" by the "nature" of the platform (ha!). And with regard to "beauty", I just meant that it was almost elegant in a way that modern design tries to do away with.

For instance, if a site didn't have a proper search function, but had a pretty logical URL scheme, you could often find what you need by trying a few permutations in the address bar. The limitations of the system meant web "designers" (I'm using that term loosely) had to build fairly organized and unintentionally "Brutalist" sites if they wanted to be used by any large number of people.

Hope that made sense, I'm still waiting for my coffee to kick in.

In other words, a "Brutalist" website would look like a website from 1996. Which I dig, because I dislike the fancy stuff.

Photo.net until recently. Built on tcl.

I've never looked at photo.net, now I wish I could see it before it changed.

edit: I just checked it out on the wayback machine, I definitely like the old site better. Not as "pretty", but easier to navigate.

Motherfucking Website is too wide in my browser window. It would be a lot easier to read on desktop with even just one line of CSS:

    body { max-width: 60ch; }

Yes! The "better" site had crappy contrast.

This can be achieved by adjusting the size of the browser window. Not only does this give fine-grained control to all users, but as a bonus it frees up the horizontal space to be used to display other things alongside.

So maybe... Craigslist?

e.g. http://radio.spodeli.org/kanal103/chetvrtok/2000-2200.html

Brutalist on-demand radio streaming platform that I've build.

That's a pretty good selection of tracks.

"Kanal 103" is a cult indie FM station from Skopje.

Recordings expire (overwritten) after one week.

Let's resurrect WAP

Maybe this is my own horrible opinion, but that site would feel less pretentious in monospaced courier.

How so? Times is browser default and was easier to read than a monospaced font.

It's easier for me to read, as far as I can tell. http://russrizzo.net/ is an example, but maybe it's just size.

What does the site you linked look like in IE6? Is there an Easter egg?

The Easter egg is that it works perfectly, and it has the same exact aspect as in any other modern browser.

a major point of Brutalism is letting the essence of the materials come through rather than covering them up

So......something like this? http://www.zerobugsandprogramfaster.net/brutalist.html That can get recursive real fast.

Or theoretically this: https://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/matrix/images/8/84/Matr... Harder to read, though, at least for people like me who don't have much experience.

The Brutalists always said that, but I never bought it. I went to a university (Waterloo) with some iconic Brutalist buildings. They were not more functional, and certainly not more maintainable.

Big empty space when you enter, no place to hang your coat.

Concrete stairs everywhere, nothing to soften your steps and slippery in the winter with even just a bit of snow outside. Wood stairs might absorb the some moisture and eventually rot, but they're easy to replace. When our stairs finally started cracking they just stayed cracked until the entire stairwell needed to be replaced.

Everything looked the same => easy to get lost and hard to get a true sense of the building.

Brutalism is the worst thing to happen to architecture. I don't understand why anyone would do it. The soft pastels, flowered windows, and charming, modest architectural flourishes of the old parts of European cities like Vilnius are so much more beautiful and human. Or even some modern Asian cities like Tokyo where things are bright and modern, without being depressing and harsh.

I don't doubt that Brutalist architects failed sometimes (maybe often). I think the style has also gotten a bad rap. Sturgeon's Law applies to everything...it's easy to think about your favorite classic European architecture and think, "Well, everything should be like this, it's really nice."

But, that discounts the thousands of buildings that were built and subsequently torn down because they failed by some metric. The style didn't make them failures; they just weren't good. Brutalist buildings are no exception, they're just more recent and so we have a lot more of the stinkers still standing.

And, we're living in a time where people value the past (even the recent-ish past) more than folks in previous generations. We venerate old buildings, maybe because the pace of destruction and rebuilding has accelerated beyond our comfort zone for change. So, it's likely that a lot of poorly conceived Brutalist architecture will live long enough to be hated. And, it also does seem to be the case that retrofitting Brutalist buildings to suit modern needs and tastes may be more difficult than previous kinds of architecture. The Grenfell tower is a tragic example of that (though one could reasonably argue that it didn't have to be that way...a little more money spent would have saved lives).

I don't know. I happen to be fond of a lot of Brutalist architecture. Not all of it. And, I recognize and agree with many of your points. But, I think there's a beauty to be found in the raw concrete, straight lines, cantilevered elements, etc. of the best Brutalist architecture. I like the design of those decades, in general, not just the buildings.

With regards to Sturgeon's law unfortunately lots of completely non-functional Brutalist buildings are held up as beautiful marvels.

Buildings with flat roofs and piss poor drainage in the West of Scotland (rains a bit) are held up as timeless paragons of the style.

This tells me there is a massive disconnect between architects and normal people.

(EDIT: There is quite a lot of Brutalist stuff I like but there is a lot of shit decaying ruins that I'm repeatedly told are brilliant that are most certainly not)

This is my objection also. Sturgeon's Law says that most things are bad; it doesn't obligate anyone to celebrate those failures.

Having spent time in quite a few 'iconic' Brutalist building, my experience is that they're frequently terrible. Impressive looking, but deeply unfriendly to their inhabitants. There's one where it sometimes rains indoors because the venting and vault-ceilings are so poorly executed. It's still lauded as great architecture.

> This tells me there is a massive disconnect between architects and normal people.

Well, on the other end of the scale we have McMansions[0] - although part of the critiques[1] also feel like architect snobbery to me at times.

[0] http://mcmansionhell.com/

[1] http://mcmansionhell.com/101

McMansion means two things at the same time. Be wary of terms like those:

1. Badly-designed and badly-built (as in, objectively not up to some verifiable standard) homes built with the look of better-built homes but none of the construction quality those homes have.

2. Houses built by the newly-rich on small lots, in contrast with the houses inherited by the old money on larger tracts of land.

The inevitable and, perhaps, deliberate conflation between the two senses is pure class warfare, of the "Established upper class striking against the newly arrived" sense.

McMansions are also non-functional buildings. It would be possible to ape the 'incremental build' style of a building that's been around for 100s of years without the aesthetic dissonance and massive space wastage of the average McManison.

If you have a different style of window in every fitting without a strong aesthetic tie then you've just raised the build and maintenance cost of the property for no reason except cargo cultism.

There are many brutalist buildings in my home town, and they are without exception fugly. My grandfather had to do maintenance on one that was poorly designed and built that water leaked in everywhere, it had half levels that you could get stuck in due to the passback system, and it had poor cooling and heating meaning everyone complained about the temperature. Anyone who has worked in it, absolute hates the building, yet architects love it.

I have never been in, nor seen a brutalist building that looked good and was functional. They may exist, but all the examples in my home town (and there are many) are terrible buildings best left in the scrapheap of history.

>> "The Brutalists always said that, but I never bought it."

The Brutalists were disingenuous in many ways.

You'll hear the trope "Oh 'Brutalism' doesn't mean the English word brutal, it's derived from the French 'Béton brut!'" absolutely everywhere in print and on the internet.

This is lazy journalism parroting a faux-profound claim, frequently repeated by people trying to look sophisticated. It's e.g. all over the Wiki article on Brutalism and is probably in 10 different comments downthread.

The British people who coined and popularized the term (Ventris and the Smithsons, mostly) were native English speakers and were perfectly aware of the connotations/double meaning of the word "brutal" when designing buildings that ordinary people think look like supervillain lairs. The "French etymology" claim is just a twee shibboleth for architectural-world pretension.

That said, this site is hilarious.

I believe you, but there's little there which is specific to Brutalism or even a core characteristic of it: Big empty space, no place to hang your coat, stairs everywhere, everything looked the same, easy to get lost and hard to get a true sense of the building; you could say the same about a lot of work coming from the Starchitects of the late 20th and early 21st Century.

I do agree that Brutalism can look oppressive, but it doesn't have to. The Barbican in London is a wonderful estate, with highly sought-after apartments.

It's a good example of the style. But have you attended a tradeshow there? Maybe it was just the hall we were in, but the low ceilings were oppressive and didn't allow vendors to hang their signs very high, leading to even more claustrophobia.

I know what you mean. It works well for exhibitions, I think, but not so well for trade shows. I've seen exhibitions on Ray and Charles Eames, Star Wars, Video Games and other stuff up there. I also went to a PC World show there back in the 80s.

I live in an old house with low ceilings and doorways I have to duck through, so the Barbican headroom seems comparatively luxurious.

> I don't understand why anyone would do it

Well, may be because qualities like these:

> beautiful and human

aren't considered to be good and desirable in architecture by everyone.

Of course not, Soviets and other communist countries loved it specifically because it was not beautiful or human as it reinforced the unimportance of the individual and reinforced the power of the State.

Brutalism is totalitarian architecture.

> Soviets and other communist countries loved it

Not particularly. There were some brutalist buildings put up in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and early 1980s [1] - but it absolutely was not a predominant architectural style, nothing at all comparable to brutalism's reign in the UK.

For example, an apartment building in Moscow [2] is notable just for being one of the very few examples of brutalist residential architecture in a city full of non-brutalist apartment buildings.

[1] https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Брутализм#.D0.91.D1.80.D1.83.D... [2] https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Дом_авиаторов_на_Беговой_улице

But it was fashionable all over the globe, not only in totalitarian communist dictatorships.

Personally, I love brutalism especially because of how impersonal, cold and unnatural it is. It's not about balance of power, but rather the inner emotional feeling and comfort.

If the countries themselves were not communist dictatorships, at least the architects that led the efforts were influenced by communist and authoritarian ideologies.

At least in Brazil, the biggest name in Brutalism, Oscar Niemeyer, who brought us atrocities such as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro [1] and the whole shitstorm called Brasilia, has always been an avid communist.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rio_de_Janeiro_Cathedral#/medi...

Now you're really stretching. The political leanings of one architect mean the whole project is Marxist?

I don't understand why anyone would do it.

Cost. You don't have to pay for and manage pesky craftsmen with their finicky details. Fabricate some concrete slabs in a factory, ship them to site and hoist them into place and you're done.

At the very least the art-deco guys tried to find some compromise with form, and Bauhaus did emphasise function at all costs.

Brutalism for its own sake reminds me of the dudes who hear the trope "nice guys finish last" and then go about acting the scoundrel just cause they think the opposite might be true. Maybe they get a few "wins" here and there but romantically, and to all practical intents and purposes it's a dead end.

> Bauhaus did emphasise function at all costs

That is not true. They went for a new blend of usefulness, looks and manufacturability. The look was just new and different (although similar to some precursors: De Stijl and some Russian constructivism), it wasn't ignored at all. Today, many things seem to be cargo-culted Bauhaus designs with many of the good aspects removed. Not all buildings with "simple" shapes look good.

When I think of brutalism, I think of old Soviet built buildings. Those things were built to last with no nonsense.

But that's not what brutalism in a western architectural sense really is.

I don't disagree with you, but I think there's a further criticism of Brutalist architecture that's worth mentioning. Brutalism does indeed try to value functionality over decoration, but I feel it misses the mark in that regard, giving up too much in exchange for too little.

Reinforced concrete is not the wonder-material it was initially thought to be. It needs plenty of maintenance; it needs to be painted and guarded against water; and it is very very hard to make watertight window junctions.

A critical part of a building that is "functional" is that it's able to change and be altered as needed. No matter how brilliant your programming and research, needs will change. And then you're looking at years of noisy jackhammering and drilling to put a door, conduit, etc.

So if concrete is no everlasting maintenance-free wood, is the physical inflexibility worth it?

Most brutalist architecture is explicitly not painted; the point is to leave the concrete "raw". "Brutalism" comes from "Beton Brut" or "raw concrete". If it's painted, it's just a concrete building, not a Brutalist building.

It's interesting you should mention flexibility, because 1-3 Willow Road, Hampstead, UK is an interesting example of flexibility. The internal walls are almost all wooden and designed to be folded back, allowing for a very flexible day-to-day use of the space.

On the other hand, the B.A.T. Building in Woking, UK is a large Brutalist building and a friend who used to work there told me that it was indeed an absolute nightmare for running conduit. Wifi didn't work because all the walls were thick reinforced concrete, but it was also built (he said) without room for raised floors or suspended ceilings. They had to drill through those thick walls.

So it all comes down to how you use concrete and where.

Wood is hardly maintenance-free. It also needs painting/sealing and guarding against water. There have also been some spectacular problems where people have tried to do things with wood which should have been done with steel (the fiasco with timber Legoland Windsor Hotel and the emergency reinforcements to support its pool spring to mind).

You sound like you have some experience in construction?

Oh, I totally agree with you; flexibility in design is not intrinsic to Brutalist or non-Brutalist buildings.

I don't have direct experience in construction, but in a past life I worked in two academic IT departments; it always pays to be good friends with the facilities people in that world. Plus, my more direct co-workers were the ones who needed to run conduit from point A to B. So I have some direct second-hand experience and plenty of bar-stories. American Universities almost always have one or two Brutalist piles lying around, and my experience was no exception.

I was really surprised to learn how much maintenance concrete needs; it cost at least half as much as wood averaged over the life of the building. Acid rain is nasty, rebar rusts and causes spalling, penetrations such as conduit quickly leak. When I said painting concrete, I really meant treating and coating to preserve the material. So, now you have to pay almost as much to maintain this structure - then you get a request to install a new exterior security camera, or run some cat5 to the ceiling for an AP, or add a door between labs, and what would be a one-day job in a wood- or steel-framed building is a week-long torture session of drilling.

Of course concrete isn't evil - it clearly makes the modern world possible! And there are some successful Brutalist buildings. But the Brutalist fetishization of it certainly has not stood the test of time.

Another specific Brutalist feature - particularly espoused by Louis Kahn (not exactly a Brutalist but close enough) - was that the building services, e.g. HVAC ducts and the like, should just be exposed. In his mind, it was awkward and sort of dishonest to try and hide them, so don't bother. As a nerd, I appreciate this sort of transparency, but the poor conduit jockeys were tortured by this. The consequences are subtle: instead of risers and service ducts, each individual conduit is visible and has its own penetration when crossing a wall. Which means: more drilling when you need a new EMT run.

Anyways, this is just a series of war stories. People like to joke that software "engineers" are not real engineers, and this is absolutely true. However, I think experienced software developers have a good sense of just how hard it can be to predict future use and tend to design with that in mind. It has been my personal experience that even experienced architects have not gotten the same feedback cycle, so the facilities department has to bust out the Boschhammer again and again.

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Richard Rogers has applied an even more extreme philosophy on some of his buildings (I'm thinking specifically the Pompidou Centre and the Lloyds building) where he put all the HVAC ducts etc. on the outside...

In the UK, the National Trust did a series of tours across Brutalist buildings a year or two ago, and I was lucky enough to get on three of them: the Park Hill estate in Sheffield, the University of East Anglia, and throughout and behind the scenes at the Southbank Centre. Very interesting to see how the building designs and materials have stood up (or not) to the test of time.

As I understand it, the problem with "concrete cancer" as they call it is more likely to happen with some concrete mixes than others. It particularly affects a lot of Modern and Art Deco buildings in the UK from the 30s. I expect it depends on the climate too.

I digress badly, but if you're not already familiar with them you might enjoy Frank Lloyd Wright's Textile Block houses, such as the Ennis House and La Miniatura.

I was about the post about how Brutalism originated about it being raw material and not brutal appearance.

How would the raw concrete metaphor relate to UX / Web design?

I think possibly by not using CSS for layout, only basic styling. Having tables with exposed default cell borders, having headers being browser default sizes, only using system fonts.

>How would the raw concrete metaphor relate to UX / Web design?

I'd say it would be making the page look like bare HTML. Black on white typography. Blue anchor links. Monospace fonts (or arguably default serif font would be more raw).

agreed. the "brutalist websites" linked on that page aren't brutalist at all. they're just the same crap we were producing in 1995 before we knew what we were doing or had any good tools. They are almost all completely devoid of the simple practicality of brutalist architecture.


This is what i'd call brutalist.

Is it a thing with with Californians that they prefer to not to plaster over bricks?

Any brick you see on a building in California is ornamental to begin with. Brick turns to liquid during an earthquake, so it can't be used as a load-bearing component anywhere with seismic activity.

Not just Californians, I should think; it's rarely done here in Baltimore, too. Not sure if it's the aesthetic or the maintenance drawbacks that primarily prevent it.

I love the tongue in cheek site. Cracked me up.

Brutalism is peak Late Modernism in the sense that it is the complete exorcising of cultural symbology via ornamentation.

The timing of Brutalism isn't coincidental; it actively marched lock step with late industrialization. The need for an engine of commerce needs specialisation and parts that work with ultra efficiency in the machine. No need for the baggage of cultural nuance nor ecclectic individuality.

Not a surprise that the busted up ideological polemic of "form" vs. "function" takes its dark roots in this era.

Brutalism created its own symbols, through the simple and massive presence of concrete that cannot be ignored. Also concrete by itself quickly stopped being the most effective building material.

On the other hand, the International Style, emerging at about the same time, now that's completely devoid of cultural symbols.

Interesting connection for people interested in design patterns:

> At the University of Oregon campus, outrage and vocal distaste for Brutalism led, in part, to the hiring of Christopher Alexander and the initiation of The Oregon Experiment in the late 1970s. This led to the development of Alexander's A Pattern Language and The Timeless Way of Building.

That's a great point, I think a brutalist data entry website would be a giant table of input boxes without labels, only hover over text. Something like that, where it looks efficient... but in reality it's kinda ugly and a pain to use and it would benefit greatly from just a tad more UI friendliness, but they value purity over functionality.

Ah, disagree. I think a brutalist data entry website would be a straight-down-the-page list of unadorned, unstyled form fields. The labels would be there, and would have proper for= attributes, but would be unstyled.

yeah maybe, it was a little over the top I guess. I was thinking of a brutalist building with seemingly 2 meter thick walls and tiny slits for windows and it seemed to be barely useful for actual living, so that's why I exaggerated with the website analogy


Cathedrals and castles were built to be functional. Concrete and stone are strong under compression, but weak under tension. That's why medieval structures were built with lots of straight lines, or sweeping curves.

When I look at a lot of Brutalist buildings (not all, but a lot), I can't help thinking the concrete is mostly a facade, which is covering up a steel structure trying to hold up badly engineered blocks that are jutting out for no reason other than being gimmicky.

They make me think of over-styled hatchbacks with oversize spoilers, air intakes, and such. It's not all functional, but it looks functional. And maybe it's nice inside, but I suspect it's got tacky fake racing seats, bouncy suspension, and a sound system with way too much base.

Obviously I don't like Brutalist architecture, so I might be biased. And some of it really looks like abstract modern cathedrals, with sweeping concrete arches that look both functional and efficient. But a lot of it seems to designed to look functional at the expense of actually being functional.

> When I look at a lot of Brutalist buildings (not all, but a lot), I can't help thinking the concrete is mostly a facade, which is covering up a steel structure trying to hold up badly engineered blocks that are jutting out for no reason other than being gimmicky.

Brutalism (and especially neo-Brutalism) didn't allow facades. While that concrete may have rebar, the entire Brutalism philosophy was about not hiding the materials of construction. If a thing was to be made of concrete, it was going to look like it (instead of a faux brick or tile facade or whatever else), and a thing wasn't to be made of concrete if it didn't need to be (at the time that was often the cheapest material for the work).

The concrete extensions out from Brutalist buildings were designed with a function: to create outdoor courtyards and gathering spaces, interesting shades and "cubbies" for socialization. A lot of those spaces don't get used for that much anymore, but that's as much of change in people's relationship with the outdoors as modern a/c has changed the landscape.

There were a couple neo-Brutalist buildings rather central to my University's campus, which lead to my interest in the style, and it was interesting realizing how intentional they were meant to shape the space around themselves. That was a case where you would see a lot of those strange concrete overhangs used and subconsciously appreciated by students throughout the day. I don't think a lot of students realized those spaces were intentionally designed for just that usage.

Hang on - Brutalism didn't allow literal facades, but I don't think anyone was claiming that.

The specific complaint is that Brutalism is utterly dependent on reinforced concrete. The outer faces are largely cladding and support for the rebar which makes the entire structure viable; concrete alone has terrible tensile strength, and so can't possibly support high-tension structures like Boston City Hall.

That's not just a mechanical observation; it's a major source of criticism for Brutalist works. Rebar ages terribly. Its lifespan is perhaps 10-20% that of pure concrete, and the Brutalist style actively shortens that range. The lack of paint and cladding enables the moisture damage that destroys rebar; concrete is not actually impermeable. (It also tends to create unsightly stains due to rust.) Brutalist buildings need repair quickly, and tend to fail in particularly unpleasant ways - repair is expensive and urgent once decay starts.

I agree that extensions and elevated structures can add value. I'm told Boston City Hall's overhangs and plaza produced a welcoming sitting area for many years. But at the same time, it's currently a foreboding stretch of wasted space in the heart of the city. I don't know how much of that is a changing relationship with political institutions (City Hall is less 'local' and more 'political' today) and how much is the changing role of public space, but it does leave a lot of Brutalist works failing at their original goals.

It's also a stretch to claim that reinforced concrete is even a figurative façade: it's not just concrete over steel beams as rebar alone isn't structurally sound enough either without the concrete. In that way it is considered an "authentic" building material in Brutalism theory and not a facade.

Absolutely, reinforced concrete is not a recommended structural design tool in modern thinking, but some of that is learning lessons from mistakes Brutalists made, so it's hard to fault some of the over-reliance on reinforced concrete.

Just because a lot of Brutalist works seem to be failing at their original goals with at least a couple decades of hindsight, doesn't mean it wasn't worth exploring those ideals and goals. There's a lot Brutalism has taught us/can teach us about building materials, and the public's ever-changing relationship with civic spaces, and even what the "usefulness" of "ugly" buildings can sometimes be.

Note also that the term brutalism comes from the french term for "raw", as it referred to the method of building with raw concrete, "béton brut" espoused by Le Corbusier. It does not mean purposely ugly, this is a misinterpretation.

And if we're thinking in terms of straightforward, obvious functional design elements and no misdirection or ornament, sites like this one and Craigslist score high on the brut scale.

Or brutalist architecture claims to be functional, but is sometimes averse to actual functions, because buildings are considered pieces of art.

Source: experiences trying to keep computer science classes in a university building designed by famous functionalist architect Alvar Aalto (university now named after him).

At the risk of pulling a No True Scotsman, it seems to me that those buildings (like this website) were inspired by the aesthetics of Brutalism instead of the actual point of the movement.

Ie, they tried to make buildings that looked Brutalist, instead of trying to design them to be functional and eschewing (or not paying as much attention to) aesthetics, which (in my uninformed opinion) is what Brutalism, as a movement, was about.

The problem here is that even when building is "functional", the needs of the functions change. If the architect does not allow it, or if the building is not well adaptable, the "functionality" becomes "non-functionality".

In my case it was that the architect (who worked in early 1960's) could foresee classrooms with tables, but could not foresee that the classroom tables would have computers connected to a network (as they had in 1980's).

This is a crucial point. I'm told Brutalism was fairly functional when it came into existence; much of it certainly isn't any more.

Building structures with exposed structural materials means there's no space for hidden infrastructure like cabling and power points. Building structures out of concrete in particular is antithetical to modern technology - no one could have seen WiFi coming, but it's a major hurdle in all-concrete structures.

The shift to power outlets and internet connectivity is a major aspect of usability; it's a shame that so much of Brutalism is in colleges and transit spaces where people urgently want those things.

Ah, I hadn't considered that, thank you.

> Brutalist architecture is functional first (but often beautiful, too).

In regards to that, I have trouble considering a website that needs JavaScript to display plain images truly Brutalist in spirit.

> Brutalist architecture is functional first (but often beautiful, too).

Brutalism was at its core an ideological movement, its purpose to create buildings for the masses in the new socialist utopias. As such, it often explicitly rejected aesthetics as decadence, and sought directly to shock the bourgeoise.

Also, being ideological and utopian, its purported functionality was directed at utopian people, not actual people, which explains why these building often don't, in fact, feel all that functional. One clear shortcoming is that ugliness breed ugliness -- people are much more likely to take care of, and in general behave well, in a pretty environment than in an ugly one, aka. the broken window theory.

Functional yet beautiful in a clean, hard-line way makes me think of Craigslist. Exceptionally functional, blocky, information-dense, minimal styling...

Also, some NSFW images on that brutalist website gallery.

In fairness, I think anything called "brutalist ______" will be more of an analogy than anything. The core of brutalist architecture materials. Brut means concrete. A lot of the abstract/philosphical concepts relate mostly to the material. Brutalism aften aims to be "true" to the concrete. Don't make it look like bricks or wood. Take advantage of its unique abilities to produce different shapes.

You can mimick the look of brutalist architecture and make things look like concrete. But then, you're going explicitely against the "philosphy" by default: don't pretend you're not using concrete.

You can mimic/adopt the philosophy, but then it will not look like brutalism.

>The core of brutalist architecture materials. Brut means concrete.

It means "raw" / unrefined / untreated -- so something like "just the basics" / "rough and ready".

Concrete is "beton" and "beton brut" is one type of concrete.

my bad

Brut un brutalism actually means "raw" (from béton brut - raw concrete). The idea is mainly to use materials as they are, without paint or polish. An equivalent for a website would be to not use css... maybe.

So... Are bash and vim Brutalist? Have we finally gone full circle?

Yeah, I think vim is more like Brutalism than 90% of the examples in the gallery.

Have you seen Vice News on HBO. I'd say this is an example of this style that, no joke, works very well and is attractive.

Vice has very good designers across the board, IMHO. Their aesthetic is very distinctive, bold, modern, and clean, and it runs all through their properties (from TV, web, festivals, etc.). They're an impressive hybrid of a classic media company and tech savvy modern media company.

I don't know if they're actually doing well as a business, but I like their style.

The Brutalists kind of screwed themselves by embracing that name. It's essentially a mistranslation; the original French term was beton brut, "raw concrete", so "raw" would make more sense than "brutal".

wiki: >The term originates from the French word for "raw", as Le Corbusier described his choice of material béton brut, raw concrete.

I personally consider this style applies to any building without proper function; no windows, open-plan offices...

Well, then you're basically just mis-using the term.

Brutalist comes from 'raw', not from 'brutal'. Brutalist buildings have windows. And I've yet to see a brutalist open-plan office.

The monospaced serifed fonts used in these sites strike me as very not brutal. From a typographic perspective, something like Arial is a lot more raw/basic/clean/simple than Courier New.

news.ycombinator.com is in the examples, ha!

And, it's one of the few examples I would be comfortable comparing to Brutalist architecture (though I have a vague feeling that pg is not really a fan of Brutalism, though I can't think of where I got that idea from, as I don't think he's ever spoken specifically about it).

How is a wall that scrapes you if you brush against it functional?

It teaches you not to touch the walls! One hardly fondles the paintings in the Louvre, after all. And aren't the works of architects indeed just as much works of art, with human habitation an incidental annoyance to be catered to as sparingly as possible, and never in ways that compromise the shining vision?

and the word "Brutalism" originally referred to the material, béton brut (poured concrete), not a philosophy of being brutal.

Ironically enough, WaPo has an entire article about the brutalist trend in web-design, and the very first example they give is Hacker News.


Pretty sure HN is brutalism (along with CL, and possible even google). I don't imagine a designer was hired at all for the process.

It's funny - I accept HN as brutalism, but not poor design. (Though I doubt a designer was hired.)

The color scheme at HN is superb for a website. #FFFFFF on #000000 is painful to look at, everyone knows that. But most sites have solved the problem with grey-on-white, or even grey-on-grey. It's hard to anyone to read and terrible for those with impaired vision. HN chose solid black on a darkened, but distinctively shaded background. That alone has my lasting gratitude.

pg closes his laptop as a single tear wets his cheek

I like brutalist websites because they remind me of those weird passion projects you find on the web from time to time ...

Netochka Nezvanova [1]

Ted's Caving Page, with the story of his discovery in a local cave [2]

TempleOS [3]

Jon Bois' Future of Football [4]

They have the vibe of one person with a keyboard and a strange dream, and that's what I love about the web.

I feel weird about a UX design shop critiquing this aesthetic, because they're such different worlds, and I don't want the professionalized web shutting down the personal web. But maybe that's the point: web brutalism is a cool, freeing thing in projects that really are personal, but risks becoming selfish or self-indulgent when applied to the wrong project.

[1] http://web.archive.org/web/20121023110850/http://www.salon.c... [2] http://www.angelfire.com/trek/caver/page1.html [3] http://www.templeos.org/ [4] https://www.sbnation.com/a/17776-football

TempleOS is one of the strangest projects I've ever seen, and the creator is likely a schizophrenic, but I'm incredibly impressed that he managed to make what he did all on his own. I can't claim to have made a compiler from scratch while on the run from my own hallucinations

He is schizophrenic.

He used to run around on HN but he gets banned pretty quickly apparently. He might pop in.

Ah, Netochka Nezvonova. I remember being supremely attracted to her in high school. By all accounts, she was either insane or just a troll, but there was something alluring about her, like the article mentioned.

A large part of why I ended up where I did in life has to do with that early-2000s internet culture. I never realized how seeing sites like these could bring so much nostalgia.

> either insane or just a troll

I think "artist collective with various goals among the members" might be closest? No idea how accurate it is, but there's some interesting speculation about various people behind the NN persona in the Wikipedia talk page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Netochka_Nezvanova_(autho...

You're absolutely right. I meant to say "a bunch of trolls" but wasn't paying attention. I just meant that if she _was_ a real person, and she certainly felt like it to high school me, she was exciting and not just a little intriguing.

Wow, these are great. Especially Ted's Caving Page. It's too bad these sorts of websites are mostly gone...

Heh, it took me a while to figure out that this class of design was called "brutalist" by the design folk. I had seen such designs before and wanted to make a similar themed webpage for my side project. I was frantically searching the web for "minimalist design", "black and white design", "newspaper/magazine like web design" etc.

Web link for those interested https://discoverdev.io

Your site seems like a good example of the point of 'brutalist' web design. People seem to be getting hung up on brutalist architecture having shortcomings but in the discussions I've seen around 'brutalist' web design the focus seems to be on getting rid of the pointless background images/videos, the mountains of useless JS, and having a simpler web page that is clean, readable, very fast to load, and gets to the point.

Yeah! Made sure my page has zero JS. Don't add what you don't need :)

I liked the naming of the menu links to match the url scheme. It gives a lovely feel of confidence that I understand the function and structure of the site simply from its appearance. That feels true to the Brutalist spirit manifested in web design.

However... I felt let down that you compromised the honesty of the design with "/contact-us" actually being a mailto. You took a piece of wood and painted it to look like concrete obscuring its real identity and function for the sake of decorative symmetry.

Great work. Big fan of no-bullshit designs. I really wish websites (and apps!) focused on the content more. HN, Reddit (to an extent), etc are perfect.

Thanks for the appreciation!

Seriously great work. That site is beautiful, fast, responsive, and the HTML is extremely readable.

Are you a designer? If not thumbs up. It's pretty good.

Haha, no not at all! In fact this is my first attempt at web development. Glad you liked it :)

What comes after brutalism in web design? romanticism? new-sincerity? Button labels like "I would appreciate it if you clicked me because I generate ad revenue".

Maybe we will trend back to the days when everything had horizontal rules and center alignment. I can't wait!

Postpostmaterial and the death of the web designer.

If history is any guide, expect a rejection and push against. Possibly with the self referential sign of a sign[1]. Heck... We are already almost there with humourous memes that reference another meme.

If anything, Vapor Wave and the retro Geocities-esque show signs of such a pushback.

[1] Baudrillard

> "I would appreciate it if you clicked me because I generate ad revenue"

This is very likely.

Years ago I had a website hosted on Altervista. They allowed ads from their network, but their ToS explicitly forbade adding text to your page that encouraged readers to click on ads.

Does Google have this too in their ToS?

Yea it explicitly says "Publishers may not ask others to click their ads" along with about 20 other related clauses.

Geocities 2.0

I think Vaporwave style websites are the spiritual successor to Geocities design. I'm a big fan. https://edz.neocities.org/


Reddit or HN are best examples of Brutalism.


1) I have no clue who responded to me

2) I cannot even delete my comments while Paul Graham shouts about privacy from rooftops

HN is not even functional, let alone bruatalist. And the reason is simple- they will be shredded down because they know it's easy to say things than to do things.

I have no idea what you're saying.

You're arguing that because it is simply designed it's not brutalist? The whole definition of brutalism is minimal distraction/complexity.

The least brutalist thing you could do would be notifications popping up in the lower right every time somebody responds to you, with a picture, their karma, etc.

Deleting comments again, would be anti-brutalist.

Aside - When I think of the most successful public forum for non-stupid discussion on the internet I think HN (unless you count wikipedia). We should ask ourselves what about this site (or was it the core audience) managed to create the impossible -- intelligent discussions on the internet.

You can easily see who responded to you by looking at your comments under your profile.

I can delete my comments... not sure why you wouldn't be able to.

I think HN is about as perfect a site for its purpose as I can think of. It's fast. It's fast on mobile. It's fast. It has really consistently interesting links. It has informed conversations that don't generally deteriorate into childish flamewars. It's hella fast.

You actually can't delete your comments after an hour or so. Try going back through your profile and deleting any old comment.

And i kinda like it for it. Over at Reddit i have seen way too many that pop in, make some kind of comment, and then nuke either the comment or the whole account after a short while.

Likewise, I hate googling for a discussion or review and finding a thread half filled with "This user has deleted their comments with a greasemonkey script..."

Besides, after an hour or so your comment is definitely already in Google and any HN crawlers, and probably on archive.org shortly after that.

It's interesting how the site really reminds me of the GUI design of late 80s early 90s professional software.




> It's interesting how the site really reminds me of the GUI design of late 80s

Brutalism in America seemed to have begun its decline in the late 80s early 90s as well.

Not sure if this was intended by the creator but its an interesting parallel!

Also, the Brutalist resurgence is interesting. Its not just with the web, I see plenty of kickstarter projects and other sellers peddling brutalist artifacts.

I kinda recall running into a comment from a prominent game dev somewhere, manybe over at Filfre.net, talking about game development rebooting itself from the ground up every time new hardware capabilities came available.

Something about how each time new video hardware came available, the first few years of games would be more elaborate tech demos than actual deep games.

I wonder if something like that can be applied to computing in general. Just look at how we now throw the GPU at everything, because we can, rather than stop to ask if we should.

The Linux GUI for example is still riding the ripples of the wobbly windows and spinning cube that was Compiz. It may have looked good, but was as useful as wings on an elephant.

I don't understand the need for this. Material Design is the pinnacle of human creation. Everything should be Material Design forever.

> pinnacle of human creation

That's wangernumb!

Brutalism is meant to expose the function in a "brute" way, not necessarily to hurt the eye (yet it does not care). Bad user design might be brutal, but not Brutalism.

I think "UX/WEB brutalism" should be based on the minimalism that has spread through the western style web, then taking away some of the beautifying/graphical elements, yet adding "brutally clear" navigation/interaction elements (and not hiding them in a hamburger menu, for example). It should be a pure focus on what is presented (from a content perspective) and how you can use it. Any form of beauty for beauty's sake (like nice background pictures, too much graphics, fancy effects...) should be avoided.

You can see brutalism in a lot of late modernist graphic design, which to me is quite ironic seen as it is usually applied to architecture to be function first rather than "lets just make this look brutal" - as with everything this comes down to the audience.

Brutalism among graphic design is (from my perspective) mainly targeted at the graphic design elite although when used digitally is targeted at the same as well as those who can see past the prettiness to achieve what they are looking to without any issues.

what goe around comes around i guess. Myspace i feel was the epitome of ths so-called "brutalism". worked wonders for them in terms of product differentiation at a time when the first semblemnce of coherent UX design standards were appearing on the web.

its great for fringe underground magazines, gamers, music aficionados, and artists of all kinds.

personally i hope it trends as the general web has become mind numbingly boring / predictable as fuk.

This sums it up perfectly: "framework for designing brutalist experiences that your design peers will love".

This style is made for other designers, not users. I often hit the back button because besides Bloomberg—after they tweaked it to be less extreme—brutalist websites are absolutely unusable and a nightmare to use. Also, they just seem broken and that reflect bad on the company.

Designers should design for users, not themselves.

It's much better than the accessibility problems (animation, color) that are fundamentally baked into ideas like Material Design.

I adore UX brutalism.

It's a weird paradox that I enjoy design, but at the same time feel that MOST (caps necessary here) of them are actually faff and pretentious. I keep coming back to brutalist style, as the one I feel the least uncomfortable with, and I'm so glad it's now officially recognised.

(Or maybe give it two years before I start complaining again.)

What was that saying about design again. That it is done not when nothing more can be added, but when nothing more can be taken away?

Design is also about self-expression of the designer, and solving problems by way of manufacturing experiences. Sometimes the two conflict at the cost of the other though.

Most of the websites labeled as "brutalist" are actually extremely over designed and are made by very good graphic designers. They are "elite" bored/over with mainstream view of what is currently considered pretty and they try to push it further. It's about destroying conservative views.

It's like some sort of experimental technology. Design like this is needed because thats how inovation and new ideas come back to mainstream design. So it is not exactly for mainstream audience but for the second wave of designers liking those unusual ideas, taking pieces of it and putting it back into mainstream.

I guess it's same process as in music or in computer sciences.

The fact that for past few years this kind of design started to be popular among the "elite" means that in next few years we might start to see more websites like reddit and craigslist :)

UX and UI brutalism meets in MetroUI/ModernUI of Win8/10, ugly as hell color schemes and designs. It reminds me of ugly brutalism/"modern architecture" that was so common in 1960s (prefab buildings).

The Win3x/9x/XP/Vista/7, iOS6 & current macOS/iOS, Android 5+ UI and UX are so nice.

Way better than material

Funny. I just ran across the Brutalist Framework the other day http://www.brutalistframework.com/ I still can't tell if it is a joke or not.

It's either a joke or a gross misunderstanding of Brutalism. I mean, it uses JQuery, for crying out loud. That's not a slight against JQuery, per se, just saying that "Brutalism" would imply a use of raw materials in construction. To extend the metaphor, using JQuery would be like using wood over the bare concrete of a building to make things "better" for the user.

I'm inclined to think joke too because although a lot of people thing brutalist architecture is ugly, it is a specific type of ugly and this doesn't seem to fit. I'm not an expert though.

On the other hand there does seem to be a framework you can download which seems like a lot of work for a joke.

This is just plain bad. I think it is a great idea. It is a shame it's so badly done.

Reminds me of a website that seems in this aesthetic, though I would categorize it as more "David Lynch-esque": http://northernground.com/

If only brutalism would have confined itself to website design, I would be satisfied.

After a career of developing MVPs, this really clicks with me on a deep level. This site isn't it though. I do think websites and apps need to be built really fast and easily, but they still have to look better.

I liked how the site gave me the feeling that it is like a learn startup type method of design.

I signed up for the newsletter to just see, and plenty of the previous content they make available seems intriguing.

The OP assimilates raw aesthetics with neglecting design.

Brutalism is as careful as design can be, only with as little aesthetic tricks as possible.

> The secret to great brutalist UX is contrast.

Said on a page with dark grey text on a light grey background.

"UX brutalism is a relatively new concept, and we don't expect it to last too long."

That website had 18 JS warnings on load :/ Isn't it supposed to be highly functional?

If more sites looked like this we probably wouldn't need amp.

Would you say https://www.technologyreview.com/ is brutalist design?

If so, I'd say it's one of my favourite brutalist websites!

>The brutalist persona document aggregates all the assumptions you have about your users into a single place.

This can't be serious right? Assumptions? What about data & research?

> Collecting user feedback as early as possible is crucial to finding flaws in your users.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that there is a possibility that it isn't serious.

This reminds me of Butt magazines aesthetic

some (all?) of it isn't brutalism, it seems postmodernist.

It would be nice if they used CSS for all the examples

Regarding brutalism: I think Prince Charles said it best, "You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe. When it knocked down our buildings, it didn't replace them with anything more offensive than rubble."

I can't think of anything I hate more.

Making things ugly on purpose and calling it a feature.

Trying to make things pretty and slick, but adding 20x to page weight and making the page nearly unusable. That's worse.

Nuclear weapons?


Climate change killing society as we know it?

I don't think you've seen the brutalist stuff.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2018

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact