Design Trends: Brutalism


I read somewhere recently that the next emerging trend in web design is shaping up to be brutalism. I don’t remember where first I read this, only that I read it. For me, this is an exciting prospect; as a big fan of brutalism in architecture (I attended a Welsh high school called Ysgol Uwchradd Argoed, famed for its post-industrial/minimalist aesthetic, which is probably why this style of architecture exerts so much gravity upon me), I cannot wait to see how this design style translates to web, and how functionality and interactivity are incorporated.

My minimalist high school

HubSpot’s beautifully written article, ‘A Look Back at 20+ Years of Website Design‘ discusses the various eras of web design and how they evolved given their technological constraints. Looking particularly at the sections, Antiquity, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance and The Enlightenment, it’s evident that design trends have become more complex and sophisticated over time, tech-permitting, with us all infatuated with how insanely cool we can make our websites using concepts such as hover statesvideo integrationparallax and interactions 2.0.

Antiquity & The Middle Ages

The Renaissance & The Enlightenment

Current Design Trends: Minimalism

There is an incredibly definite and unwavering fashion in current web design, of slick, bold and impactful aesthetics. Think variations on Century Gothic and Arial Black; emboldened, sans serif fonts with massive legibility and an extroverted presence amongst their contexts. This has undoubtedly been influenced by technological advancement when it comes to development and code-writing, driven by massive leaps forward in the functionality of sites and apps and the need to simplify these sophisticated functions with easily interpreted UIs.

Facebook inarguably pioneered a whole new age of social platform and, alongside other giants such as Twitter, began shaping web trends; they were the standard (Check out this blog from Shareaholic showcasing Facebook’s evolution through the years). They were, and still are, the most viewed websites in the world. With cognitive ease in mind, it makes perfect sense that the most familiar and habitual aesthetic styles in web design became the driving forces of future trends. Further influencers in this field are the indelible Apple and Microsoft, with the former abandoning gradient-rich, skeumorphic, 3D app icon design in both their iOS and OSX operating systems for flat and minimal icons and the latter updating their user interface to make use of flat, tessellating tiles throughout.

Two great examples of high-trading and non-social companies subscribing to the contemporary minimal design ethos are Adidas and Trainline. Not only have the two of these companies integrated modern design facets into their websites, but also into their branding. Granted, Adidas were a little ahead of the curve with this, having implemented a bold sans serif font into their branding as early as 1972, albeit much less prominent in their marketing. Their typeface currently sits somewhere between Lewis Wilson‘s Adi Sans Font and ITC‘s Avant Garde Gothic.

Adidas brand assets

Trainline brand assets

Looking more holistically at the cycle of trends in web design, it generally looks a little like this:

> New trend emerges
> Trend is accepted and becomes industry standard
> Agencies, brands & websites endeavour to keep up with trend
> Trend  ages  & becomes stale in eyes of consumer
> Agencies, brands & websites endeavour to stand out from old trend
> New Trend Emerges
> Repeat

I sought a discussion with our design team to gather their thoughts and further understand the driving forces behind changing trends. I learned just how large a part commercial viability, market value and replicability play in this, with trends themselves becoming self-perpetuating in popularity due to their respective facets:

[Jake] “Hey! I read a thing a while ago about how brutalism is the next trend in web design. Is that something you would agree with? And do you have any comments on that? Id really like to cover it in some content and branding/design is dfinitely somethign I’d like to consult you on before I do!”

[Sarah] “Yeah, it does seem to be around – but I’d say, it is either quite sector-specific (fashion, young retailers?) or a style the younger designers/devs are getting into. I’ve not had a chance to do anything like this where the brief is ‘go for it – we want something really different visually’. One thing I’ve definitely noticed is that the web-safe colours are back, really brash and slightly painful on the eye. Even our new colour palette for Round is quite like this intentionally – haha!

[Sarah] I think sites now all tend to look very clean and spacey and maybe that has been led by many designers creating ‘themes’ to sell as templates – one glove fits all. That look is so easy to use and is quite recyclable and safe, sophisticated even, but it is getting boring.”

“We’ve noticed this kind of cut-out shape popping up a lot recently which I really like”

Upcoming Design Trend: Brutalism

In their article, ‘Brutalism: A New Trend In Web Design‘, Design Shack describe brutalism as ‘minimalism on steroids’, which I see as incredibly accurate and aptly contradictory. As mentioned, is a design style which evolved in post-modern architecture and was all but synonymous with dull, colourless, concrete builds. Severe and angular geometric lines punctuate building profiles and ominous, looming scale is used to intimidate subjects of the design. Brutalism in web design takes a great many cues from architectural brutalism, but also differs slightly due to contextual constraints.

Credit: CNN and Domus respectively

By definition and intention it is design that stands out. It doesn’t complement its surroundings or attempt to blend in; it is the opposite of a wallflower. In combination with the inherent need to stand out amongst a sea of sameness, this makes for some LOUD design. Take the three-dimensional, protrusive shapes of architectural brutalism and throw in brash, websafe colour and garish, CAD reminiscent outlining and you’re almost there. Imagine design features as non-cohesive as you can, only designed in such a way that it draws attention and focus to content. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: content is king. Web design trends agree with me. Flat design has been found to result in 22% reduction in pace-of-consumption for users, and so out with the flat, in with some depth.

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our article on Creating and Curating High Value Content!

    Creating High Value Content: Part 1               Curating High Value Content: Part 2

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the notion that the social media behemoths and hardware/software giants will, overnight, adopt a brutalist aesthetic. I do, however, believe that they will adopt facets of the style; particularly anything which may further compliment and highlight content. I’m also a believer that web design agencies are beginning to have more autonomy in of themselves when it comes to designing their own sites and those of their more progressive and experimental clients. This will inevitably lead to an echoing of styles from agency sites to those of the majority of their clients; whether this results in multiple aesthetics trending harmoniously or in something of an amalgamated, hybrid style we have yet to see. Either way it’s exciting to see the hands and minds of designers and developers being allowed to create more liberally and indiscriminately.

After 2 years (far too long in our eyes!), we at Round Creative have redesigned and rebuilt our website, which we intend to launch Tuesday 23rd January 2018. We’ve done this taking cues from some of the defining aspects of brutalism, such as brash colour and defined geometry, whilst celebrating our history of aesthetically soothing and simple-to-consume minimalism. This has been undertaken with two main considerations. The first of which is that our brand is our lifeblood. It must continue to be represented by the websites we build and the brands we create and so we wanted to avoid a site so far removed from what makes us, us, that it would be unrecognisable. Aside from design aesthetic, trends are also ever-evolving when it comes to functionality and features. Here’s a fab article from TheeDesign detailing what to look out for in future web design, both stylistically and functionally.

Here’s our brutal new 404 error gif.


Jake Harding

Head of New Business
LinkedIn profile


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