Even though I kinda dislike the 'fuck you and your usability' aspects of the 'brutalism' trend, I agree with the sentiment of this article. It's good to let the pendulum swing the other way every so often, so that things don't get so staid and homogenized. It's good to challenge the status quo.
That said, it's better in software than in architecture. I know there are defenders, but most brutalist architecture looks like dystopian prisons. Software can change much more easily than a building can when tastes change.
I have to disagree with you on the brutalist architecture point - "dystopian prison" is not at all the sentiment I get from these buildings. If you're interested in architecture, here's a great example of what I mean https://vimeo.com/107468714
I like your example, but I think it's an exception to the rule.
A lot of the romanticization of brutalism happens when you really accentuate the angles, lighting, etc of a building. Brutalism has a lot to do with space, simple lines, an almost austereness in its pragmatism and lack of ornamentation. If you look for beauty, you can find it.
I can't speak for everyone, but my immediate feelings upon seeing brutalist architecture are generally harshness and alienation. It doesn't feel like it is for people. It almost challenges you, saying "fuck you, I dare you to see the good in this".
I agree with this. Whatever the building opposite Aldgate east station in London is, is one of the most depressing things to look at at the start of the day.
This is my thought exactly. It seems to come in cycles, but every so often designers notice how far to one side design has gone towards usability and away from "art" and they suddenly feel like they aren't creative people anymore. But for me it's such a selfish spin on why you're designing, because ultimately your main goal should always be to help the user to accomplish their task, and that really shouldn't be compromised just because a designer wants to try some new layout or pattern that essentially discriminates against users who aren't super savvy and can't pick up quickly on things that aren't standard and discoverable. And then there's accessibility, which doesn't get a mention in this article. What you don't see in a lot of these "outside of the box" designs is a framework that doesn't support screen readers or alternative navigation methods in a logical manner because the markup has to be non-standard to match the non-standard layout, making the experiences completely unusable for people with different levels of access.
That's a good point:
every so often designers notice how far to one side design has gone towards usability and away from "art" and they suddenly feel like they aren't creative people anymore
There's a ton of truth to that. We tend to box ourselves in over time with usability, and eventually want to break free.
I agree with you that as designers we're solving problems, but as people with ideally a sensitivity to the beauty in things and a desire to be creative, I empathize with wanting to push the envelope and experiment. You tend to see more experimental work the closer you get to websites around more 'pure' art. Things like music especially. The hardest part about being a designer in my experience is managing the tension between pragmatism and practicality and creativity/art.
When was the last time you were amazed by the slick UI of the app you're using? For me, it's probably when iOS 7 first came out, but then I stopped noticing the interface very soon when I'm using the phone daily.
Think about physical products that are crucial for your morning. I can almost finish all my morning routine with my eyes closed. Because I'm so familiar with the environment, the placement of things, how they work etc, and there's not a time I stopped and look at my toothbrush and say,"OMG look at the contour of the handle, sexy toothbrush!" Physical products like these should be invisibly useful, so do digital ones.
Good products make you focus on the content and the experience, not distracting you by making things different for the sake of it. Perhaps some delightful micro interactions here and there, sure, but we have developed familiar UI/UX patterns through the years, why reinvent the wheel? I just want to look at your content, don't make me learn your new fancy minimal gesture based navigation(iPhone X I'm talking about you)
For websites though, we have more space to play with, it's okay to have bold imageries and quirky typography, since we have lot of space to accommodate with. I imagine it'll be an eyesore if I have to read the outline in my phone everyday. Just stop screaming at me with your colors please.
TL;DR - I think for mobile products, it's important to make it look distinctive enough to visually attract people, but not to a point that you need a manual for your users. Websites are different things.
A morning routine with my eyes shut is not what I strive for. I think my philosophy on usability is almost cerimonial: yes there is a pragmatical aspect to all those interactions, and getting stuff done is really important - but - it's not just the end that matters to me. It's also the path I took to get there, and there's a visual and sensorial aspect to it that should provide some level of pleasure in my interactions.
That being said, enjoying the things I do because of how I do them will ultimately end up being a very important metric on the long run, because that's what keeps me coming back - not just the "I have to", the "I want to" is crucial too (also, consider that a lot of digital products people use are not products they truly need, they just like them).
This could be just me and the way I see life, but if you can layer these principles of on top of excellent usability, everybody wins.
Physical products like these should be invisibly useful, so do digital ones.
Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: "The best shoe is the one you don't notice."
I’ve seen many redesign projects over the last 5 years that have been big on minimalism and design trends, but completely fail to be any better than what replaced it. The worse culprits are the ones that offer almost the same UX, but with just bigger fonts and more whitespace. I know there are more than a few well-designed apps from the 90s that if they were release today would be accused of being brutalist, and work just as well.
This article is great – yes not everything should be brutalist, but not everything should be Material Design either. The web can be anything, so let it be. This reaction was going to happen, I think most designers could have seen this coming – so I say embrace it and enjoy it.
Have you ever visited an actual brutalist building? They were often erected as a counter measure to hippy revolution the government was worried about in the 60s and 70s (visit University of Wisconsin at Madison for some great examples of these buildings, btw. They're hilarious).
Brutalism was often anti-usability applied to architecture. I take the point of this article—lets break away from homogenized design.
A lot of the examples follow a standardized grid and just use high-contrast or clashing colours to emphasize individuality. They have an underlying reasoning to them that provides a scaffolding for useful web design. Maybe we could call this usable brutalism?
I don't think Brutalism was anti-usability applied to architecture. From my understanding (which could very well be wrong cause I don't know a whole heap about it) it was more absolute function at the expense of aesthetics, applied to building and architecture. Because funds were super tight after the war and lots of buildings had been destroyed, buildings were being rebuilt in ultra efficient but visually dire ways.
Many brutalist buildings I’ve visited had disoriented layouts, staircases and false entrances that could only access certain floors of a building done intentionally as a precaution against a 70s Vietnam fueled student revolution.
EDIT: Apparently this isn't necessarily true and is widely debated. I find it hard to believe these buildings weren't intentionally designed to be confusing, but maybe I'm looking at it from the perspective of usability too much, however.
Great article - it does make me wonder though, how would you make a brutalist web or app design without that being a copy of a copy - do you have to push things to an absolute extreme juxtaposition of the usual way of doing things.
I think, as a movement, brutalism actually gives you a lot of space to explore and not use the same patterns as everyone else.
But hey, I used brutalism as one of probably many other ways there are to escape from the repetitive designs currently being done. That was my point. At least right now, brutalism is probably the most visible one, or?
Brutalism in architecture was for purely for the architects who designed them. The style a was a complete failure with users (tenants). If the problem solved is "don't be boring" who's asking for this particular solution? There's a reason Dropbox's actual product interface will never align with their marketing sites.