Brutalism In Design: A Trend That Everyone’s Talking About

Brutalism has been the latest craze both in the world of interior design and graphic design. But what is brutalism in design? How can you incorporate this unique visual style into your brand’s marketing design? Let’s find out. 

First things first, brutalism is not the conventional design style that we are used to. In fact, in the times when the style was introduced, the world was progressing towards modernism and aesthetics. But brutalism was about taking a step back. It was about stripped-down simplicity that makes a design surprisingly appealing. 

Brutalism has been widely discussed because it goes against the widely-accepted conventions of design. Brutalism in design is about prioritizing function over form. So, if you think this style is just about bare concrete structures think again. 

There’s more to brutalism in design when you dig deeper. The more you understand the style, the more you’ll realize that this is a style for everyone who loves to color outside the lines and go with an authentic image for their brand. 

However, we cannot ignore the fact that some unconventional trends like Brutalism look good on paper. They look good in open-ended artistic design projects. But when it comes to using them in a more goal-focused application like a brand’s marketing design, there’s the question of relevance. 

If this sounds relatable to you and if you have been considering exploring Brutalism in design for your brand but don’t know where to start, you are in the right place. 

What is Brutalism – a quick backstory 

To be able to efficiently use a particular design style, knowing its backstory helps. Because then you know the context of introducing the style and its effect on the onlookers. So, let’s take a quick peek into the backstory behind Brutalism in design. 

Brutalism was not introduced as an art movement like most other design styles. In the world of architecture, brutalism became a talked-about concept in the 1950s. Back then it referred to the style of exposed concrete. It roughly meant a raw and rugged style. 

The style was introduced in the post-World War II era in the United Kingdom. This style came as a fresh new change from the emerging modernism which stood as a reminder of machines. The minimalistic approach and the authenticity of brutalism made it appear more human, something that people were craving in the post-war times. 

Unité d’Habitation, Marseille by Le Corbusier – a popular Brutalist building 

While the term “brutalism” might sound a bit hard, at the crux of it, this visual style is meant to evoke strong feelings and create visual memorability. Because when you look at brutalist designs, the structure is very clear and you know what the design is made of and how each element is used in the design. This straightforward implementation of an idea is the specialty of brutalism.

Well, there’s one section of critics that find brutalism to be “ugly” or even “monstrous”. So much so that there have been petitions and plans to demolish some brutalist buildings, like the iconic Preston Bus Station, for example. 

Now if you have to extend these ideas to graphic design, brutalism is about going with clear and more functional designs that are minimalist and straightforward. These bold designs clearly define the roles of each design element and are easier to understand. 

Brutalism in design vs anti-design 

There are many facets of brutalism. Therefore, it is often confused and compared with a variety of other visual styles, anti-design being one. 

Because of the unconventional approach it has, brutalism is often confused with anti-design. But the two are based on very different philosophies. There’s no denying that brutalism and anti-design are hard to discern. Place two posters designed in these two styles next to each other, and at the first glance, they might both appear somewhat similar in terms of their approach. 

However, the truth is that they are both very different styles. Anti-design was a design movement introduced in the 1960s in Italy. Anti-design does not just bend the rules of design but shatters them. You see contradicting color palettes, visibly misaligned elements, typography that’s sometimes not legible, and an overall lack of order or layout whatsoever. 

Brutalism, on the other hand, aims at keeping everything simple. You won’t find fancy color palettes or ornate fonts. Instead, there’s a focus on bold typography that doesn’t necessarily carry an aesthetic appeal. While brutalism is about simplicity, anti-design leans more toward the “complex” side. 

Another notable difference between brutalism and anti-design is the fact that the latter is often used to indicate counter-cultural ideas. There is a sense of opposition. In other words, anti-design feels like a rebel but brutalism feels old school and crude in many ways. 

Minimalism vs brutalism in design 

Another confusion that pops up is the similarity in the thought process behind minimalism and brutalism. 

Minimalism aims at creating a sleek aesthetic. But the lack of focus on aesthetics is one thing that sets brutalism apart. Minimalistic designs can use colorful palettes, and ornate and sophisticated fonts to add a touch of luxury or modernism to the design. On the other hand, brutalism prioritizes more design elements that look raw. 

It’s not that brutalism skips decorative elements altogether. Just that, they use them in a more utilitarian fashion. If you look closely at any brutalist design you’ll notice that even the accents used have a strong role to play. 

For example, the below website incorporates some aspects of brutalism. The aesthetic aspects like colors are used mainly to highlight specific sections. In other words, they have a clearly defined role to play and are not added merely for the looks. Notice the use of solid white background which is also quite common in brutalism. Minimalism, however, can use a variety of background patterns as long as they do not cause any clutter. 

The above website has minimal elements but would you say it visually connects with the Apple website? Probably not. Because the Apple website is an example of minimalism, elegance, and modernism but the above site better fits the description of brutalism. 

The rough unpolished look of brutalism in design is perhaps one of the things that makes this style a difficult one to work with. Not all brands can pull off a brutalist aesthetic in their branding or advertising. However, minimalism is not a difficult style to use. There’s an elegance about minimalism that makes it versatile and suitable for most brands and industries. 

Achieving brutalism in design – 5 easy tips 

So, having understood the basics of brutalism in design, let’s talk about ways to achieve brutalism in graphic design. 

Brand relevance 

The first and foremost aspect of adopting trends and art styles like brutalism is checking their relevance to your brand. A brand’s marketing and branding designs help create the brand’s identity. 

Consider the unapologetically raw style of brutalism. Does that define your brand’s style? Or does your brand have a more conventional approach? If it’s the latter, then brutalism in design is not for your brand. 

If you think brutalism works for your brand or for specific campaigns from your brand, then you can achieve the effect by tweaking a few design aspects. 

Keep it simple 

When it comes to brutalism in design, simplicity is a trait you simply cannot ignore. This goes back to the original idea of brutalism in architecture. 

In fact, the term itself comes from the French word “brut” which translates to “raw”. This was used to indicate the idea that raw concrete was one of the most distinguishable elements in brutalist buildings. So, keeping it raw or simple is one way to achieve brutalism in design for marketing. 

One of the main distinguishers in design is the background. Solid backgrounds have a more brutalist approach rather than patterned ones. Another thing to avoid will be modern gradient backgrounds. These again go against brutalism philosophies. 

The Drudge Report website uses several elements of brutalism in design. The most notable are – the simple color palette and the solid white background. 

Understanding colors in brutalism 

Colors are the area where brutalism in design can go both extremes. You’ll see brutalist designs that are monochromatic as well as those that use bold and bright colors. 

Monochromatic color palettes (especially grayscale) are used to draw parallels to the raw concrete style that skips the more common norm of painted walls. But in marketing designs, you might often need more than just grayscale and the aspect of brand colors comes into the picture. To accommodate this, brutalist marketing graphics, as well as brutalist website designs, might often include one or two additional colors. And these colors are often used to draw attention to specific sections. 

In the case of web design, since the aspect of functionality comes into the picture, these colors are chosen based on the purpose. For example, several brutalist websites use blue color for hyperlinked text. 

Kimp Tip: One way to create something similar for an ad design will be to use white backgrounds and black text with a pop of color to differentiate the CTA or hero text. This way all eyes are on the areas that deserve maximum attention. 

Cleaner and more functional fonts work 

With the matter of colors out of the way, let’s talk about the next most important aspect of design – fonts. The moment you look at a font, if you think it looks decorative and can add an ornate dimension to your design, then skip that font if you wish to adopt brutalism in design. 

Brutalism is about the purpose and is about simplifying the design. So, as a rule of thumb, stick with fonts that are cleaner and more monospaced. Geometric shapes that are easier to read irrespective of the scale are the best kinds of fonts to use for brutalism in design. 

The below website, for example, uses Space Mono font. It has a fuss-free vibe that goes well with the partially brutalist approach to website design in this case. 

Kimp Tip: If you wish to create brutalist ad designs, swap non-functional ornamental fonts with more practical ones that are easier to read and bolder too. 

If that sounds like a tough decision to make, leave it to the pros.

Functional use of images and other elements 

Remember that though brutalism aims to keep things raw and simple, it’s not devoid of icons, images, and other elements you find in typical marketing designs. These elements are present but again, they have very specific roles to play. And they are often used in their raw and unprocessed forms. 

For example, if the design calls for including stars or flowers as decorative elements or icons, these are often present as crude line-drawn icons or 2D illustrations. You might not find skeuomorphic versions of these elements. You can always experiment with altering the colors and scale of these elements to create a point of interest without adding three-dimensional details. 

When using images, they are placed in the relevant position without unwanted drop-shadows or outlines and accents. This helps the image blend seamlessly and functionally into the design. 

Kimp Tip: To simplify this idea further, avoid any effects that bring in the idea of ‘artificiality’. Compare these elements to the construction materials in brutalist architecture. You are more likely to see rugged wooden frames rather than ornate arches and intricate details. Similarly, brutalist graphic designs use images and icons as they are without aesthetic enhancements to them. 

Defining your brand identity with brutalism in design 

Brutalism, anti-design – whatever the art movement you choose, the key is to subtly tweak the style to suit your brand. Most of these art styles have defined personalities of their own. There’s a rigid explanation, a set of traits often used to describe them. But brands are unique and so are brand personalities. 

Trying to fit your brand into one of these personalities does not make any sense. So, while it is a good idea to use brutalism and other design styles in your marketing graphics, the key is to know where to set the boundary. 

Put in simple words, you can use brutalism in design without losing out on your brand’s unique style by choosing specific brutalist elements. Like, say a brutalist poster that incorporates your brand colors. Or a brutalist social media post that incorporates your brand fonts. 

Experimenting with seemingly difficult visual styles like brutalism can be simpler when you have a design team to assist you in all your marketing designs. So, choose a Kimp subscription today. 

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