The Calculated Creative

Brutalism in Graphic Design

Brutalist graphic design is a unique anti-establishment style defined by untreated, blocky aesthetics and bold rejection of traditional design conventions.

Brutalist graphic design is a unique style that emerged in the mid 20th century and still influences designers today.

It is characterized by raw, blocky aesthetics and a deliberate rejection of many conventional graphic design principles.

Raw, Unrefined Aesthetic

Brutalist graphic design embraces a raw, unrefined aesthetic unlike the sleek, polished looks of mainstream consumer design.

Brutalist designs often appear rough, raw and unfinished.

There is no attempt to make things clean or slick.

Rough edges, visible seams between elements, and imperfect alignments are common in brutalist work.

Brutalist graphic design avoids refined or ornate typography.

Designers instead often use rough, elementary fonts with basic letterforms and limited weights.

Serif and decorative fonts are avoided in favor of raw looking san serif and grotesque fonts.

Colors also avoid sophistication, tending towards muted and earthy tones like black, white, grey, brown and beige.

Brighter colors are rarely seen. Photography too appears gritty and high-contrast if used.

Rejection of Established Principles

Brutalist graphic design philosophically rejects many established graphic design principles like consistency, alignment, grids, and organized hierarchy.

There is little concern for making things orderly, aligned, symmetrical or grid-based.

Design layouts often appear chaotic or confusing to read at first glance.

There is no effort to lead the eye in a clear, logical way or establish a visual hierarchy of elements on the page.

Graphic elements are arranged in an improvised, asymmetrical way where importance is not clearly emphasized.

Pages can be cluttered, overwhelming and hard to quickly decipher.

Bold, Blocky Shapes

Brutalist design makes use of bold, blocky shapes and forms throughout.

Type and image blocks are arranged in dense, sometimes precarious-looking layouts.

Shapes often appear strong, sturdy and architecturally imposing rather than delicate or refined.

Typography is used in weights that emphasize the letterforms' basic shapes and blocks.

Display type may overlap or run into other elements without careful spacing or alignment.

Fine details in letterforms are obscured in favor of their chunky blocked shapes.

Images too are cropped or framed to appear like abstract graphic blocks.

Inspired by Architecture

Brutalist graphic design draws direct inspiration from brutalist architecture, translating architectural qualities into graphic design.

It adopts qualities like:
- Monumental shapes
- Exposed materials and textures
- Modular compositions
- Unconventional structures

Like brutalist buildings, brutalist graphic design can appear imposing and fortress-like due to its large, geometric block shapes.

Designs may incorporate building materials like concrete, brick, and glass through photographic textures and patterns.

Layouts are inspired by architectural plans and models.

Typical Uses

Brutalist graphic design was often used for institutional identities, publications, posters, brochures and environmental graphics.

Its raw, imposing aesthetic could convey power and boldness appropriate for entities like governments, universities, and corporations.

Many brutalist publications and identities were created for colleges and universities.

Brutalist graphic design was commonly seen in poster design in the 1960s to 1980s.

Its dense, packed layouts and elementary fonts resulted in striking poster designs.

Brutalist principles have also been used effectively in website design.

Key Figures

Early pioneers of brutalist graphic design include Dutch designer Wim Crouwel and Swiss studio Total Design.

They produced refined yet bold brutalist designs for corporations and institutions.

Wolfgang Weingart is widely credited with propagating brutalism in graphic design through his innovative Swiss poster designs in the 1970s.

Weingart took the raw brutalist aesthetic to an extreme level.

Contemporary designers working in the brutalist aesthetic include Peter Bankov, Branimir Medic and Hamish Muir.

They continue to develop the style's raw expressiveness in new applications from print to digital.

The Takeaway

Brutalist graphic design is a unique anti-establishment style defined by untreated, blocky aesthetics and bold rejection of traditional design conventions.

It creates a powerful, monumental graphic language.

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