some thoughts on web design, brutalism, leftist minimalism, and accessibility

i'm no web designer (i used squarespace to make this site), but i do have some opinions on what i like in websites anyway, as is probably clear from at least one aggressive choice i've made regarding nothnx's appearence.

the tilt, obviously, is what i'm talking about--why on earth would i choose to tilt the entire webpage by about five degrees or so? there's a few reasons:

  • tilted text is a pretty common occurrence in my poetic practice, as i generally like working with language as a visual and material element of a page. so one could say tilting the text for my website could create a kind of """""brand identity""""". check out my poem in APARTMENT poetry issue 9 to see what i'm talking about.
  • tilting the website creates an uncomfortable and hopefully memorable experience for the website-reader. 
  • one of the most base and basic of puns: the text of the website is not straight, and neither am i. this bottom-tier joke counts for the tilted text in my poems too.
  • i really just like it when things are askew. idk

(in fact, if css had the ability to generate random numbers, i'd ideally have the page be tilted by a random number of degrees within a certain range each time you loaded the page in order to create a more dynamic version of the affect. if anyone could help me achieve this in practice it would be much appreciated, actually!)

there are a few other, more subtle touches to the site i enjoy, too, like how highlighted links turn pink, evoking the colors of the queer anarchist flag, or how the rest of the website is black and white, letting everyone know that i really am a goth girl at heart. but the core of what i admire in website design is a turn towards minimalism, thorniness, and strange encounters with web interfaces. i really hate the light, airy feeling of most of squarespace's design templates and worked hard to get something that felt truly "brutalist".

of course, these design preferences are nowhere near new. i mention the concept of brutalist website design because a wonderful website known, fittingly enough, as brutalist websites already exists, and it's worth checking them out for the weird and compelling websites featured there. the selection on offer updates pretty regularly too.

this is brutalist-websites-dot-com's definition of brutalism as it pertains to website design:

"In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism, and frivolity of today's web design."

and I think that's a fair enough definition for the sorts of things we see on their website. The divisive reputation of brutalist architecture is largely due to the perception of brutalist buildings as being as ugly or depressing, and these websites, including mine, seem to align themselves with brutalism in an ironic way wherein they identify with the controversial 'ugliness' of brutalism as an aesthetic goal--a kind of aesthetic ugliness.

of course, brutalist architecture wasn't really designed to be all that ugly or difficult. the goal of brutalism in architecture was, in part, to emphasize the inside of places, to eschew the dazzle of surfaces in favor of a building's function for its people. as such, you could say that brutalism is aligned with a tradition of left-wing minimalism in art and design, favoring the artistic contemplation of the beauty of common materials and use-based design--perhaps, unfortunately, to the exclusion other considerations, such as avoiding look a bit drab at times.

brutalist websites, in their investment in aesthetic ugliness as opposed to a kind of proletarian/minimalist aesthetic purpose, actually seem to undermine the message and ideology of brutalism. many of the websites featured on brutalist-websites-dot-com are not so much designed as to surface use-information in a minimalist way, but often rather to create confusing, uncomfortable, and difficult-to-parse website experiences, abandoning classic brutalist investment in accessibility. As opposed to being minimalist, these websites often appear to be almost maximalist, with bizarre, spooling tangents of pages hanging off from the pain pages. it's brutalism by way of m. c. escher or cthulhu.

this, of course, doesn't apply to all brutalist websites--some have the sort of plain, clearheaded design that conjures images of the back-end of a private, personal webserver. and personally, i do really quite like weird edges in my websites, wormholes and labyrinths. i'll probably add a few to this website at some point! but i wonder if austere website design should also try its best to be accessible and tap into the minimalist and egalitarian philosophy of the brutalist architects. if anything, i think these websites should and do tell their users: you, too, can design a website for your own personal design--eschew the conventions of modern website design into bring about your own, weird, broken vision.


next time on "the pitiful blog": i'll try to talk about something other than the fact i have a website now