Truth to materials

Since discovering it last year, I often think back to David Bryant Copeland’s Guidelines for Brutalist Web Design. Part manifesto, part design guidelines, it sums up much of what I believe about the web myself.

A core tenet of brutalist architecture is truth to materials. That is, “any material should be used where it is most appropriate and its nature should not be hidden.”

It’s easy to assume that we’re referring to web technologies like HTML, CSS and JavaScript here. But those are not the materials of the web. As David puts it:

A website’s materials aren’t HTML tags, CSS, or JavaScript code. Rather, they are its content and the context in which it’s consumed. A website is for a visitor, using a browser, running on a computer to read, watch, listen, or perhaps to interact. A website that embraces Brutalist Web Design is raw in its focus on content, and prioritization of the website visitor.

From this, David presents a number of guidelines:

Now, I’m not 100% on board with all of these guidelines. The web has changed, and continues to change, and these guidelines aren’t necessarily fixed as patterns of usage and expectations change with it.

Indeed, the principle of truth to materials can extend to any number of guidelines if you think about it. For example, “Stop it with the unnecessary door slam privacy preference panels.”

It’s not so much the guidelines that matter, but the guiding principle behind them.

As David concludes:

When in doubt, do what Tron does: fight for the users.

All the best,

– Jim

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