The Washington Post reports that “The hottest trend in Web design is making intentionally ugly, difficult websites.” The article by Katherine Acrement states:
Look at Hacker News. Pinboard. The Drudge Report. Adult Swim. Bloomberg Businessweek features. All of these sites — some years old, some built recently — and hundreds more like them, eschew the templated, user-friendly interfaces that have long been the industry’s best practice. Instead they’re built on imperfect, hand- coded HTML and take their design cues from ’90s graphics. The name of this school, if you could call it that, is “Web brutalism.”
What strikes me is how inevitably the phenomenon came to be known as “Web brutalism.” Perfect fit!
Thanks to Jim Colleran for slipping this article onto Pro-Urb and clarifying matters by referring to the trend as “digital modernism,” and to Andres Duany for putting the news into context by remarking: “We have a sick society. Do we express it or do we reform it? The GSD and Rem express it. The CNU attempts to reform or heal it. We do not share an epistemology.”
To decode Duany: The GSD is the Graduate School of Design, at Harvard, modernist to the core, exclusionary and proud of it. Rem is the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. CNU is the Congress of the New Urbanism, inaugurated in the 1990s largely by Duany himself. It seeks to promote new urban design based on the old principles of urbanism that were purged by modernist planning and design promoted by the GSD. New Urbanist ideas have largely won out in municipal planning departments around the nation, thankfully, but almost all architects, architecture schools, architecture organizations, architecture scholarship and architectural media are still modernist, resistent to alternative ideas, and proud of it.
Is digital headed that way? Except for this weird trend, very unlikely. The internet is far too diverse and unruly to become a cult as the field of architecture has done. And yet there are quite a few young Turks trying to beat some sense into their profession. They are called classicists, although their work often strays from the classical orders, and they are based in the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.
Just after this post was published Sara Hines sent her excellent thoughts to the Pro-Urb listserv, a forum mainly for discussing the New Urbanism:
Did you miss the memo on “ugly is the new pretty”? Once you grasp this, and related topics like “illogical is the new rationality,” you are good to go with the new millennium. I could point you to other concepts in women’s clothing like “designer bags are ugly but better because they cost more or have someone’s name on it,” or “the new design is to make things smaller and with materials that are so weak that you can find them shredded on hangers – and for this you will pay a lot more.”
Websites? Though the red one with the fuzzy square looked interesting, I am more unnerved by the ones that feature a nearly black background with slightly lighter or darker type, if any is visible, and you have to mouse over to see any detail or things to click on. Note that how to contact people is becoming progressively lost on websites from Amazon to CNU. In fact, I have been mystified by how to get information on the upcoming CNU. Like where would you pick up your tickets or information packets? Oops, how dumb am I, they probably only have that on computer links that I’m slow to find in the evanescent drop-down menus. But back to paragraph 1, we just haven’t adjusted to the new Good. The old Good apparently just didn’t work out.
We are getting to Idiocracy sooner than even I had thought possible!