Phillip Luther’s Frontend Developer Experience Blog

Accidental Brutalism and Commentary On My Blog Aesthetics

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You know elephants, right? They're sensitive, powerful, monochrome … yet visually striking. They're not over-designed. My blog mimics elephants. Shots fired.

Inbetween Architects Jerome Charignon

I recently, in the context of my entire life, learned about Brutalism. My wife and I were driving past SF General … er, sorry … Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center a few years back. I shook my fist at one particular stretch of the hospital as if it were a cloud and yelled, “WHY DOES THAT BUILDING SHOUT AT ME IN CONCRETE?!

I’m wont to do this.

My wife rolled her eyes.

She’s wont to do this. She’s into this architecture stuff, too.

When her eyes completed their orbit and landed back on me, she patiently explained the concept of Brutalism.

She said something about the 1950s. Something about post-WWII construction. Something about minimalist aesthetics and raw materials and popularity with Communists.

I’m a great listener.

My takeaway? That building was shouting at me in concrete. SHOUTING AT ME IN CONCRETE was its thing.

I hated it.

Also, I didn’t.

I made a mental note of it, and we drove on by.

Later That Life

It took me years to start this blog. I’m currently writing a blog post about it, in fact.

The blog’s design was a big part of my launch failure. More accurately, over-designing the blog tripped me up at every step. I stressed elegance, color palettes, fonts, and all the little bespoke details. I wanted the thing to be a centerpiece royal wedding floral arrangement.

I chased trending trends as they trended and fizzled out. I worked, reworked, and rereworked the design until I was sick of rerereworking it.

For the full wheel-spinning story, check out the other post (link incoming when published).

Just know that I spun and spun and spun and spun and never actually launched a damned blog until this one. There must’ve been 15 previous incarnations of this thing. I built a few on Next.js. I tried a few on Gatsby and 11ty. I tried creating one from scratch and even got so desperate to give WordPress a go.

Ugh. WordPress.

Conversely, yay! Astro!

This blog is built on Astro. I love Astro. I’ll take any opportunity to show Astro some love. That’s a non-sequitur. It’s a non sequitur because the previous three iterations of the thing were built on Astro, too, and they didn’t launch. Astro didn’t get me over the hump.

Tech didn’t get me over the hump.

Brutalism did.

One Brutal Night

One fateful night, in a fit of frustration, I deleted all the CSS from my local dev blog and made my font-size absurdly large. I did it as a gag. Black text. White background. Machine fonts, all kaiju-sized.

I did it to make things look impossibly asinine and shock myself out of design paralysis.

Except … things didn’t look impossibly asinine.

Well, I mean … of course things did. This:

body {
  font-family: sans-serif !important;
  font-size: 18rem !important;

— is going to make anything look impossibly asinine.

Things didn’t look quite as impossibly asinine as I expected, though. There was something there; some little spark of creativity or inspiration or whatever captured my imagination.

Giant Fonts, Ho!

I kept pulling the giant font thread.

I remembered SF General. Er, sorry — Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. I specifically remembered a particular set of external concrete stairs. This set of stairs was so clunky and concretey and clobbering.

Then I remembered my wife saying something about the ’50s and post-WWII construction and Communist buildings.

I remembered … Brutalism!


What I really remembered was my bastardized concept of Brutalism. Respect for your materials and structural elements? Nah. Those things — the lungs of Brutalism — didn’t enter my mind. I only remembered those clunky chunky concretey stairs that shouted in my face as I drove by. I can still picture them now!

Those stairs helped me climb from my rut.

Brutalism — my bastardized version of it, at least — became my blog design’s north star. I created a handful of incredibly strict and limiting CSS rules and dove in.

Post titles? Huge. Roar-in-your-face huge.

Color palette? Nope. Black on white or white on black, dark mode, depending.

Links, buttons, and CTAs? Eyebleed red.

General aesthetic? I AM WORDS. READ. BYE.

Granted, I’ve finessed this thing. Grays exist, and I love grays. Neutral colors, I mean, not aliens. Maybe aliens. I dunno. I’ve never met one, so I might love aliens, but I meant gray colors.

So, yes. I struggled to ship this blog. Brutalism helped me finally boot the thing off the dock at just the right place and time.

Did it, though?

The Accidental Brutalist/Neubrutalist

I admit it.

I’m trying to be in-your-face with this blog’s content and visual aesthetic. I want you to say, “Zounds! Damned big fonts!”

I want you to say, “Zounds! Where are all the images and colors?” and then not miss them.

I want you to say, “Zounds! I just read 1,000 words of nonsense, but it was kinda fun,” and then, “Zounds! I didn’t know I was a ‘zounds’ person!”

I’m using the giant title fonts and stark layouts to elicit those reactions. They’re tools. The austere black-and-white palette is a tool. Decorative dearth is a tool.

These tools coincidentally align with brutalist — or neubrutalist, as trends go — tenets. My goal, however, is for this blog to be in your face. And a little funny. And a tiny bit helpful.

Funny and helpful aside, focus on the in-your-face part. That’s the relevant bit.

In-your-face isn’t Brutalism. Brutalism can be in-your-face, of course, like those chunky, clunky, clobbering stairs at SF General (aka, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center), but SHOUTING AT YOU IN CONCRETE isn’t the goal.

Brutalism is about building simple, functional structures. There’s no need for decoration. One should showcase, not hide, the quality materials used to create said simple, functional structures.

It’s a blog. It’s words.

My focus became a functional presentation of the words in a way that serves readers. I trust the quality of the words and won’t needlessly gussy them up.


Brutalist, according to my 50k foot understanding of my wife’s explanation several years ago, at least. Again, I’m a great listener. Regardless! I owe you one-ish, Brutalism. I love you, KLP, and thank you for introducing my ignorant ass to Brutalism.


  1. Brutalism is interesting. Check it out if you’re not hip to it. I still can’t decide if I like it. I like the philosophy but only sometimes the expression, especially in web design.

  2. Yay, the blog is live! Tell a friend.

  3. Did you become a ‘zounds’ person?