We all need a little brutalism, especially in design

We all need a little brutalism, especially in design

Given how many cooking/baking shows I watch, it’s no surprise that I make a lot of comparisons to food. I believe it’s the universal language. The dessert you make may look good, but is it tasty? Do you want to eat it? Would you recommend it to a friend? That’s what matters. 

Are you able to ask yourself these questions about something you’ve made and answered them with brutal honesty? Do you practice brutalism?


A style in art and especially architecture using exaggeration and distortion to create its effect (as of massiveness or power).


When I say brutalism, I’m not talking about the common definition above—though that’s something I love, it’s also an entirely different subject area. I’m talking about the ability to be constructively brutal with yourself, and specifically your work.

Design is no different. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole and lose sight of why you’re there in the first place. Why did you bake the cake in the first place? Make deliberate moves, be brutal and remove what isn’t working to enhance what is. You’ll get a better cake. 

Tips for sharpening your brutalist axe:


Take a break and rest your eyes and mind.

We’ve all been there, there are those times when you can’t tell if all the tinkering is actually helping. Are we going crazy? Are we seeing things? Stop what you’re doing and walk away. Come back to review with a sharp mind.

Discuss with someone removed from the project.

Does the work make sense to others without you having to heavily explain? Are you stuck on something that doesn’t matter? Talking it out can get you out of a creative rut.

Look at/compare to the best in the business.

How does your work stack up, and be real about it. Really real. Brutally real. How can you push your idea further? Note: flipping through annuals like Communication Arts and browsing Behance will put you in your place real quick. Then, after wiping the tears, approach your work again and take it further.

Look for the magic.

I’m a designer by trade, but I try my best to see the magic in a variety of mediums as I mosey through life. I try to see what’s working, what’s really doing the heavy lifting and bring some flavor to the cake. It might not be as obvious as you think. A great piece of copy. A beautiful door handle. A nice bar top. It can be hard to see, but when something is strong and it resonates, there is usually something to learn. Why do I like that so much? Do I have a thing for door handles? When something is really working step back and think about how to support what’s already there. Supporting elements can fall back and let the true magic take the lead.

Try to avoid competing with your own work.

If you work in the creative field, chances are you’ve probably heard the expression “that’s not doing you any favors,” more often than not, that “thing” is something distracting from other elements that are working. This is where we need to step back and take a deep breath, pet the dog and look for what’s already there and where did we go wrong.

Again, pet your dog/cat.

This really does help.

Designers by nature tend to be fiddlers, and to bring it back to baking, if you spend 6 hours decorating a dry cake, it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. Be brutal, learn to see the magic, have conviction in what you do and make tasty cakes people can’t get enough of.

Bake on, brother.