Usability

Brutalist Web Design

The term brutalism is often associated with Brutalist Architecture, however it can apply to other forms of construction, such as web design.

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The term brutalism is derived from the French béton brut, meaning “raw concrete”. Although most brutalist buildings are made from concrete, we’re more interested in the term raw. Concrete brutalist buildings often reflect back the forms used to make them, and their overall design tends to adhere to the concept of truth to materials.

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 [or mobile device] 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.

Brutalist Web Design is honest about what a website is and what it isn’t. A website is not a magazine, though it might have magazine-like articles. A website is not an application, although you might use it to purchase products or interact with other people. A website is not a database, although it might be driven by one.

They list the following principles:

Amazon's menu prediction cone

A screenshot of the Amazon menu, with a triangle/cone overlaid demonstrating the region wherein the menu will remain locked to the current item if the pointer doesn't stray outside of it.
A visualization of the mathematical cone that Amazon uses to predict the menu item you're heading for. Cone is not actually visible.

Standard drop-down menus that contain sub-menus very often have no concept of user intent, and this can lead to a repeating frustration that most of us have likely run into: straying off course by even a single pixel can cause the sub-menu to close instantly. Ways around this include adding a delay to try and account for user error, but that doesn’t feel as snappy. Amazon has a really clever solution that accounts for user error yet responds instantly:

At every position of the [pointer] you can picture a triangle between the current mouse position and the upper and lower right corners of the dropdown menu. If the next mouse position is within that triangle, the user is probably moving their [pointer] into the currently displayed submenu. Amazon uses this for a nice effect. As long as the [pointer] stays within that blue triangle the current submenu will stay open. It doesn’t matter if the [pointer] hovers over “Appstore for Android” momentarily – the user is probably heading toward “Learn more about Cloud Drive.”

And if the [pointer] goes outside of the blue triangle, they instantly switch the submenu, giving it a really responsive feel.

So if you’re as geeky as me and think something this trivial is cool, I made a jQuery plugin that fires events when detecting this sort of directional menu aiming: jQuery-menu-aim.

See the source link for more.

But sometimes links look like buttons (and buttons look like links)

In Resilient Web Design Jeremy Keith discusses the idea of material honesty. He says that “one material should not be used as a substitute for another, otherwise the end result is deceptive”.

Making a link look like a button is materially dishonest. It tells users that links and buttons are the same when they’re not.

In Buttons In Design Systems Nathan Curtis says that we should distinguish links from buttons because “button behaviours bring a whole host of distinct considerations from your simple anchor tag”.

For example, we can open a link in a new tab, copy the address or bookmark it for later. All of which we can’t do with buttons.