Beyond Suburbia: Rethinking the Landscape of Contemporary UI Design


As a space for continual exploration, User Interface (UI) design sits at the boundaries of User Experience (UX) design and digital usability. While this platform continues to evolve, the values of expectation continue to encourage adaptation—and in this case—survival for conceptual representation. The roles of speed, accessibility, convenience intersected with conceptual representation in responsive, contemporary landscapes will be mapped and discussed.


The takeaway of the session is a call to challenge the norms of UI design, to break away from the suburbia of cookie-cutter online spaces based upon templates for final solutions. Attendees will leave reconsidering the current affordances of UI design, and how we, as creators, educators, and users, can work toward a more balanced web for academic instruction.


The contemporary landscape of the web is captured within a multitude of platforms defined by various contexts, creating a diverse set of roles for end-users. While devices spoil users with endless accessibility, speed, and convenience, one component of past importance now occupies a position of inferiority—the concept.

In the early years of the web, technology lacked the support to give digital pioneers a more lucrative platform for variation and experimentation. As time progressed, these roles have reversed, technology now outweighs the need for conceptual clarity. As Responsive Web Design (RWD) continues to define and shape the web, the importance of conceptual representation has taken a backseat. How can conceptual experiences live in a responsive world?

The emergence of template-based website solutions, such as Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly, advocate for a do-it-yourself approach for novice business owners, ultimately devaluing RWD's capabilities. Within this norm of templated web design, responsive sites have been accustomed to serve as defaults, in which a typical site for a healthcare provider can also share the same structural format as a retail site, and so forth. A copycat representation of parallax effects surrounded by equally set horizontal rows framed within an exaggerated vertical-based design has become the default experience and expectation. Due to the popularity of preconceived frameworks, the construction of repetitive and robotic digital assemblage becomes standard practice. A suburbia of non-conceptual digital interfaces has emerged.

This problematic mindset has created contemporary, yet repetitive, safe havens of User Interface (UI) designs within the public domain and also within the classroom environment. As a design educator teaching User Experience (UX) and UI, it is common to see design students approach their compositional goals with this imitation assemblage in mind. To combat this, I have challenged design students to address their solutions with the importance of concept in mind, including components of narrative and storytelling derived from extensive research. Pedagogical premises and methods from this integration will be discussed, as well as displaying visual results from upper-division UX/UI courses that have embraced this practice.

As digital spaces continue to evolve, designers should strive to break away from these contrived landscapes, allowing UI designs to be unique to the concept and context of one's display. Let's build beyond suburbia, toward redefining a more balanced web, one free from reliance on templates and prebuilt systems. Users, as a consequence, are sacrificing concept for speed, accessibility, and convenience—all of which are extremely important, yet continue to frame this topic within an area of conventional expectation—an opposition to the web's unique capabilities in crafting contemporary online experiences.