Responsive vs Adaptive Web Design

You might have heard from some people that either responsive or adaptive web design is the way to go. While most people genuinely think they’re being helpful by only preaching one of the two options, you need more information. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each, you can make an informed decision.

Responsive Web Design

businessman testing responsive web design at work with smartphone showing website on screen.Responsive web design allows sites to be shown in proper format, no matter the size screen being used. This is great, considering that about half of all web searches are done on mobile devices. You don’t want potential customers to be turned off because your website looks horrible on their phone.

You can literally resize the browser window on a laptop, and sites built with responsive web design automatically reformat to fit. This is accomplished through a fluid grid approach. Content is divided into columns and rows. Breakpoints show where the different columns can be separated and shown in a new row, if the screen size is too small.

The big drawback for responsive design comes if a site is complex in design. This approach can cause slow load times and weird formatting for some screens.

Adaptive Web Design

With adaptive web design, CSS and JavaScript are used to optimize sites for any device. This is done by the server, which detects if a user is on a mobile device or full-blown computer. Essentially, there’s a mobile layout for phones, etc. and a full version for laptops and desktop computers.

Google also recommends adaptive design for mobile websites. You can control what kind of content shows up on different devices. If a site feature like a click-to-call button makes sense for smartphones, the mobile version can be programmed to show it, while the desktop one doesn’t. This gives you more control over how people experience your website.

The other big factor for why Google recommends adaptive design is that it improves loading speed. Plenty of modern web surfers simply don’t tolerate slow load times.

But with a responsive design, you have more ready-made resources. Because it’s been so popular, you get more choices for site themes and frameworks. Also, there’s no need to change the site code as new devices are released, because everything is based on screen size only. The opposite is true with adaptive design.

Which one is right for your site? That’s a decision you’ll have to make, after considering the different factors. Some bigger sites use a combination of the two, because neither one is completely perfect.