Responsive vs Adaptive Web Design

Web designers need to be increasingly aware of the multitude of modern mobile devices and their diversity in screen sizes and viewer interfaces. With many different devices to view the same content, designers need to bridge the gap with progressive web design. There are two approaches to ensuring that web content translates effectively across devices; responsive or adaptive web design.

What is responsive and adaptive web design?

Responsive designs allow web content to rearrange itself in the available space afforded by different screen sizes. The site automatically checks the available browser space and adjusts the placement of design elements and content to fit this space. Adaptive web design may seem similar to responsive web design on the surface, but in fact differs in application. While responsive design sites adapts the layout to fit different spaces, adaptive design has multiple, fixed layout sizes. When the site checks for browser space, it selects one of the layout options that most appropriately fits the screen. Most sites have six different designs to fit the six most common screen widths.

The benefits of responsive web design

Responsive design is easy and convenient to implement. The process of fitting elements on a variety of screen sizes is automatic, making the adaptability fluid and dynamic. It translates well across any screen size, even less common dimensions. However, careful planning of design elements and their hierarchy is necessary to avoid a ‘messy’ translation of elements. Another benefit of using responsive design is that it is more search engine friendly.

The benefits of adaptive web design

Adaptive web design allows more control for design and layout, but this leaves designers the task of having to create assorted designs for each desired size option. However, adaptive design offers a tailor-made solution that is more relevant to modern user experience. Designers can respond better to their users’ needs by optimising the context-based performance and usability of the site. Furthermore, adaptive designs perform 2 to 3 times better in speed tests and use less data.

Which one should you choose?

While both design approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, it is up to the individual designer to identify which will suit their needs better. A responsive design offers more convenience and expanded reach across different devices, while adaptive design allows more fine-tuning and control. Which do you think will benefit your site the most?

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