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Responsive vs Adaptive Website Design

Published on:

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Websites need to be accessible and easy to use on different devices - there is no doubt about this.

What’s more, customers are becoming more attuned to what makes a good online experience and what doesn’t and are more likely to shun one site in favour of another if they find the experience to be lacking.

In short, having an accessible site that works across multiple devices and screens is no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have in the world of online interactions and transactions.

And with that conversation comes an introduction to two words: responsive design and adaptive design. Let’s take a closer look at what they are and how they differ.

Understanding Responsive Design

The first and most important thing to note is that responsive design is largely considered the gold standard in website design.

It uses a range of tools and built-in mechanics to adjust the display and screen presentation no matter the device. What this means is that responsive design responds to the screen no matter its size or the device in hand. It does this by using CSS media queries which read the screen size and adjust the layout accordingly.  

Responsive website design

The advantages of a responsive design are clear. Not only does a responsive design instantly adapt the content of a webpage to achieve the best possible display on the screen, but it can and will adapt to any and every screen.

Exploring Adaptive Design

Adaptive design, meanwhile, slots content into a series of static layouts which are fixed to different screen sizes and devices.

Because screen sizes are pre-defined and ready to go, they can sometimes be quicker to load than responsive design sites – and are built to deliver an optimised experience based on the device being used. The best way to spot an adaptive design is to see how the display changes when you browse on different devices. Because adaptive design loads a prebuilt design according to the screen size, it will jump from one design to the next with incredible ease and will not be affected by the browser window being edited in size. In comparison, a responsive site will adjust according to the exact size of the window.

Comparing Responsive and Adaptive Design

So, how do the two compare?

As you will have already gleaned from the above information, a website which follows the hallmarks of a responsive design is infinitely more flexible and will adapt to the screen size in real time whereas adaptive design uses preloaded and predefined designs for different screen sizes.

But now for a little myth busting. Because while the fluid nature of a responsive site sounds like a huge amount of work, in actual fact these sites are very easy to build. Rather than having to create a series of different displays for predefined screen sizes, responsive design automatically adapts the layout according to the screen and device being used.

From a user experience perspective and performance point of view, the most suitable option will depend on their browsing habits and behaviours – namely the devices that they use. Responsive design is the recommended go-to for businesses who want to engineer a site that delivers a highly flexible browsing experience with little maintenance work required. Adaptive design meanwhile offers more control to the business in term of how the screen is displayed on every device and layout but requires more work as a result.

User Cases and When to Use Each Design Type

Adaptive design tends to be recommended when your website is made up of multiple different components, and when you as the designer or website owner need to exhibit more control over layout and how the site is built. When placement of each component on the webpage, page load speeds, and a cohesive website design matters, adaptive design is the best option.

Responsive design is typically the most suitable option for modern websites which want to deliver a truly fluid experience for users.

Responsive or Adaptive?

Suffice to say, there are benefits and considerations linked with both adaptive and responsive websites. The decision to choose one over the other will usually come down to budget, to maintenance and the amount of ongoing work that you have the capacity to take on, and to audience and the target customer.

If you’re unsure on which to use for your website, or you are after advice and support in designing and building a website that meets the needs of both your customers and Google, don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at Social Loop.