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A blog about software development best practices, how-tos, and tips from practitioners.

Responsive vs Adaptive Website Design – Know The Difference!

Responsive vs Adaptive Website Design – Know The Difference!

With the advent of smartphones, tablets and mobile devices, Internet access is not limited to desktops. More and more users are accessing web over mobile devices. According to a recent survey in the US sponsored by Google, 81% of smartphone owners use their phones for web browsing and 79% of people use their phone for online shopping. So it has become paramount for businesses to design and develop their websites to make those accessible and appropriately visible on all devices.  

 

Terms like responsive, fluid, adaptive etc. are being used in this context quite interchangeably. But businesses need to understand that all these are different things and the choice of which one to adapt depends a lot on business requirement. In this blog, we describe the difference between Responsive and Adaptive website designs and which one is suitable for which requirements.

Responsive Design:

Responsive web design adapts itself to various screen resolutions by adjusting the height and width of various screen elements. The layout template remains the same on all screen sizes. Technically speaking, responsive websites use the same codebase and the same design for all devices with some minor tweaking in CSS for allowing adjustment in form factor of the screen. Some salient features of responsive design are:

  • Single website layout template is used across all devices – this maintains website uniformity across all devices
  • Because of single codebase, only one version of the website needs to be maintained – this saves a lot of time and cost
  • All the website assets like videos and images are downloaded on all devices irrespective of whether they are used on that device or not – because of this, the page loading can be a little slower
  • All the images are downloaded in full size and then resized for the device size – this can compromise the viewing experience for the visitor
  • Responsive designs are easy to implement for new websites whereas; for existing websites, a rebuild is required

Adaptive Design:

Unlike responsive design, adaptive design is not fluid design. Instead of changing the screen layout to fit to every device size, a static fixed layout is defined to fit to individual screen size. Adaptive sites are optimized for best user experience – these sites optimally use tap features, they load faster, they use images and menus optimized for mobile experience. Some salient features of adaptive design are:

  • Website layout is optimized for different mobile devices – this maintains website uniformity across all devices
  • Multiple website codebase need to be maintained – this increases time and cost
  • Only required assets like videos and images are downloaded on the device which optimizes the page loading performance
  • Images are resized and designed as per the device size offering ideal viewing experience for the website visitor
  • Because of the mere complexity in design and code maintenance, adaptive design requires advanced knowledge of website design (especially JavaScript and CSS)

 When to use what

  • If your website accepts web ads, then you need to be little careful because responsive design may not show all the ads properly on certain devices. Whereas with adaptive design, you have better opportunities through ad monetization because ad sizes can be optimally defined for mobile devices
  • If your users demonstrate different intent and behavior on desktop and mobile devices, then having an adaptive design is a better choice because that can help you capture the user intent more accurately
  • If your website is content heavy, then you can go for responsive design
  • For retail businesses or eCommerce websites, where users access websites with specific intent of purchasing products or browsing products, adaptive design which offers limited but targeted options is a better choice
  • If you need your users to always have access to all the pages of your website, responsive design is a better choice

As we see, both responsive and adaptive designs have their own pros and cons. The choice really depends on your website visitors, their requirements and your business goals. 

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