During the course of designing a site, one critical question will come up early in the process: do you want to use an adaptive design or a responsive design? In the end, what is most important is that you deliver a quality experience for each of your visitors, regardless of how they’re reaching your site.

In terms of layout, website design used to be a fairly straightforward approach with relatively few variables to plan for. Sites were typically accessed from desktop or laptop computers, monitor sizes and proportions were fairly standard, and there were only a few browsers on the market.  For the most part, one design would work reasonably well across the board. Today, however, visitors access the web using myriad different devices – desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, gaming consoles and televisions. Creating a single design that looks good on every device is simply impossible, making it necessary to come up with a strategy to optimize the site based on the user’s individual needs.

Adaptive Design

The first approach came in the form of Adaptive Design, and in fact this method is often favored simply because it has been around the longest and is familiar.  Simply put, adaptive design adapts the format of the website to fit a predetermined set of screen sizes. AWD detects the screen size based on the type of device that the visitor is using, and applies the appropriate formatting through scripting, typically via CSS and JavaScript.

Adaptive design has clear strengths and weaknesses. It is a more straightforward implementation, typically requiring less coding. It can also be coded to take place server-side, meaning all the work is done before the page is delivered to the client, which can streamline the user experience.  However, adaptive design is based strictly on device screen size, and does not take into account the actual window size that the visitor is using. Additionally, users accessing the site from a device that has not been accounted for may end up with a subpar viewing experience.

Responsive Design

Responsive design, on the other hand, does the adjustment on the client-side, which means the device itself is doing the processing work, which may result in slower loading times. The benefit of client-side processing, however, is that sites developed using Responsive Design can adjust to each user’s specific viewing conditions, based not only on device screen size, but on factors such as browser window size and even device orientation.  These changes take place on the fly – as you resize the window in a site with Responsive Design, you’ll see the screen continually adjusting and redrawing to present the content in the  most optimal way.

This versatility and flexibility is a key reason why Responsive Design has become the new standard in website design. While there may be instances where an Adaptive Design approach makes the most sense, in most cases, Responsive Design gives the best assurance that your visitors will see your site the way you want them to.

Not Sure Which Design You Need? Call Us!

When you’re optimizing your site for your users, it’s important to take this question under serious consideration. In our experience, the vast majority of sites will benefit from a Responsive Design approach over Adaptive Design, but if you’d like to review your particular site’s needs in more detail, we’d be happy to discuss your options.