12:48 PM August 22, 2014
One thing that virtually every Internet marketer and web designer can agree on is that new websites need to be accessible across a wide variety of devices and platforms – that they need to display properly on everything from laptop and desktop computers to smartphone screens.
One thing some can’t agree on, though, is how to best achieve that goal.
That’s where the ongoing debate between adaptive web design and responsive web design comes into play. The two concepts are closely related. And as you might expect, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. In this article we’re going to take a look at what the differences might mean to you, both as a user and a marketer, so you can make the right call for your business going forward.
The Differences Between Responsive and Adaptive Design
It’s a good idea to begin by noting that both responsive web design and adaptive web design aim to make content more viewable and accessible on mobile devices. So, while they have the same goal, it’s the methods used that create a distinction.
Responsive web designs are coded in a way that allows them to detect browsers and settings and then adjust content to display in a fluid way. As its name implies, this way of working allows your website to respond to the requests put to it by an external device and adapt itself accordingly. In that way, they can display the same basic elements of design, typography, and images in an almost infinite variety, depending on the type of visitor your website has.
Adaptive web design solves the same problem in a wholly different way, relying on pre-defined layers and page sizes to achieve the same effect, albeit more precisely. Instead of resizing elements on the page numerous times, for example, an adaptive website can detect that someone is visiting you from an iPad and show the correct versions of your pages for that specific screen size and resolution.
Because the net effect can be the same – or at least very similar – it might be tough for visitors to tell the difference between responsive and adaptive websites (or at least it should be, if they have been designed correctly). Still, there are some ramifications of these differences that could matter to you as a marketer.
Weighing the Relative Strengths and Weaknesses
For some, choosing between responsive web design and adaptive web design is simply a matter of artistic and technical preference. In fact, the solution you get for your website is likely to be heavily influenced by the design team you choose and the method they prefer.
When you take those biases away, though, you come up with two important reasons to choose one over the other. On the one hand, because they are inherently flexible, responsive websites tend to be friendlier to a wider range of screens and viewers (since visitors don’t have to fit within certain screen size categories for pages to display perfectly, at least in theory). Plus, responsive web designs are more “future-proofed” for the same reason; if a new product comes out with a different screen size and resolution, your existing web presence should already work well.
However, adaptive web designs can be preferable simply because things don’t always go as planned with responsive designs. That is, the software on your website might not read a viewer’s platform correctly, and could show the desktop version for a mobile phone user, for instance, or vice versa. That actually makes the usability of your site worse, rather than better, and could cause huge performance bottlenecks if it’s a chronic problem.
Instances of responsive web designs showing up incorrectly are relatively rare, and can often be mitigated by choosing the right design partner. That doesn’t mean it’s an issue you can afford to ignore, however, especially if you’re working with an e-commerce site or one that gets lots of traffic from a variety of mobile sources.
Another downside to responsive web design is that it forces users who come to you on smart-phones and tablets to essentially load all the content of a website, even if it’s a complex one, and then sort through which elements have to be displayed. When you figure in the vast number of devices and browsers out there – along with the proliferation of online videos and other pieces of complex, bandwidth-heavy content – that can lead to performance bottlenecks and programming nightmares.
The Bottom Line on the Responsive vs. Adaptive Debate
So, what’s the final answer that you were probably looking for when you came upon this article? Should your next website be responsive or adaptive?
The simple answer is that there isn’t a simple answer; as with most things in Internet marketing, you have to consider your options, along with the related risks and opportunities, and then make the decision that’s right for the job at hand.
Having a talented team of web designers and programmers at your side, especially if they’re familiar with your company and its bottom-line goals, is going to make this process a lot easier… not to mention make the end product a lot more useful and profitable, regardless of which way you decide to go.
Responsive web design is probably winning the PR battle, and it’s a good chance that’s the answer you’re most familiar with. But, don’t necessarily assume that it’s automatically the right option for you or your business. Responsive and adaptive web design might both be aimed at solving the same problem, but that doesn’t mean they are equal and interchangeable solutions for every situation.
Finding the best designs and answers for your business website or online store is easier when you have a team of committed, experienced professionals on your side. For the best web designers in Los Angeles, SEO, Internet marketing, and Magento development, turn to the team at Full Impact Studios.
Call us today at 800-658-0113 to see samples and case studies from previous projects, or to schedule a time for a free consultation and website review.