Almost half of the world’s population (3.5 billion people, to be exact) uses a smartphone at this juncture. Ignoring this trend and building a website with little care about this demographic will be a huge oversight on the part of the web developer, indeed. With more and more people accessing websites on mobile devices, you have to make sure that yours can be easily viewed on a smartphone or tablet. Otherwise, you’d lose visitors and drive less traffic to your domain. Of course, these two can’t be good news for your SEO goals.

As you explore ways to have your site cater to a variety of screen sizes, you’ll come across two viable design options: responsive and adaptive. For those without much experience with either style of design, it can be confusing telling the two apart. Although the boundaries between them seem blurred, they have differences that you can notice the closer you look at these two. Either way, both can prepare your website for mobile use.

Which one is most appropriate for your site’s goals and budget? What are the advantages that these two can offer?

The Basics of Responsive Web Design and Adaptive Web Design

Let’s begin with a responsive web design. At its core, this design approach aims to make websites provide optimal viewing experience no matter what type of device a user is accessing the site with. The goal here is to make a site easy to read and navigate with minimum resizing, scrolling, and panning, especially when the user browses the website from a screen that’s much smaller than a desktop’s. For the most part, it’s done with the use of fluid grids and breakpoints. With a responsive design, your site’s layout will automatically resize to fit the size of your screen. Think of it like a ball that grows or shrinks to fit through different hoops with varying sizes.

And then there’s the adaptive website design. A key feature of this particular approach is that it doesn’t have one layout that changes depending on the device viewing the website. Instead, an adaptive design prepares many distinct layouts for various screen sizes. This means that the layout of the website to be served to a user will depend on the screen size he or she uses. To adapt to a mobile user’s view of a website, an adaptive web design prepares a specific layout for tablets and smartphones (alongside the desktop view) and then waits until someone visits the domain using either device. When the site detects that the device accessing it is a smartphone or a tablet, it then delivers the pre-set layout for that device. It’s like having different balls to shoot, depending on the size of the hoop you’re aiming for.

Responsive Web Design vs. Adaptive Web Design

Naturally, you’ll ask yourself which of these two will be most beneficial to your web design and development process. However, the reality is that neither one of these two won’t beat the other in a landslide victory. In other words, you simply choose which is most appropriate for your website’s needs.

Now, let’s take a look at how each one compares.

  • Adaptive Isn’t as Flexible

A common criticism of the adaptive approach is that it doesn’t always display well on unique screen sizes. It often only works on as six of the most common screen widths: 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200, and 1600 pixels. In other words, the website displays well on as many screens as its available layouts take into account. If a new, popular device with unique screen size is released on the market, an adaptive layout may not be able to keep up, especially when none of its layouts fit well with the said gadget. The web developer may have to edit an existing one or make a new, specific layout for the said screen type. Meanwhile, responsive websites can work well with any screen size and can keep working even if there are a dozen new devices with unique screen resolutions that come out of the mobile market.

  • Responsive Is More Difficult to Make

All the hype surrounding the responsive website design may be diverting designers away from the fact that it isn’t as easy to pull off as its adaptive counterpart. It often requires extra attention to the site’s organization and CSS, especially when the goal is as lofty as making sure the site functions well at any screen size imaginable. Indeed, it’s easier making a few, specific layouts for your website than making one layout that responds appropriately to the screen size viewing it. You may need more time to come up with an adaptive layout for several screen sizes, but it’s hardly a knock on the amount of work required to make a responsive design for your website.

  • Responsive Loads Faster

While this factor is mostly dependent on specific circumstances, most adaptive websites take more time loading up completely compared to responsive layouts. After all, an adaptive site needs to load ALL its layouts while a responsive one just loads one that works regardless of the platform. All those extra layouts take time and resources to load so it often lags behind in terms of page load speeds. But if the responsive website has to load 100 pages or more and the adaptive site just has 10 in the bag, the latter will likely load faster. The actual website’s size matters in this regard, too.

  • Adaptive Optimises Ads Better

Because adaptive website design takes into account different resolutions, webmasters can easily access a user’s specific needs based on behavioral targeting (also known as personalisation). Based on the profile created by a specific mobile demographic, web developers can then finely tune advertisements that will deem most relevant to such users. On the other hand, responsive websites will bump into a bit of difficulty since it’s only their layout that “flows” from one device to another. Any ads thrown in the mix may not necessarily fit into a specific screen’s size. When this happens, the website designers will have to go back to the drawing board and do some more rethinking and planning.

Should You Go Responsive or Adaptive?

Before raising the hand of the victor in this contest, know that choosing between these two design approaches takes a lot of pondering. Although a responsive website design ticks a lot of the right boxes (cost-effectiveness, search engine-friendly, seamless user experience, etc.), an adaptive layout may be the better choice for some sites. In this case, it’s the go-to option of newer, smaller websites that are trying to preserve resources as much as possible in preparation for the marathon it just signed up for.

If you need help with deciding which of these two suits your website best, know that our web design agency can help. Contact us today and we’ll guide you through the next steps of your web design process!