Responsive vs Adaptive Web Design

Responsive design and adaptive design aim to achieve the same thing – a website that works on whatever size of a screen you are looking at. However, while both strive to achieve the same thing, how they achieve that goal is different. 

Why Responsive and Adaptive Design? 

In general, Google encourages a push towards mobile-friendly websites. In fact, over the years they have changed their algorithm so that sites that are optimised for viewing on a mobile device rank higher in search engines. This change led to many businesses taking another look at how their sites were developed. Having a website that only looks good on a desktop is no longer good enough – the site needs to look good across all types of devices and on a variety of screen sizes.

But this move to mobile optimisation is for the better. More of us now than ever are accessing the information we want on a variety of devices between desktops, mobile phones and tablets. This trend is clearly pointing to the fact that for businesses to stay alive, they need to present content in a way that’s readable and usable on a variety of devices.

There are two ways that a site can be developed to be mobile-friendly – by using responsive web design or adaptive web design. We’ll take a look at both of these options and weigh the pros and cons of each.

What is Responsive Design?

Responsive design is the process of building a website that will automatically adjust and adapt to the screen size of whatever device the user is on. 

Websites developed with responsive web design (RWD) can instantly adapt to any screen size. The content is readable, the images and videos adjust accordingly, and the navigation on the site is usable – whether you’re viewing the site on a large monitor, a tablet, or on the small screen of a mobile phone. The technology behind RWD is developed in the front end and executed on the device.

How Responsive Design works

This adaptation to different screen sizes is made possible by using fluid grids, flexible images, and CSS3 media queries. Fluid grids use page element sizing in relative units such as percentages, rather than absolute units like pixels. Flexible images are also sized in relative units so that they aren’t displayed outside their container element. The CSS media queries allow the use of CSS style rules based on the characteristics of the device that the site is being viewed on, usually the width of the browser.

What is Adaptive Web Design?

Adaptive web design (AWD) is another way to solve the issue of making a website mobile-friendly. The goal may be the same as with responsive design, but the approach is quite different.

How Adaptive Web Design works

In adaptive design, the developer creates a separate website layout, with a different HTML code, for each of the screen sizes that the site is viewed on. 

When a user comes to the site on a mobile phone, for instance, the server detects the device and displays the layout developed for a mobile device. Alternatively, if a desktop is used to access the site, the layout designed for optimal viewing on a desktop will be displayed.

How is Responsive and Adaptive Web Design different?

Both responsive and adaptive design succeeds in making sites mobile-friendly by creating a website that’s usable and easy to read on a variety of screen sizes. But since their approach to optimising the user experience on mobile devices is quite different, each has its pros and cons.

Consistent versus unique design

RWD delivers a consistent design. No matter what device you’re viewing the site on, the site will look very similar – with similar navigation and images that fluidly adjust to the screen – so that the user experience is the same across all devices. 

On the other hand, adaptive design provides an optimized website experience that is unique for each device used. A site seen on a desktop might look quite different if viewed on a mobile device. However, this may be the better way to go if the users of the site have different needs depending on the device they’re using to access the site.

How they react to new devices

Since responsive design sites are made to work well on any screen size, they will also be compatible with any new devices that may come to the market in the future. But an adaptive design only works on the specific screen sizes it’s developed for – so that if a new device is released, there’s a chance that none of the adaptive design layouts will fit well. In this case, a new layout would have to be developed to fit the new device.

Load times

One disadvantage of RWD is a slower load time.  Since the images are first downloaded and then re-sized to fit the device screen, responsive sites tend to take longer to load. Adaptive sites already use images optimised for specific device screens, so they load quicker.

Complexity in development

Responsive design sites are also more complex to develop. They require more coding to make sure that the site will be compatible with the wide variety of devices available today. But adaptive design requires development and maintenance of the separate HTML and CSS code needed for each layout – so the amount of work that goes into responsive vs adaptive design may equal out in the end.

Responsive Design is good for SEO

One benefit that responsive web design has over adaptive design is SEO. Because responsive sites deliver the same HTML code for all the devices used, it’s easier and faster for search engines like Google to index them.

Why use Responsive Web Design? 

One of the main reasons to use Responsive Web Design over Adaptive Web Design is that it takes a lot less time to build a website using Responsive Web Design. It is also much easier to maintain because all of the changes needed on a page only happen in one place. Another major benefit to using Responsive Design is that it is better for SEO, especially if you want to make it easier to find your website. 

How to learn Responsive Web Design

Code Institute’s Full Stack Software Development programme brings beginners to full-stack developers within 52 weeks. As part of the programme, students are thought responsive web design so that the sites that they build are viewable on all and any devices. 

If you want to learn the basics of Responsive Web Design for free, on Day 4 of Code Institute’s free 5 Day Coding Challenge, students learn the basics of how to use Responsive Web Design and by the end of day five, you will have built your first ever web page. The challenge takes just one hour a day over five days and on it participants also learn the basics of HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Register now through the form below. 

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