Users are accessing the web from more types of devices than ever before. With the large variety of devices and screen sizes available, it is a constant struggle to have your business’s website look consistent across all screen sizes. But did you know there are multiple ways that this can be accomplished when designing your website?
To ensure your website displays well on all devices you can employ either responsive or adaptive web design techniques. Depending on your business, one design principle may be more beneficial than the other. Choosing the right option will ensure your website performs optimally, users stay engaged, and conversion rates are high.
Let’s dive a little deeper to explain the difference between responsive design and adaptive design to help determine which would work best for your business.
Responsive design is exactly as it sounds: websites responsively designed will “respond” to the size of the screen on which they are viewed. They do this by detecting the width of the browser and moving key elements to fit the space available.
The fluidity of responsive design is what allows users to access your site whether on a mobile device or a desktop and not sacrifice user experience. It is easy to spot websites employing responsive design on desktops. If a site is responsively designed, it will adjust the positioning of the site’s design as the browser window is resized. To view a responsively designed website, check out the website for DollarSprout.
Responsively designed websites are easier to build and maintain than adaptively designed websites, making it the more common choice of the two. Many of the major content management systems, such as Wordpress, offer affordable templates which also makes it a more convenient choice compared to adaptive design.
When creating a website with responsive design principles, all screen sizes are kept in mind simultaneously; therefore, it is important to have a clear understanding of how your audience engages with your site prior to implementation.
Creating a visual hierarchy is essential when designing responsively as it maintains a consistent user experience on all screen sizes. It is best to use a simple design because it translates well across all devices more easily. While designing, we recommend viewing your site’s design on multiple devices as a measure to ensure it is properly responding to the available space.
There are both benefits and disadvantages when designing your website responsively.
Benefits of Responsive Design:
- Improved user experience because it is consistent across all devices
- Not difficult to implement
- Compatible with multiple styles and templates
Disadvantages of Responsive Design:
- Less design control because the site is designed with mobile devices in mind first then expands to fit larger screens.
- Design elements may move when the browser window is resizing outside of the designer’s control.
- The loading speed is slightly slower. This occasionally occurs when the website is being displayed on a mobile device, but the desktop version of the site is loaded instead.
Employing responsive design principles on your website is one way to guarantee your website will display well no matter which device users access it from.
Unlike with responsive design where one layout is created and changed based on screen size, adaptive design principles employ multiple layout sizes.
When the site is being loaded onto a web browser, it determines the space available and chooses the corresponding layout. With the layout being fixed, changing the size of the browser window does not have any effect on the site’s appearance.
It is typical when designing adaptively to create six standard layouts for the common screen widths. These screen widths include 320 pixels, 480 pixels, 760 pixels, 960 pixels, 1200 pixels, and 1600 pixels. It is also common for designers to create additional layout sizes if the target audience is known for utilizing a specific device. While responsive design tends to have a more desktop-centric focus, adaptive design aligns more with the modern mobile approach.
One way to determine if a website employs an adaptive website design is to access it via multiple devices. If there is a noticeable difference between the website layout on a desktop device than the layout on a mobile device, adaptive design has likely been used. Adaptive design is most practical when retrofitting an existing website to display on mobile devices. Home Depot’s website is a good example of adaptive design being used.
Just as with responsive design, using adaptive design comes with its own set of benefits and disadvantages.
Benefits of Adaptive Design:
- With the multiple layouts, the user experience is improved since it is specifically designed for each device screen size.
- The user’s environment is automatically detected.
- More opportunities for optimal advertising placement.
- Faster loading time. It is common for adaptively designed websites to load 2 to 3 times faster than their responsively designed counterparts.
Disadvantages of Adaptive Design
- Adaptive design principles take longer to develop and implement.
- It does not work well on tablet devices because of screen size inconsistencies. Adaptive design often caters to either desktop or mobile devices while leaving out users on tablet devices. It is recommended that a link is provided for users on tablet devices to have the option to view the site in its mobile or desktop versions.
- Extra work is required for SEO as the search engines may see the multiple layouts as duplicate content.
Which Option is Right for Your Site?
So, which option should your website utilize?
In truth, both options are better than your website not displaying well on all devices. When deciding which design approach to use, it is important to consider the pros and cons of both in relation to your business goals and target audience. Analyzing your website traffic and which devices most users are utilizing when they are accessing your website will help you make your decision. The right design for your business will improve the user experience enabling your customers to better connect with your website and increasing the likelihood of a conversion.
If your business is planning to redesign your website in hopes to improve your user experience on all devices, it is important to partner with a knowledgeable website design agency. Their experienced team should be able to review the metrics from your existing website while considering your business’s goals for the future to recommend which design principle would best suit your business. Whether your business chooses to use responsive design or adaptive design, there is no doubt that your website will see an increase in engagement compared if it was not optimized for mobile devices.