Adaptive vs Responsive Web Design

Is there a difference between responsive and adaptive design approaches? This question comes up more frequently than anyone might expect. Most people even use these terms as synonyms. Indeed, adaptive and responsive websites are similar in that they both change appearance according to the device they’re being viewed on. However, it is not right to say that they are the exactly the same thing. In this article, we will try to explain what makes a responsive site and how it is different from an adaptive one.  

Adaptive Web Design

The main concept of adaptive design is creating the great UX, where sites can be accessed without any technical restriction from any devices. Adaptive sites adapt the layout to different browser’s width at specific points using the same technologies as responsive design. The adaptive approach builds displays for certain contexts and specific devices, while utilizing JavaScript to design a perfect UX.  

Some of the adaptive design principles:

  • Different design for different types of devices
  • The content looks different on different screens

Pros:

  • Allows to create a customized and good-looking site with predictable behavior for the particular types of devices
  • Improved targeting process

Cons:

  • Complex maintenance and update process
  • More complicated and expensive to create  

Responsive Web Design

Responsive design was developed around 2010. It is the practice of building a site suitable to work on every screen size and every device, no matter is it desktop or mobile, small or large. Responsive sites respond to the browser’s size at any point. The website can adjust its layout (and functionality) fluidly and in a way that is optimal to the screen no matter what the width of the browser may be. Responsive web design flows with the environment. It provides a gratifying and intuitive experience. Mobile and desktop users alike benefit from responsive website design.

Pros:

  • Cheaper and easier to build
  • Distinctive look on different devices
  • For Google responsive website means mobile friendly. It improves SEO rates
  • One URL for all versions of your website

Cons

  • Impossible to create a single product for all the diversity of devices
  • Often, it displays too much content on a screen

Adaptive vs Responsive

The Web is responsive by nature. It does not need to adapt or respond to any devices until dev’s start changing it. Both adaptive and responsive designs are the same in that they are approaches to deal with the fact that sites are often viewed in different contexts/on different devices. Each of them happened to go about it in its own way.

The difference between these two design approaches goes deeper than the explanations above. Adaptive and responsive websites are different in their way of thinking. The concept of adaptive design is neither flexible, nor fluid. This approach needs specific points at which to adapt. The page is changing step-by-step, but not in a liquid way. Also, it can be difficult to adapt a site on all the sizes of the screen out there. However, there is a roundup of media queries available.

In contrast, responsive design comes with a different way of thinking. Its components are media queries, fluid grids, and flexible images. Responsive approach uses media queries to work within various viewing contexts rather than quarantining into device-specific, disparate experiences.

So the key words here are flexible and fluid. Responsive web design creates an optimized experience for any device. This philosophy challenges the developers to build websites that shift context in accordance with how a website is being viewed on a given occasion.

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Which is Better?

There is no single answer to this question. A designer chooses the best approach for the project at hand. This choice should be based on the types of devices that a future website should support. For example, if iPhone X is the only device that matters for you, there is no need to account for other devices. Adapting to iPhone X would be more efficient and easier. However, responsive web design is a great choice for improving a website against the possibility of new devices on the market.

Adaptive web design is a good idea if:

  • You have both money and time to build/maintain several versions of your website
  • You audience has a wide spectrum of devices

Responsive web design is a great choice if:

  • Your goal is to increase the ease of the site’s update process and maintenance
  • You do not need to adopt your website to various needs
  • You are limited in money and time

Conclusion

Adaptive and responsive designs are often transposed as one in the same because they are closely related. Adaptive is about being easily modified for changes, while responsive is about reacting positively and quickly to these changes. A combination of these two approaches is ideal as it offers a perfect solution for functional sites.