A Brief Guide to Understand Responsive Vs Adaptive Web Design

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Web design is evolving. Designers are ideating innovative design concepts to cut on the renderability issues, optimize load times and make sites search friendly.

Web design’s new ‘buzz words’ are concepts like responsive, scalable and adaptive layouts.

However, there has been a great debate between the responsive and adaptive layouts, so how should designers, and clients, differentiate these methods and apply them for a website template?

Let’s understand both the concepts in depth:

With the increased use of smart phones and tablets, the ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ isn’t necessarily the best practice any longer. When you view emails on mobile, you’re seeing a zoomed out view of the email, usually at 50%. This makes the text impossible to read as it’s half the size. This is where the concept of responsive design comes in. As the name explains, responsive web design responds to cross platforms such as tablets, desktops, mobiles and many more without being contorted. The biggest benefit of this type of web design concept is a quick call to action. Users will not have to constantly resize or zoom in and out of the page or even worse, try and tap a button the size of a pinhead. This results in better engagement, CTR, Response rate and Opens. Responsive designs are compatible with 70% of the major client emails.

So what is the difference with adaptive design? Adaptive web design is the practice of looking up information and coming to a consensus whether there is a need to apply CSS classes or not. An adaptive design uses the components of progressive enhancement to define design methods centering users over browsers.

Responsive vs Adaptive Web Design

Fluid Grids vs. Predefined Screen Sizes

Both responsive and adaptive web design projects have many similarities. They both ensure that the website is rendered in the correct format across devices and screens like mobile, desktop and tablets to create a seamless user experience.

However, responsive web design relies on flexible and fluid grids whereas adaptive design relies on predefined screen sizes. Adaptive web design is proactive and it ensures to detect a user’s device beforehand and then showing the best layout as per the screen. So what does this mean in plain English?

Grid System for Adaptive Web Design

Client Side vs. Server Side

Technically, both are used for mobile optimization. Responsive design is more ‘client side’ which means that the entire page is given away to the device browser and then the browser makes it compatible to the screen. Adaptive on the other hand, is ‘server side’ which means that the server detects the device attributes even before the page is delivered. For the first one, the device itself does ‘all the work’ while for the later; the ‘work’ is done at server level.

With adaptive designs, incorporating additional features such as touch gestures and location is fairly straightforward. Adaptive web design uses three layers of progressive enhancement:

  • Content layer – Rich Semantic HTML Markup
  • Presentation layer – CSS and Styling
  • Client-side scripting layer – JavaScript or jQuery behaviors

Client Side vs Server Side

To sum this up, responsive design and adaptive design have caused a lot of debate and confusion in the recent past. Designers need to have a clear understanding of both concepts. As far as the device user understanding goes, there is no major difference in both the concepts. To have the right web design solutions for your business, it is important to ask for an advised opinion from professional people who have a good understanding of both the concepts.

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Madalin Tudose

A web developer with a crush on SEO. Having my skin in the game of website development and digital marketing for more than 10 years already, you might consider me an expert. At least this is what people call me. Honestly, I HATE that term. I prefer to describe myself as a person who takes action and risks. I test every hypothesis, document every step of the process, and implement what works.