Our take on adaptive and responsive design

November 18, 2014
Mobile phone

Your website needs to work across devices, so you want it to be responsive, right? Or maybe adaptive?

This is the kind of question we work with every day as we’re designing websites for our clients. Recently an article has been driving a lot of awareness around the issue of responsive versus adaptive design. It effectively uses animated gifs as a communication tool, helping readers visualize the differences described.

There is some debate in the comments section of the article where other folks are pointing out where they disagree with the author. We also noticed that the differences described aren’t quite how we would describe responsive versus adaptive.

Our take is that if you’re trying to figure out what kind of design will work for your website, start by taking a step back and asking yourself, “What would be most useful and engaging for my audience to see on a mobile device? Is what they’re trying to do different there, versus on desktops?” Understanding that will drive the design choice.

We agree with this point, made in the article:

“Responsive designs fluidly expand, whereas adaptive designs hitch as you expand a browser or viewport.”

The main difference between adaptive and responsive is the HTML markup being used. Responsive will use the same markup for all devices and change the CSS to hide/show pieces of content while adaptive will have specific markup for each device.

Ultimately, the choice between responsive and adaptive should be made according to the context of the website on the device. Take Amazon.com, for example. They use an adaptive approach, hiding a lot of elements on the mobile website that are otherwise visible on the desktop site:
Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 12.55.20 PM     IMG_1754
If you expect people to discover your website and behave the same way across devices, responsive may be a good choice. If you think there’s a distinction between what your mobile visitors want to view and achieve with your business, while on a mobile website, it makes sense to consider alternatives, like adaptive design.

But of course, we’ve only scratched the surface of this topic that we care a lot about! If you want to talk about which choice makes the most sense for your business, get in touch. We’d love to help you make the right choice for your business.

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