Responsive Website Design vs. Adaptive Website Design – Battle of the Titans

The age old battle between which website design style is better, Responsive Web Design vs Adaptive Web Design has been raging on for centuries… well at least since 2011. However, before we dive into this, it is probably best we refresh our memories into what Responsive Web Design (RWD) and Adaptive Web Design (AWD) are.

Responsive Website Design – What the What?

As some of you may remember from a previous blog, a responsive site will adjust itself to always look its best depending on what device you are viewing it on. The key factor in using a responsive website is that the content will, for the most part, always be the same across all devices.

You can think of your content like water; water will always take the shape of whatever container it’s in. In this case, your screen-width is the container and the water is the content. Now, while this can be a good thing, it isn’t always the best solution.

The Good

Having access to the same content from a site no matter where you are or what device you’re viewing it on can be a benefit for some. (as long as the site itself is designed to be viewed on multiple devices). It can be frustrating for a user that visits a site on desktop, or laptop that then refers back to it later on a cellphone only to find that the page is either a pain to track back to, or doesn’t exist at all on mobile. However, having all your content show up all the time isn’t exactly all sunshine and rainbows.

The Bad

Having all the same content show up on all versions of your site is awful for one main reason: Slower load times (Although, this is where Adaptive Web Design shines! …but we’ll get to that in a second). Having a site always load all the desktop content on any mobile device can be detrimental for mobile users. Luckily, there is another solution to designing a site.

Adaptive Website Design – Hero or Villain? You Decide!

While a responsive site will have the same content across all devices, an adaptive site will change its’ content depending on what device you are viewing it on. You may have noticed when you go on a site on your smartphone you will see a ‘m’ before domain. That’s an adaptive site!

That means there is a specific mobile sub-domain that you can only see if you are on a mobile device. That sub-domain has specific content that is optimized for mobile devices. Although, not all adaptive sites will clearly show a sub-domain. Some developers will even change the content depending if you are specifically on a tablet, cell phone, or laptop.

The Good

Adaptive websites will usually load faster than responsive sites and you are able to customize the content shown so you can really talk to your specific audience. This can mean you have lower bounce rates and higher conversion. However, while adaptive websites are great in theory, they don’t always stack up in practice.

The Bad

Setting up these sub-domains and maintaining them takes a lot of time and energy. Frankly, most people aren’t going to spend the time it takes to set these up since maintaining adaptive sites can be so time consuming. While adaptive sites can be a great way to design a site, there are just can be too many drawbacks for it to really catch on.

The Ugly….Truth

Designing and developing a website is always going to be a case by case basis. Sometimes designing a responsive site is the way to go, while other times designing an adaptive site may be the better option. With that being said, while adaptive websites can have a greater impact on overall site performance responsive sites are almost always going to still be the better option for designers, developers and users.

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