Responsive vs Adaptive Web Design: Which one is better?

No matter the industry, there’s no getting around the need for a site going mobile. Potential clients are looking for businesses on their phone or tablet, and any company that ignores these devices is passing up on business. So, put together a mobile version of the company’s site, right?  That is the correct approach, but many business owners find that going mobile raises as many questions as it addresses. Perhaps the most pressing concern among them is, how will the site look on mobile devices, and will it be easy to navigate? That’s where the decision of responsive web design vs. adaptive web design comes in.

When smartphones were just starting to take hold, most businesses still relied on sites that were barely modified for mobile platforms. This led to a lot of panning and scrolling, two things that today’s internet user doesn’t tolerate well. If a company wants to capture users through their phones or tablets, it is essential that the site be sized properly.

What’s the difference between responsive web design vs adaptive web design?

Responsive web design (RWD) can be described in a single word: flexibility. The concept behind RWD is to make a site’s elements as fluid as possible, so that they adjust on the fly to fit a screen of any size. Achieving this requires the smart use of fluid grids, media, and CSS management, but it is powerful if done properly. That’s because with RWD, a single site can be perfectly arranged and easy to navigate for any display, whether a massive television screen or a smartphone.

Adaptive web design (AWD) eschews complete flexibility, instead focusing on creating several iterations of a site, each of them built in a different size. For example, a designer may produce a single site layout for desktops and laptops, one for phones, and one for tablets. AWD makes heavy use of Javascript and CSS, and the theoretical perk to AWD is that it is easier to execute. However, the growing trend leans toward RWD, so it is no longer the challenge it once was.

For a clearer idea of what RWD and AWD look like, imagine a ball (your website) and a set of hoops (various displays). The goal is to get the ball through as many hoops as possible. With RWD, your site functions like a single ball that changes size to fit every hoop it comes across. With AWD, you are given several balls of different sizes, and one is selected for each hoop.

Who is the winner in the battle between responsive web design vs adaptive web design?

Although RWD requires additional expertise and attention to execute, most experts agree that it produces superior mobile sites. The reason is twofold:

Responsive Web Design is far more flexible

As long as the site’s arrangement and CSS is handled properly, RWD produces a site that will look good on any screen in existence. No matter how wide or narrow, RWD ensures that the site’s elements are shuffled into place and not stretched or placed beyond the bounds of the screen. In fact, RWD is made to work on screen sizes that aren’t even in use yet, but may be one day.

AWD is hamstrung by a lack of choices. Usually, a designer will create a single version of a site for phones, tablets, laptops and desktops, but phones and tablets come in a huge variety of sizes. As a result, even a beautifully built set of AWD iterations will annoy a significant number of mobile users.

Responsive Web Design produces faster sites

When a site using AWD loads, it’s actually loading all of the site’s iterations, which means more data to transfer, which means slower load times. RWD, however, only loads a single instance of a site, and even though RWD architecture tends to be a bit more extensive, it is still faster than loading several versions of a single site.

Faster load times are a major factor in capturing users. Nearly two thirds of mobile users expect a site to load within four seconds. So, that extra second or two can be the difference between a missed and made sale.

Going mobile is an exciting time for a company, as it opens up another avenue for acquiring clientele and improves the business’s reputation. The transition can also be stressful, but with a talented, experienced designer capable of producing a RWD enabled site, the result can pay big dividends.

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