In 2020, over 50% of all internet traffic occurred on mobile devices.
The rising number of people who use smartphones on a daily basis is changing the way online businesses and web designers think about website design.
In this article, we will define and compare adaptive versus responsive web design and take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Finally, we will touch upon some actionable tips and best practices for both of these website design methods.
Adaptive vs Responsive Web Design: What is the Difference?
Adaptive web design (AWD) detects the user’s screen size and loads the most appropriate site layout. It uses static layout based on breakpoints that respond only when they are loaded. Web designers develop six standalone width layouts for every adaptive website: 320px, 480px, 760px, 960px, 1200px and 1600px.
This mobile-friendly design approach displays a static layout for multiple screen sizes – this means that the elements on the page are displayed differently on every device.
Advantages of adaptive design are:
- Browsing experience optimized for standalone devices
- Faster loading times
- Adaptable to existing websites
- Disadvantages of adaptive design are:
- Requires more work and is more expensive
- Designers must make changes to all layouts
- Usually requires a team of developers
Responsive web design (RWD) dynamically adapts to the size of the screen regardless of the device a website visitor is using. This type of web design approach uses CSS queries to resize aspects of a page such as width and height to display it on different screens.
Responsive design makes it possible to browse a website from any device because its content will dynamically rearrange to fit the screen size.
Advantages of responsive design are:
- Uniform browsing experience on all devices
- Easier to implement and designers only need to maintain one version of a website
- Google recognizes RWD as a ranking signal
Disadvantages of responsive design are:
- Incompatible with older web browsers
- Slower loading times on mobile
- May not display ads properly
- Key elements may be pushed down
In a nutshell, AWD requires more work, because designers need to adapt the design layout for six different widths. RWD can result in display and performance issues due to poor use of media queries, making it more complex.
When Should You Use Adaptive Web Design?
Adaptive web design is a handy approach for making an existing website mobile-friendly. It ensures designers have full control when developing a website for multiple devices.
The number of different screen sizes designers will develop a website for depends on the business and its overall budget. Knowing what devices your website visitors most commonly use (by looking at your web analytics), you can choose to design for these specific resolutions and viewports only.
As a rule of thumb, designers start from smaller-sized screens and work their way up, so that the content doesn’t restrain the layout.
AWD provides a bigger share of control over content and layout than responsive design. This is also very useful when designing a new adaptive site from scratch. Using media queries, you or your team of designers can expand the layout for screens of higher resolution.
It can be extra work designing and developing a site with adaptive for multiple viewports so it’s usually used for retrofitting.
When Should You Use Responsive Web Design?
Responsive web design is a preferred method of choice for a majority of new websites – although mobile-first approach is also gaining momentum.
RWD was made accessible through CMS systems such as WordPress and Joomla and is an easier route for less experienced designers and developers.
Although it offers a smaller degree of control than AWD, RWD websites take less work to create and maintain.
Responsive website designers create sites with all layouts in mind, which makes the process more complex. The usual route is to create a viewport for middle of the road resolution and then use media queries to adapt for low and high resolutions.
Responsive design is more appropriate for new website projects. A responsive web design company can incorporate all the necessary tools which to help you update or improve your website performance.
5 Adaptive Design And Responsive Design Best Practices
The list of best practices for creating adaptive and responsive websites can potentially be a long and extensive one, but we have narrowed it down to these five absolutely critical points.
1. Pay Attention to User Interface
When designing a website for several specific screen sizes, you need to think about the way a user interacts with each device.
Responsive and adaptive UI design considers the fact that people use their thumbs to navigate sites on smartphones, index fingers on tablets and mouse cursors on laptops.
Keep in mind that accessing content is easier on bigger screens and reaching the corners of the screen with a thumb is not so easy.
The thumb is a focal point for most mobile device users – 49% of people use their mobile phones with one hand. The most important pieces of content and CTAs on mobile devices should be easily reached by a thumb.
Which brings us to the next best practice…
2. Think Hard About CTA Placements
Call-to-action buttons attract the attention of website visitors and prospective customers and are their pathway to conversion.
It is easy to forget the importance of CTAs when adjusting content to fit various screen sizes – but the bottom line is, a user should never have to scroll down below the fold in order to find the first CTA on the page.
A website’s most important call-to-action – or rather, the CTA that is most relevant to the user at that early stage of the user journey – should appear on the landing page.
Also, be sure to include more than one CTA on a single page. Make it stand out with its size, bold colors and enticing copy.
3. Choose The Right Typography
Your choice of fonts is critical, because it will affect the readability and legibility of your site’s content on all devices, including those with smaller screens.
When deciding on your responsive website’s typography, be mindful of:
- Type, for legibility on all screen sizes and overall user experience
- Size, as fonts should be proportionate with the screen
- Spacing, because it can aid the reading speed
- Text block width, as chunky blocks of content are harder to read
Also, don’t include more than one or two fonts on a website, because overdoing it will make the website seem inconsistent.
4. Use Responsive Imagery
Different devices need images of different sizes for good visibility of content and fast loading speeds.
A desktop version of a website page may require a 900px wide image, while a smartphone version of the same page needs the same image to be 300 pixels wide.
Large image files can significantly slow down your website, which is why the old way of doing things – uploading the large resolution image and using it on different devices – is not cutting it anymore.
For both adaptive and responsive websites, it is important to use several versions of the same image, one for each device and screen size.
That way, a smartphone version of a website will call up the smaller version of the image, which improves page loading speeds and, consequently, user experience.
5. Prioritize Content Blocks For Different Devices
The desktop version of a website has enough space to show several of the most important blocks of content right above the fold – but the same cannot be said for smaller screens.
A good practice to anticipate this issue is to decide what is most important to show first on smartphones and tablets and prioritize that content. Developers can change the content order based on this decision with some CSS and JS coding.
For instance, you may need to decide what is most relevant to show first: the image block or the content block that appear next to one another on desktop site.
Takeaways on Adaptive and Responsive Web Design
Adaptive and responsive web design each come with their unique set of benefits and downsides. Adaptive design is more suited for complicated websites, while responsive design works better for low-complexity sites.
Regardless of which website development process you choose, bear in mind that each takes some serious considerations about the nature of the website, its content and its target audience.