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Today’s users can access online information from diverse ways, from a giant corporate monitor to a smartwatch. With this amount of different devices, website designers must provide solutions in their designs that fit the variety of screen sizes. This is one of the most challenging tasks that every web and app designer currently faces. To be able to bridge the gap between devices, designers have two option: the adaptive design or responsive design.
While both methods share the ultimate goal of changing the appearance of the website based on the browser environment that is being viewed on (the most common aspect will be: the browser’s width), they have several differences.
A responsive website reacts and shows the content of the site based on the available browser/viewport space at any given point. To check if a website is designed and developed responsively, you can open the site on the desktop browser and then change the size (usually width) of the browser window, the content will move dynamically to arrange itself in the most optimal way.
Responsive website design doesn’t offer as much control over the design on each screen size because the responsive layout is usually changed based on stylesheets and javscripts but still use the same html structure for all devices. For this reason, responsive website design takes less work to build and maintain but suffers from certain limitation. Due to its affordable approach, responsive website design is currently the most preferred method for creating new cross devices websites at this moment. There is also a large number of affordable templates available on the market that support this style of design, and at the same time, these templates can be applied to the majority of the mainstream CMS (Content Management System) platforms.
Responsive design is straightforward. Because of its fluid nature, it means that users can access your website and enjoy as much of it on their handheld device as they would on a huge monitor. For this to be true, responsive design requires a very good conceptualization of the site and a deep knowledge of the needs and wants of the end users.
On the other hand, an adaptive website will adjust to the width of the browser at a specific point. When the site detects the available space, it selects the layout most appropriate for the screen. So, when you open a browser on a desktop computer, the site chooses the best layout for that desktop screen; resizing the browser has no impact on the design. Usually in adaptive websites the layout displayed on the mobile version is different from the desktop version. However, this is because the designers have picked a different layout for the phone’s screen rather than leaving the design to try to rearrange itself.
Adaptive design will (at least in theory) ensure the best user experience according to whichever device the user is using to interface. Unlike responsive design, where a screen “flows” from desktop design into a smaller devices, adaptive design offers tailor-made solutions. As the name suggests, they adapt to the user’s situational needs and capabilities. With this you can show users that you’re in tune with their needs on a mobile device by making the design touch friendly. Meanwhile, you can do the same for desktop users.
A simpler way to think about the difference between responsive and adaptive website design will be the difference between smooth and snap design. Responsive design is smooth because the layout fluidly adjusts regardless of what device it is viewed on. Adaptive design, on the other hand, snaps into place because the page is serving something different because of the browser or device it is viewed on.
While Adaptive Website Design (AWD) will more than likely be more expensive than Responsive Website Design (RWD), as you can see both have pros and cons. The key is to consider your audience first and foremost no matter what design technique you decide to use. Once you know exactly who they are, what they want to see and what devices they tend to access the site on, you will find which method will provide you with more benefits.