How To Get Mobile-Friendly: Deciding Between Responsive and Adaptive Design

February 9, 2014

To put it simply, there is no excuse not to have an excellent mobile site in 2014.

We’ve been talking about it for years, but the day is really here: mobile is surpassing desktop usage. And that isn’t just a fun fact about the modern day and age we’re living in. It’s proof that if you don’t have a mobile presence, your business is not only going to lose business but maybe even get left behind in the shifting world of search. So the real question now is not, should you have a mobile-friendly site, but what kind of mobile-friendly site?

While responsive is more often than not the way to go, like anything, there are merits to many methods and it’s important to know what’s what in the world of web design.

Which design is right for you is ultimately a question that factors in more than the basic “adaptive versus responsive” query. It’s one that depends on your goals, your budget, your sites purpose, and the interaction you want your users and your site to have.  But first, we want to give you a little more information on the basics behind those two main mobile-friendly designs and their biggest differences, so that you can gain the insight you’ll need to start deciding what’s right for your business.

Responsive Design

Responsive design is one of the most effective means of making desktop-only websites accessible to the whole range of tablet and mobile devices. This type of web design is essentially a technique that allows the same HTML code to be delivered and used by each device, all while making some alterations to CSS. CSS is what determines the layout and look of a webpage, so by leaving the HTML the same, but tweaking the CSS, responsive design allows your site to adjust to whatever shape and size screen it’s displaying on at the moment.

The reason that most see responsive design as the far more preferable option is that only one single codebase is necessary. Why does that matter? By having one central code, whatever edits need to be made can be done once and will impact the design on each platform, which keeps things not only simple, but consistent across all devices. While one code can also imply that all versions of a site will have a similar level of complexity and size, or that there may be potentially different load times, yet this sort of design is still one of the best methods of making your site accessible on as many devices as possible. The biggest benefit to responsive design is that your business will have a site capable of fluidly changing and responding to any device your customers are accessing it on, without needing a redesigned and coded set of layout sizes and styles.

Adaptive Design

Adaptive design is another alternative. The main difference between the responsive method and the adaptive design route is that with adaptive design, instead of having one code that registers and alters as needed on each device automatically, there are a set of restricted layouts that are programmed for a predetermined set of device and screen sizes. That means the ability to display a different template for a specific device, but it also means different batches of unique HTML designed specifically for each and every device.

Here, the server that’s hosting your website has to detect the devices making requests to it, and then use this information to decide which unique batch of HTML and CSS code to use based on the device it detects the query coming from. The benefit of adaptive design is that you can create an experience designed with a specific device in mind. This is most handy if the purpose of your mobile site is distinctly different for your mobile users than from that of your desktop users. If your users are visiting your site with similar goals in mind, whether they’re on a mobile device or a desktop, then adaptive design is most likely not the best option.

While most businesses are going the responsive route, to really answer which design is right for you depends on your customers, the reasons they’re visiting your mobile site, the experiences you want them to have, the look and feel of your desktop site, your budget and much more. If you’re not sure which one’s right for you, get in touch and we can help you determine which will work best with your business in mind! Just give us a call at 877.866.6699 or shoot us an email at today.

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