Responsive vs Adaptive Design: Which is better for the user?

Today’s web developers and marketers are increasingly opting for responsive design to create a page that can be viewed on any device. And while it’s good enough from the point of view of Google, which “loves” responsive sites, it’s not the only option that can adapt to user needs.

Adaptive design wasn’t born yesterday, but it’s only recently that it’s become a big topic of discussion, thanks to the improvements it brings to the user experience.

To understand which of the two types of design is best for you, you need to be clear about the advantages and disadvantages of both methods, and be aware of what the best solutions are for different types of sites and devices.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design is the scaling of the interface to the user’s device through media-queries, or CSS3 modules, which allow the user to set different styles (or even style sheets) depending on the screen resolution, size, and other characteristics.

Using this method is better suited for sites with a flexible, or “rubber” structure. Otherwise, developers will spend a lot of time and resources to remake the site for tablets and cell phones, to compensate for the lack of flexibility.

In addition to its variable structure, responsive design has several other advantages:

  1. the same appearance of the resource in different browsers and on different platforms
  2. The presence of the same URL, which contributes to SEO-optimization
  3. Developers need to maintain only one site, which reduces the time spent on design and content

While the positives of responsive design are obvious, there are a number of drawbacks to this method. The biggest of these is the loading speed, which is significantly reduced due to the high resolution of images and other visual elements required to design the appearance of the resource.

If you opt for a responsive approach, your designers will always be limited by this factor, as complex visual elements can “slow down” loading on mobile devices.

Adaptive Web Design

Adaptive design functions a little differently. It segments users into categories based on what device they’re viewing the site from.

While sites created with responsive design technology look the same regardless of device size – an adaptive resource determines which device a user is accessing the site from and displays the version of the site that was designed specifically for that type of device.

For example, if you’re viewing a regular blog page with pictures, headlines, descriptions and a “Share” button on a cell phone, the page will take a very long time to load because of the large number of images. In addition, the small screen size will make the page look cluttered.

Instead of showing a smaller copy of the resource, the server of the site with an adaptive design identifies the user’s device type and displays a simplified version of the blog, containing only the most essential elements of the interface and lower quality images.

In other words, the server takes care of all the “hard” work, instead of forcing the site to optimize itself. Among the advantages of adaptive design are the following:

Images load much faster because they are compressed and adapt to the user’s device
The site loads faster because the server detects the user’s device type and loads the programming code corresponding to it
Developers enjoy creative freedom, as they can create different versions of sites and adapt them to the appropriate device types to make them more mobile-friendly.
The appeal of this method is overshadowed by the fact that creating an adaptive site is not easy. Because of the adaptation of the design to different devices, the time spent on development increases significantly. Moreover, if you need to make any modifications to the site, you will have to make changes to all its versions. Therefore, if you have a small budget and no team of specialists who will support the adaptive site, it is better yet to abandon this idea.

Which option is right for what?

Even if you have a preference for one of the two types of design described above, it’s important to realize that you need to think about user experience first.

If your users are more comfortable interacting with a resource that has the same structure on all devices, opt for a responsive design. If your users are more technically savvy and you want to lay a good foundation for the future, then adaptive design will be the best solution.

Despite the fact that developing an adaptive website is more difficult, its advanced features and high loading speed can have a positive effect on conversion rates, which is especially important in the e-commerce and media industries.

For simple web pages or sites that load beautifully on mobile devices, responsive design will be the optimal solution. Their owners should consider creating an adaptive resource as an option for the future.

Have a great conversion rate!

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