Last Updated on June 17, 2020 by WordPress Expert
Let’s face it: if your website was a book, everyone would be judging it by its cover.
Chances are that you’ve worked hard on your website content. And maybe you have some top-notch products and services to sell. But if the website looks terrible, customers will bounce before they can appreciate all of your hard work.
It’s particularly tricky to make a website look good on all possible devices (desktop/laptop, mobile, and tablet). To achieve the best-looking site, you’re going to need to embrace either responsive or adaptive design.
So, what’s the best choice between these two? Keep reading to discover our complete guide!
What Is Responsive Design?
Before you can compare these two kinds of site designs, you must have a better understanding of each one. Let’s start by defining and exploring responsive design.
Responsive design is refreshingly simplistic, and it really lives up to its name. In short, a responsive design will automatically adjust your web content to fit (or “respond” to) the exact size of the device browser.
Why is this important? Some of your users will visit your site from desktops and some will visit via smartphones or tablets. If your site is only optimized for desktop or only optimized for mobile, it’s going to look bad on the other device.
With responsive design, your site looks great for desktop, tablet, and mobile users. Your site will even look great if smartphone users view it in a horizontal widescreen instead of the standard vertical.
Check out this article to find out more about responsive design.
What Is Adaptive Design?
On paper, adaptive design has the same primary goal as responsive design – to give the user the best experience based on the device and screen size used. However, it achieves that goal in a very different way.
Instead of adjusting your content on the fly like responsive design, adaptive design involves building several static versions of your site. You’ll build a few versions with common desktop screen sizes, then a few versions with common mobile screen sizes, and the same for tablets. When someone visits your site, it will load the best version based on their device type and screen size.
Keep in mind that your site may not perfectly fit the screen size with adaptive design. Because there are a limited number of versions, the “best” fit will load. So if you have versions for a 1200 width screen and another for 1600, but the user’s device is somewhere in between, your site will load the one that looks best, but it won’t be a perfect fit.
In summary, responsive design automatically creates pages that are a perfect fit for the device’s screen size. With adaptive design, you prebuild several different sizes and the page with the “best” fit for the device will load.
Now that you know a bit more about these different kinds of designs let’s dive into the unique benefits of each one.
The Benefits of Responsive Design
Most new sites now use responsive design. This is mainly a result of the explosion in the use of Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress. WordPress themes (prebuilt design layouts) are almost always responsive and are super easy to use.
Responsive designs also appear more “fluid” to the user. When the user changes their screen size or orientation, the pages adapt smoothly to fit the view. With adaptive design, pages often “jump” from one size to another when changing widow sizes or orientation.
You can make the site look great with adaptive design as well, but you’ll need to design a website layout for several different screen widths. This can take a lot of extra time on the front end and also when making updates as you’ll need to update all the versions. In addition, you’ll need to be comfortable working with code or have developers to make sure the work is done right.
While it can take a bit of trial and error to get everything “just right,” responsive design is the most intuitive and easy way to optimize a site for all devices. And given the popularity and growing use of CMS’s, responsive design is the preferred choice for most new websites.
The Benefits of Adaptive Design
Do you know how to really sum up the debate between responsive and adaptive design? It all comes down to how much control you want over your site.
As we said before, responsive is the best choice if you just want to just dive in and make a website. But with a responsive design, you’re limited by your theme’s prebuilt design elements.
With adaptive design, you can craft a website in any way you like. Your desktop/laptop can have a particular look and feel – distinct from mobile. You can customize your mobile site to incorporate features/layouts that are important to your mobile users, but not to your desktop users.
This level of control is why Amazon and other internet giants often rely on adaptive design.
Other Factors You Should Consider
So, now you know what these different designs are and their relative strengths and weaknesses. But, before you make your decision, there are a few more things to consider.
The first factor is your level of coding skills. While responsive design may be more intuitive than adaptive design, it still takes coding skills to make sure everything looks good.
If you are an experienced coder, adaptive design may be a bit more natural to you. That’s because such a design requires you to create a wide variety of HTML and CSS codes, and making even small changes integrate with the rest of your site can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Another factor is your familiarity with visual design and visual “puzzle-solving.” While adaptive design lets you create a fixed look for different resolutions, responsive design requires you to arrange content in a way that looks good and functions well across all possible sizes. And that’s harder than you think!
What’s The Best? Our Verdict
We’ve outlined the functionality of both responsive and adaptive design as well as their benefits and the mitigating factors you should consider. When the smoke clears, though, we’re still left with the big question: what’s the best choice between these two?
It’s a tough decision, but we’re going to come down on the side of responsive design. It is simply the best choice for most users compared to adaptive design.
Adaptive design definitely gives you more flexibility and control, but it takes a lot of time and programming skills in order to make those sites look good. On top of that, every little change you make in the adaptive design must be adjusted for several different layouts.
If you have a good third-party designer and need a very customized site, adaptive design is a great choice. But for anyone tackling site design on their own or with a limited budget, responsive design is easier to get started, easier to maintain, and makes your site look great with far less effort.
Where Do You Go Next?
What’s the best between responsive vs. adaptive design? Now you have your answer. But do you know who can make your site look better than ever and take the stress out of site management?
We specialize in WordPress site design, hosting, maintenance, and more. To see the difference our design team can make, contact us today!