Responsive or Adaptive Web design

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Updated on: August 23rd, 2022Ken Braun6 min read
Responsive or adaptive web design

Have you heard the term, “post-PC world” before? It was popularized in the past few years as people have talked about the downfall of the desktop computer. With recent numbers pointing to a strong shift in web browsing from mobile devices, 30% to 50% based on different studies, are we living in a post-PC world?

If so…what does that mean to you as a business owner?

The One Web Approach

The W3C, or World Wide Web Consortium, coined the term “one web approach”.  The term relates to the idea of responsive and adaptive design techniques that are used to ensure that the same information and services are available to users, as far as it is reasonable, regardless of the device they are using.

From a developer standpoint that means not only ensuring that a site works on the smartphones and tablets that currently exist, but also are going to work on whatever tomorrow brings.

As a business what this means is that you need to make sure that your website is not only designed with either responsive or adaptive design techniques, but also that the company hired for this development is looking ahead to tomorrow along with handling your problems of today.

Why One Web?

This might seem obvious to some people, yet there are enough websites out there that point to the contrary that it must be said; websites optimized for only a desktop screen are a dying breed. They are like a caveman in today’s world. Even worse is when a business tries to use a standard and mobile site because you are stuck maintaining two page pages. Even if you follow this option, the mobile site is only optimized for a certain size screen compared to the array of mobile devices out there which still creates problems.

Keep in mind, those numbers of browsing from a mobile device that are anywhere from 30 to 50% will stay steady, if not grow some more. That means that a decent percentage of clients are going to try and access your website via a mobile device. For those sites that either aren’t intuitive or don’t resize and load incredibly slow, that means a loss of visitors quickly, which in turn means less conversions.

You have to remember that all of page elements and resources on each page need to load before a page, such as for e-commerce, can be utilized. Larger pages equal slow load times. While that might not be a big deal to the person browsing at home with a cable internet connection, to the customer on his tablet using Starbucks’ wifi, load speeds are a big deal. Statistics show that your conversion rate drops by 3.5 percent when mobile users have to wait one second. If you think that is bad, by the time that counts gets to three seconds 57 percent of users will have left your site according to statistics from Radware.

Responsive or Adaptive?

So when you are going to use the “One Web” approach, which design style should you go with? Let’s briefly review the options:

Responsive – This is the most common of approaches that modifies the presentation of a web page based on the size of the device display. There are a few advantages from the design side of things that can make it easier overall for developers. For this type of design you need to often need to do a complete site rebuild. It works well for people who design a site for mobile users first and then scale-up to desktops. It can create challenges for site that have a lot of elements and images however this is lessened if there is more simple functionality.

Adaptive – Adaptive is different from a development sense in that they rely on predefined screen sizes. It is generally a more streamlined, layered approach that uses scripting to help with adapting to devices and screen sizes. In this case it is the server hosting the website that detects the device making the request so it delivers different code based on the device. Ideally this type of site can capture user intent more precisely on a mobile device. Also a developer does not have to re-code the entire existing website from scratch. Finally, adaptive sites are typically better in regards to load time performance which makes for a more positive user experience.

The Bottom Line

Choosing between adaptive or responsive design depends a lot on what the intent of your site is, but most certainly you should utilize one or the other. We are living somewhat in a post-PC world and it makes sense to get on board with the “One Web” approach rather than losing customers and those important conversions.


Published on: February 7th, 2014
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