Adaptive Design or Responsive Design?

Over the past few years the web design conversation has slowly been shifting away from responsive web design, and moving towards adaptive web design. While a lot of designers are currently designing all of their site outlines with a responsive framework, more and more industry professionals are starting to make the shift to adaptive. So, which is actually better – adaptive, or responsive?

What is Adaptive Web Design (AWD)?

Like responsive web design, AWD has been created to improve user experience across a number of devices. However, while responsive works to create a universal look and feel with one design that varies slightly from device to device, adaptive is taking a slightly different approach.

AWD has been designed to detect what device someone is using to view a website, and any device-specific features that could influence the user’s overall experience. This information is used to customise how the website appears and functions on different devices. While this is a revolutionary concept that can dramatically improve the experience of individual users, it sometimes results in a less consistent cross-device experience than responsive design.

However, one of the biggest advantages of an adaptive UI is that it can’t actually be seen, so you won’t feel the hand of the designer when browsing the website.


How Does Adaptive Differ to Responsive?

There are definitely similarities between the two user interfaces, however, there are differences in the HTML and CSS, which will change the way information is delivered to users.

Responsive is client-side, which means a page is delivered to a device as it is, and then the browser on the device will change how the page appears to suit the specifications of that device.

On the other side of the spectrum, adaptive design is server-side, which means the server (where the site is hosted) will detect the attributes of a device before the site is delivered. This means the device will automatically load a version of the site that has been specifically optimised for its specifications.

What does this mean? Essentially, for adaptive the server is doing the heavy-lifting, while for responsive, the device is doing the bulk of the work.

Adaptive also differs to responsive in the sense that less information needs to be downloaded on the user’s end, which will make adaptive websites a little faster to load. Each UI will also impact how a designer designs a website, as adaptive uses multiple templates for a single website, while responsive uses a single, flexible template.

The Benefits of AWD

In terms of ease-of-use, many users have cited that websites that utilise adaptive design are faster and more efficient to use. There’s also more flexibility from both a design and user’s perspective, as changes can be made to the code to change a specific feature, without impacting the rest of the site.

From a design perspective, AWD encourages designers to think more deeply about their content strategies. Because each site is designed specifically for different devices, the design stage is heavily revolved around functionality. How each element works, and how users engage with the website is something you can achieve in a way that’s unique to the user and device, with an almost personalised experience.

Giving a definitive answer of which is better – adaptive or responsive – is difficult, as it depends on the specific designer, the website, and of course the site users.

So, is adaptive design for you? The answer should come down to one question, what’s best for the users?