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Choosing Adaptive vs. Responsive Web Design

Adaptive web design means creating versions of a website to fit different devices. Learn when to use it, and how it differs from responsive web design.

Varying devices with varying screen sizes and resolutions are one of the biggest challenges facing web designers today. Designing websites for desktop computers used to get the job done, but smartphones have allowed people to access the internet on a pocket-sized screen. These smaller screens mean web designers have to design websites that work across all platforms, from phones and tablets to massive monitors and even smart TV screens.

There are 2 ways web designers build websites so that they work with various screen sizes and devices: adaptive web design and responsive web design.

Adaptive design is very different from responsive design in terms of how it works, how much effort it requires, and its effectiveness. However, perhaps the biggest differentiator between adaptive design and responsive design is how it affects loading times. Adaptive design may require a bit more work from you or your website designer, but adaptive web pages tend to load quicker than responsive web pages because they’re simpler. While adaptive web design typically results in faster load times, you should still choose between adaptive vs responsive design on a case-by-case basis.

If you want to design a beautiful website, you need to make sure it looks good on all the devices people are using. With the rise of smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs, using adaptive or responsive design is essential when you’re building a website. If you want to learn more about the differences between adaptive and responsive web design and which design strategy you should choose, keep reading.

What is adaptive web design?

Adaptive web design is a web design strategy that involves creating different versions of your website for different devices. That way, you can detect what device a person is using to access your website and show them an appropriate version of the website based on their device. This is particularly important with modern web and email design because most website traffic comes from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

The biggest benefit of adaptive web design is that it prevents problems with your website that could drive users away. When somebody loads your website, they expect to see a clean UI that makes it easy to navigate and browse the site. If navigation links, buttons, and graphics are a jumbled mess because they don’t fit a user’s screen, chances are that person is going to leave your website and go to one of your competitors.

Another benefit to adaptive design is the fact that it tends to load faster. Pages designed to be responsive may take a bit longer to load because they have to change to fit the screen of the user. With adaptive design, you can simply offer users a different version of your website that’s suitable for their device, that way they don’t have to load anything unnecessary. These load times can be the difference between a user leaving your website after a few seconds or sticking around to check out your products or services.

Both adaptive and responsive web design have only been around for about a decade—these web design strategies began with the rise of smartphones and other mobile devices. If you want to design a product page or landing page that works with every device with minimal issues, both adaptive and responsive web design work. However, it’s important to know when to use adaptive design and when to use a responsive design.

What’s the difference between adaptive vs responsive design?

With adaptive web design, you create multiple versions of your website, each designed for a different device. When a user loads your website, you can automatically detect the device they’re using and select the appropriate version of your website based on that information. If somebody is using an iPhone 12, you can make sure they load a version of your website that’s specifically designed for that phone. Different phones have different screen resolutions, which means you need a new version of your website for each device.

Responsive web design works a little bit differently, with the actual layout of your website adapting and changing based on the resolution of users’ devices. You don’t have to create several different versions of your websites with responsive design; the key is to design your website so that everything can be automatically resized to fit different screen sizes. When a user loads your website with a device that’s too small to view the full version of a page, elements of that page will shrink in size to make the page fit. Some of the elements that may be resized with responsive design include text, graphics, tables, divs, and navigation links.

The primary difference between adaptive and responsive design is loading time. With adaptive design, you’re loading a simple version of your website based on the device a person is using, which essentially takes no longer than loading a standard webpage. With responsive design, you’re loading a more complex version of your website that’s designed to respond to changes in screen resolution and aspect ratio. Because responsive designs are typically more complex, responsive web pages tend to take a little longer to load.

One benefit when it comes to responsive design is that you don’t have to do as much work. For example, you don’t have to figure out what resolution each different device runs and make a website for each of them—with a proper responsive design, that all happens automatically. With adaptive design, you have to figure out what devices you want to design your website for, then you have to make each individual version of your website. While adaptive design isn’t necessarily a ton of work, responsive design can be a simpler way to build a website if load times aren’t an issue.

Both adaptive and responsive design play an important role in web design, which plays an important role in digital marketing design as a whole. The key is knowing when to use which type of design.

When to use adaptive vs responsive design

When you’re building a website, choosing between responsive and adaptive design is one of the toughest decisions to make. The truth is that both adaptive and responsive design have a place in creating a website, so it’s all about knowing when to choose responsive vs adaptive design.

If you’re building a large website from scratch, responsive design is often the more popular choice. Responsive website layouts are fluid and work well with a variety of devices, and building a responsive website requires less work in terms of the number of layouts designers have to create. Since you have to build your website to be responsive from top to bottom, it’s generally best to use responsive design when you’re building a new website.

In the event that you’re refreshing the layout of an existing website—especially a smaller website—adaptive design is generally considered the better choice. With adaptive web design, you don’t have to build your entire website using percentage widths for responsiveness. Instead, you can simply add updated versions of the existing website layout to make sure it works across various devices. This can save both time and money, which is particularly important for smaller businesses.

Keep in mind that these are just a couple of general guidelines for deciding between adaptive and responsive web design. You can absolutely build an adaptive website from scratch, or tear down your existing website and rebuild a responsive website from scratch. When you’re trying to figure out the best web design strategy, here are some things you might want to consider:

  • Your budget
  • The size of your website
  • Which devices are most common among website visitors
  • Your timeline for launching your website
  • How much time you can spend on future website maintenance

If you’re not sure what type of design is right for your website, you can always consult a UX designer or website designer. There are also tons of resources available online if you need landing page design tips, UX design tips, or any other information about building a website.

Choose carefully

There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to responsive vs adaptive design, so take your time to evaluate your situation and figure out what’s right for you. While a responsive design can save you time down the road, an adaptive design might be better if you’re looking for a simple way to refresh your website.

If you need help getting the most out of your website, Mailchimp can help. With Mailchimp’s Website Builder, you can build a customizable design that’s optimized for mobile with no coding experience required. If you need to give your online presence a boost, check out some of the digital marketing tools and design tools offered by Mailchimp today.

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