UX: Adaptive or Responsive – what’s the difference?

June 5, 2016

Consider the user experience to get the best results for your site.

Whilst it's true that any Treeline developed site will display beautifully within the browsers of all desktops, laptops, tablets and mobiles, what our clients are really looking for is a design that doesn't just shrink to fit on a mobile screen - it reconfigures itself to a specific mobile display. The layout changes to give mobile users a better experience. So you need to plan the UX (user experience) in order to offer a seamless experience to all visitors across all devices.

And that means a Responsive or Adaptive design.

So what's the difference?

From a design and development perspective both approaches have the same aim. To create one site that is optimized for the type of device that is used to view it (desktop monitor, netbook, tablet or smartphone).

The difference is that a:

  • Responsive design responds to the browser size but serves out the same content and (broad) structure as the desktop version. It's the same content, reconfigured.
  • Whereas an Adaptive design adapts the content to deliver the most valuable content to the device that's being used.

A simple example of Adaptive might be a donation button, which on the desktop leads to a "donate by credit card" form, but on a smartphone displays a "donate by SMS text message" option. It's not the same content as the desktop - it's adapted.

So which should you choose?

There are a number of things to consider, not least budget.

Adaptive design is more complex and therefore more expensive to design and develop. However the trade off is that it will have a greater reach, working well on older and/or less sophisticated devices. Typically we would expect larger organisations to choose Adaptive, as it would normally be used on sophisticated sites with ecommerce and security requirements where it has to work on any device, every time. That makes an essential business case for investing in Adaptive.

Responsive design is a little easier to plan and develop, and is in line with the vast majority of sites that are currently being produced where "any device, any time" is a consideration. It's easier, faster and therefore cheaper. It involves us creating a design that's largely independent of any device as it will simply adjust to fit the screen it's being viewed on. That could be a mobile, desktop, tablet, large screen TV and who knows what else in the future?

Is it something you should consider?

In short: yes. It's the future, and that's where you need to be. Personally I can't see a time when we'll develop a site and ignore the vast and growing mobile audience (I mean mobile as in not sat in front of a traditional desktop PC). You have to respond to the needs of your audience.

It's also particularly important to us as many of our clients (particularly those based in Africa) have audiences that use mobiles rather than desktops. So to achieve the best return on investment Responsive is the way forward, if you don't want to go down the route of creating a separate microsite aimed specifically at a mobile audience (the downside to that approach, even though it serves the purpose, is you need to maintain a separate dedicated site).

If you want to discuss how Responsive or Adaptive design can help you, or you have any other question about building the perfect user experience, please contact us.

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