Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Responsive vs Adaptive Web Design Made Simple

netaporter.com home page on PC
There are a lot of buzzwords around when it comes to web design, which can be confusing for the retailer/service provider who wants a website that works on any device.  Two of the most used right now are responsive and adaptive web design and it’s important to understand the difference, before you get baffled and befuddled and start shelling out cash for something you don’t need.

We’re all aware that smartphones and tablets have overtaken pcs and laptops when it comes to using the web and how the user utilises the web is now the single most important factor when it comes to web design. Users now expect seamless and clear navigation and usability whatever device they choose.  Netaporter Home Page on Iphone Responsive Web Design

The point of both responsive and adaptive web design is that the user is able easily to browse a website on any device no matter the size or type.  Responsive design does this fluidly and automatically, and adaptive design specifically targets each device.

At the forefront of any website designer’s thoughts when creating a new website should be the question ‘what is a visitor going to want to do on this website?’ and then ‘and how can I make it really really easy for them?’.  Most web visitors don’t want to have to think, let alone struggle, to find what they’re looking for – if they do, they leave.

Responsive web design is about a design that allows websites to adapt to whatever device is being used.  There is no individual experience or website for iPhone, tablet or laptop.  Just one.  The design is flexible, it works in portrait or landscape and on any sized screen. 

For example, whereas on a laptop a website may display in three columns, on your smartphone, with responsive design you may have a single column and scroll down or swipe across to see more.  Images will automatically resize.

American AirlinesAdaptive web design uses a set of different pre-designed layouts depending on which device is being used.  The main reason for choosing adaptive web design with its increased up-front costs, is that some types of business expect different interaction from their users depending on which device is being used as well as the user demographic. 

A good example which demonstrates this is  the American Airlines website, using a totally different layout for desktop and smartphone, and where most people will use the site by browsing and booking a flight using a laptop or pc, and will want other quick options such as check in on their smartphones.  American Airlines on Smartphone

The options therefore that are displayed per layout/device will be designed to reflect the way that a website is used on a certain type of device by the majority of users.

For websites where most people will shop, or browse, (in other words carry out the same activities) whichever device they are using, then adaptive web design isn’t necessary.  But for websites where analysis shows there is different user activity and requirement depending on the device then adaptive web design may well deliver benefits over and above responsive design.

The main question is ‘do your website users use your website in a different way depending on which device they’re on?’  If the answer is yes, then consider adaptive web design.  The user comes first in every way, every time.

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