We all should know about responsive design. Yet design techniques continued to evolve. Adaptive design is one of the latest buzzwords in the mobile web community. In this article I will describe the difference between responsive and adaptive design, and when each should be used.
What Is It?
This was our initial attempt to solve the problem of one site for many device types. The browser renders content based on the size of the screen. The layout changes, not the content. That said, sometimes images are cropped or scaled to account for the smaller browser size. But it is always the same content.
When To Use It
Responsive design is the primary method of presenting websites more effectively on mobile devices. It provides a solution to many problems. You have one team creating one set of content on one website. It is a simplistic solution to a complex problem. But it is one that works well for most situations. For more information about using this, check out my two articles on this topic; Approaches to Mobile Website and Responding to Responsive Websites
What Is It?
Adaptive design is the strategy of serving up specific content depending on the device. The browser detects the device and passes that information to the web server. The server then sends back content specifically created for that device. This is different because you must create several versions of content. This custom solution can be technology- and maintenance-intensive.
When To Use It
Certain content requires specialized experience. Some multimedia players work better on the desktop than in a mobile device. Another scenario is rendering tables. Large grids of data are what some users want to see. A table of features, or a spreadsheet of financial information is what needs presented. But those usually do not work well for a small screen. These scenarios must be carefully selected. They will create more overhead for your teams. This is for both the development and maintenance of those extra scenarios. But the benefit is a better experience for all devices.
The way ahead should not be one method or the other. It is both. To be honest, responsive design solves most church website situations. But some situations need for you to provide unique content and features. The way you will find these scenarios is through testing. Test your site on several devices. This means several operating systems and device types. Then find solutions that fix the problem you encountered. In the end, create an experience that is pleasurable no matter the technology used to view it.
Photo courtesy of Thad Zajdowicz