Pull up your website on a large desktop screen and it looks great. Everything is where you want it to be. The text and images are clear and sharp. But what happens when you bring it up on a smaller screen – on a tablet or a phone? With more people using a greater variety of devices, it’s vital that your site remains as good to look at and as easy to use on everything from a slimmed-down Android phone or an iPhone Pro Max, a tablet or laptop. Its design needs to fit all screen sizes and there are two options here: responsive or adaptative.
What’s smart about this approach is that it recognizes the device being used and automatically scales everything on your site to fit the size of the user’s screen. You don’t need to invest in a special mobile-friendly version because a responsive design will do all the work for you, rearranging the content of your site so that it works as well on a smartphone as it does on a desktop. No surprise that big players like Amazon and YouTube have gone for it. It’s flexible, relatively quick to design, cost-effective and easy to manage, enhances SEO and offers consistent user experience across all devices.
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Adaptive design works differently. It too recognises the device being used, but rather than automatically arranging your site, it switches to a separate version specifically designed for that site. Instead of a single site that adjusts to fit all sizes, you’ll have a series of templates – mobile-first, tablet-first and so on – that are fit for each individual purpose.
But if that sounds complicated, it has its advantages. Adaptive sites tend to download faster and you can ensure the optimal design for each device – a design tailormade for that screen-size. The site a user accesses from their smartphone, for example won’t just be mobile-friendly, it will be mobile-first.
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Which one’s for you?
Both options have their advantages, but there are downsides too. Responsive sites can take longer to download and elements like pop-ups, ads and complex images may not work optimally on all devices when they’re automatically re-sized. Adaptive sites, on the other hand, require more design time because you need multiple device-specific sites and there’ll be different URLs for each version and that can impact on SEO.
Ultimately the choice depends on your priorities, on who your users are and how they engage with your site and on the content and user experience you offer. Whichever proves right for you, however, the main thing is to ensure your site is compatible with all devices so you don’t lose users to competitors’ sites which are.