Part II: When is Adaptive Design Better than Responsive Design?

July 16, 2013 | Posted in B2B, Technology and tagged , , , , ,


Most web design or marketing agencies you speak with nowadays will try to sell you on Responsive Design. This isn’t bad advice, per se—responsive design does present the most robust architecture available to make web sites viewable on any size screen by using fluid layouts, flexible image formats and scalable typography. Yet, realistically, making it pixel-perfect on all devices and the development effort required to build fully responsive sites are cost-prohibitive for some budgets.

This is Part II of a weekly 3-part series focusing on Mobile Design, targeted at specific devices and contexts, and whether it’s right for your business. But when is Responsive Design more of a “nice-to-have” than a “need-to-have”? Here are a few cases where that might be true:

1) Your navigation scheme and visual elements are minimalistic. The more complex your site, whether visually, navigationally or architecturally, the poorer a candidate it will be for adaptive web design. More page elements means more re-engineering to get content to fit gracefully on any mobile screen, and more customization as you optimize for each platform. For that reason, complex sites almost always indicate a full-fledged responsive solution given the development effort that would otherwise be required in duplicating complex pages. On the flipside, minimalistic sites that have simple (single-level or simple two-tiered) navigation and that have simple visuals may be good candidates for a adaptive design solution. Fewer page elements means less effort needed to reconfigure and rethink pages and user experience.

2) The vast majority of your site visitors use a single mobile platform when using your site. It is a rare circumstance, but if you know that 85% or more of your mobile users are all on a single platform and operating system, it may be cheaper to build a single-platform mobile site than to undertake a lengthy responsive design project that may not get much usage out of its full functionality. Over the long term, you may see device usage change, but for a short period of time (perhaps a year or eighteen months) such a solution may create an ideal experience for a the majority of your mobile users.

3) You are planning a major site redesign for some known point in the not-so-distant future. If you urgently need a mobile solution today, but your next scheduled major site redesign is a year from now, it may be best to develop a “good enough” mobile site now, and make sure that responsive design is part of the plan for the new site. In this case, you would be finding a design scheme that serves your current mobile users well enough in the short-term, while not short-changing the efforts of a major redesign. A comprehensive redesign is worth taking the time to do right.

Website design has come a long way; from the desktop to the beach and beyond. Devices take the form of phones, tablets, laptops, and a few dozen different screen sizes, resolutions, and ergonomic sizes.

How do we we make the right decision? Stay tuned for next week’s Part III.

About Scott Weiss

Scott Weiss is the founder of Somethumb, a creative services agency focused on web design and development. "Like" us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, "Plus-One" us on Google+, "Connect" with us on LinkedIn, and view our portfolio on

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