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Responsive Web Design vs. Adaptive Web Delivery: Which Is Right for You?

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When it comes to web design, the old fixed-width approach is gone—and for good reason. With so many different mobile devices and computer monitor sizes in use, websites need a better way to adapt to different viewers and viewports.

As mentioned in the previous blog post, you’ve got two solution options—Responsive Web Design (RWD) and Adaptive Web Delivery (AWD). But which approach is best for your team, your timeframe and your budget? Let’s explore both, so you can make an informed decision.

Close-up on Responsive Web Design (RWD)

Just to recap, this approach delivers a single layout for all devices. It uses Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and media queries to determine the layout of the web page needed and changes the appearance accordingly. Rather than creating separate sites and corresponding codebases for wide-screen monitors, desktops, laptops, tablets and phones of all sizes, a single codebase can support users with differently sized viewports.

The Pros:

  • It uses a single layout for all devices.
  • Development cost is relatively low.
  • It supports an optimized presentation on any device.

The Cons:

  • All assets and data are downloaded, even if they are unused in a resolution.
  • In most cases, the website must be redesigned.
  • Page loads are relatively slower.

Close-up on Adaptive Web Delivery (AWD)

This approach uses predefined layouts that have been carefully constructed for a variety of screen sizes. A particular layout is activated when the screen size of the device viewing the website is detected and matched with a style sheet.

The Pros:

  • Only data/assets needed for a specific device are downloaded.
  • Typically, pages load faster, especially on mobile devices.
  • This approach can work with an existing website, eliminating the need for a redesign.

The Cons:

  • Sites need to be optimized for each targeted device.
  • Development and design are costly and time consuming.
  • Support is limited to specified devices.

Which Is Right for You?

Here are some general guidelines I would suggest:

Responsive websites generally work well for content-heavy websites with fairly simple functionality, where the intentions of users (both mobile and desktop) are relatively similar.

Adaptive websites, on the other hand, shine in most cases where user intent on mobile devices differs significantly, and website performance becomes a crucial factor in determining visitor conversion and satisfaction, such as in e-commerce websites.

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