Responsive Website Design
It’s not new news for web developers and designers that mobile devices are not be ignored and need to be addressed during the web design process. An all too familiar refrain most clients will hear is that “more and more website visitors are using tablets and smartphones to visit websites”. If your site is hard to view on a mobile device, you are really missing out on a high percentage of potential users. Additionally, websites that have a mobile responsive design are gaining better results in search results. Search engines such as Google have started giving these sites higher priority than fixed width designs.

The focus on accessibility has led many web designers and developers to make a key decision on how to create websites that are better suited for mobile users. Do we use responsive design or adaptive design? If, for example, you are viewing a website on a phone, and it renders as easy to view, it is more likely than not built on one of these two designs principles; if you find the site difficult to view and navigate, it has probably been designed pre-mobile or without attention to mobile design (fixed width design).

Both adaptive and responsive design are effective ways to translate your website for mobile use. Each work well in different ways. Which one you choose will be dependent on your site’s needs, budgets and goals. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of each:

Responsive Web Design
Responsive Web Design provides the optimal viewing experience of a website no matter what type of device the user is interacting with. It’s an approach that crafts the website in such a way as to provide an optimal viewing experience with easy reading and navigation, and a minimum of resizing, panning and scrolling across a wide range of devices (from mobile phones to desktops). This is done by using a combination of fluid grids that enable the design to work no matter the screen size. So, no matter how much you re-size the screen, the layout will automatically respond (shrink or grow) to accommodate that size.

Adaptive Web Design
Adaptive design differs from responsive design in that there is no one layout that always changes, rather, there are several distinct layouts for multiple screen sizes. The layout that the user interacts with depends on the screen size being used. For example, a designer would make in advance specific layouts for each; mobile phones, tablets and desktops. These three layouts would all then be loaded and waiting for a user to come in, and based on their device, the appropriate design would be served. Adaptive design allows for jazzier design details, but also needs to updated very regularly, which can be costly to the consumer in terms of down time and money.

Responsive vs. Adaptive
Responsive design is harder to make. It is the more difficult of the two to implement since it requires extra attention to the sites CSS and organization to make it functional at any possible size. It can be much easier to make a few simple layouts and tweak them rather than to make one that works across all possible screens. Responsive design, by its very nature, is cleaner and simpler and will give up some design elements in order to render correctly.
Adaptive is less flexible. The biggest drawback to adaptive design is that the final results don’t always display properly across a wide variety of devices. While responsive design is guaranteed to work well on as many different screens as possible (including new sizes as they come out), adaptive designs will only work well on as many screens as it was designed for. This can take a real toll on resources, as new designs have to be created each time a new screen size or device comes out. Responsive designs are flexible enough to keep working on their own, while adaptive sites will definitely need maintenance.
Responsive sites load faster. Adaptive websites need to load all of the possible layouts they have available, while responsive websites need to only load one. Loading the extra layouts takes resources and time at the expense of speed.

So which one should you use?
Responsive design is by far the safer, and most user friendly option for a website to go with. It always functions well regardless of screen size, improves speed and load times and is usually well worth the extra effort and time it takes to design in the beginning.