Responsive, Adaptive, and Mobile Optimized Sites

January 31, 2013

Earlier this week, I wrote an article over on the FliteHaus blog comparing responsive, adaptive, and mobile optimized sites. In addition to defining what they are, I also gave examples of when to use each for your latest project.

Admittedly, the article was written for current and prospective clients, but I think the article offers some high-level insight into what each is and the situations for which each is designed. If you’re new to designing for the modern web, or just want to reaffirm your stance on each architecture, it’s a decent read.

Responsive web design delivers the exact same website across every device, with the ONLY difference being layout. It “fluid grids” to adjust site content to any possible screen size, allowing for an optimal viewing experience regardless of the device been used. This is particularly useful in a world where new devices with new screen sizes are created every other day. On the downside, responsive sites do not offer a fully mobile-optimized experience, as you are still offering essentially the same content to mobile users.

Adaptive design, also know as “Dynamic serving”, delivers separate content to users based on their device. If a desktop user, smartphone user and tablet user were to browse the website, they would all see something fundamentally different while being on the same URL. Unfortunately, there are more devices out there than you could ever design for, and this can put adaptive designers at a disadvantage.

Creating a mobile optimized site implies creating a separate, distinct website for your mobile users. This is most frequently accomplished via a subdomain. By rerouting mobile users to a separate website, you can completely control their mobile experience.

As a bonus, it may be a great resource if you’re trying to convince one of your clients that a certain path is the one to follow.