Adaptive web design

Responsive web design is about optimizing the web design based on screen size, and is on the verge of becoming de facto standard in frontend web development.

The challenge may seem overwhelming, how do we provide the best user experience for the full range of devices? The number of devices accessing the web, and their respective capabilities are figuratively exploding – and in a few years the majority of the internet traffic is generated by mobile devices.

Potential solutions have been presented, e.g. building native/hybrid apps for common mobile platforms or building separate mobile sites. The common denominator is limited functionality, and designed for certain known devices, making these solutions at best relevant at launch, and expensive to maintain, and frustrating for users who are penalized by using a device with a smaller screen.

To make assumptions about devices, or even user behavior based on the device, makes no sense – a better approach is to instead develop a flexible design based on your site´s content rather than assumptions about devices. The result is a better user experience, and a "future friendly" site, and less maintenance.

Responsive design is here to stay, no doubt about that. What to focus on now to align development methods with new this condition. A rhetorical question: is this really isolated to the visual user experience, how to handle the ever diverging functional differences between devices in a robust way? What is absolutely sure is that methods we previously used, with only a few browsers to be compatible with, are now unsustainable.

This leads us to the concept of adaptive design, which we develop methods to use in our projects. Adaptive design covers responsive design, but it´s more than that – adaptive design is about providing the best overall user experience for any device. We strongly believe in designing and building a site from inside out – providing an acceptable base functionality for any device, and progressively enhance for more advanced devices using feature detection on the client. Functionality addressed by feature detection could be touch support, CSS3 animations, geo location, etc. The main benefits with this approach is backward compatibility, future friendliness (unknown devices), and taking full advantage of new technology in advanced devices.

To sum it up, with the steadily increasing number of mobile devices, and usage of these, it is necessary to develop new methods for web development. We need to adapt design and function based on the device capabilities – and needs to secure backward compatibility and “future friendliness” of the site. The result will be a well adapted site for any device, with less need of maintenance, and new functionality can easily and safely be added. We see adaptive design as the way forward, and continuously further develop our methods, and adapt these for our customers.

Magnus Christiansson

References

Responsive web design – Ethan Marcotte Adaptive web design - Aaron Gustafson