Is Adaptive Web Design Right For You?

Ari Weil
by Ari Weil 26 Feb, 2015

The evolution of the mobile representation of digital storefronts and digital media has embraced a variety of iterations, including the mobile m-dot site, the native app and responsive Web design (RWD).


 Each of these provides degrees of functionality and comes with incumbent limitations. The latest of these popular iterations is a new approach called adaptive Web design (AWD). 


The advantage of adaptive Web design, when done correctly, is to optimally deliver and display pages for any combination of location, device and network capability. It delivers better performance on mobile devices while maintaining visual consistency between the mobile and desktop sites. 


Adaptive Web design has the ability to factor in awareness of the specific conditions that the user is experiencing and modify the page elements based on those characteristics. For example, a user on an iPhone6+, which has a particular amount of screen real estate and LTE capability, will be served a differently optimized experience than a user on an iPhone4. These contextual elements must be addressed at the point of delivering the website components. 


The technique for AWD is based on server-side customization of the user experience - the ability for the server to detect the receiving device and deliver the suitable material, rather than having the device, or client, do all the heavy lifting. 


One of the key benefits of AWD is its ability to increase key mobile performance metrics. For example, the retailer Avenue32 (, profiled in Website Magazine by Managing Editor Amberly Dressler, claims a "400 percent increase in smartphone and tablet orders, a doubling of mobile traffic, and average mobile transactions increasing by 270 percent" through the implementation of AWD. 


Amazon, too, according to Dressler, "is embracing adaptive design in order to deliver their sites on mobile up to 40 percent faster than if Amazon used responsive Web design. What's more, Amazon's adaptive site provides mobile users with the opportunity to use " Full Site" on their mobile devices, which some users prefer and [which] responsive does not offer." 


Other sites worthy of review include: 










But is AWD right for you? Every company should assess whether the adoption of a new technology such as AWD would be a fit, and if it would be advantageous over RWD. Ask some basic questions: 


- What are we trying to do for our users?


- Where and how are these users going to be interacting with us?


- What are our capabilities to actually implement a solution for them?


These questions get to the heart of the AWD vs. RWD question. If your goal is to present a streamlined, simple, information-driven experience, RWD may be the best choice. As it has grown in popularity, methods and frameworks for building RWD have grown in kind, making it easier for more organizations to get in the game. It's still a huge undertaking, involving an overhaul of the entire Web presence, but there are clear paths forward. On the other hand, if you wish to push the envelope of user experiences with expanded functionality across all devices, you may be required to invest the extra time - and take on the risk - of the newer, less developed field of adaptive serving. Further, some of the key qualifying factors for using AWD would include:


- The client user base is technically diverse - using a range of devices for a variety of actions.


- There are situations in which different devices actually demand different experiences (an airline booking site versus an at-airport check-in page).


- There is an economic advantage to offering varied templates and experiences that together offer more benefit and service than a one-size-fits-all solution.


- The company has the financial resources and proactive management mindset to undertake the development and delivery of a sophisticated user experience.


In conclusion, adaptive Web design excels in the online space through its combination of flexibility and consistency, and its intelligent selection and prioritization of page items, intended to make the customer experience straightforward, reliable and more intuitive. AWD represents the most recent and flexible approach to delivering compelling content to customers whose sophistication and choice of devices have increased in recent years.


Although other techniques and technologies exist, the dynamic nature of adaptive Web design allows for more efficient page delivery and rendering, more relevant content, and heightened customer experience based on server-side intelligence. Only you can decide, however, whether it's the right fit for your organization.