Responsive, Adaptive, are we done yet?


There’s confusion on the streets about what responsive and adaptive actually mean. I notice this among colleagues and also, unsurprisingly, among clients. They must be in a serious world of hurt. The fun thing is, we’ve created this confusion ourselves by introducing these cool terms. I feel these terms have served their purpose and the time has come to move on.

There was a time, a simple time, when we had the internet with its back against the wall serving our every request at 1024 pixels per second. Then, media queries, responsive, adaptive, all-the-things-first. Great! It helped us focus on developing for this new and flexible web. But was it new? Was it not flexible all along?

I did some quick research on responsive and adaptive, but had to stop because I started bleeding profusely from the eyes and ears.

That’s fine and all but apparently responsive can be a subset of adaptive, this is a bit problematic because things key to the fixed adaptive way of life contradict core concepts in the responsive flex camp. If it’s a subset, it’s a really awkward one.

Do we still need these confusing terms?

I ask you, it’s the year 2014, what does the word website mean standing on its own?

  1. A fixed width, 1024 pixels, mouse input, desktop site.

  2. A site suitable to be read and interacted with pleasantly across a myriad of devices.

I’m not going to answer that for you.

To me responsive website and adaptive website feel like a subset of website. If you’re selling a responsive website you’re actually selling something that is less of a website than it should be. You’re creating room for excuses making it possible to say: “well we don’t have to do this, because that’s not part of the responsive way of life”. The same goes for adaptive.

Let’s stop this now, the web is everywhere, websites are everywhere, read everywhere, just build ‘m to work everywhere. If we do that there’s no need for confusing semantic games or more hipster terms.

Rik Schennink

Web enthusiast