Mobile-Friendly Web Design Terminology You Should Know

The fields of web design and development are always changing, especially when it comes to creating mobile-friendly websites. For those not in the industry it can be confusing and difficult to keep up to date on the latest terminology and techniques. If you will be working with web designers and developers in the near future here are some of the terms you need to know to be able to effectively communicate your needs and understand what they are designing for you.

Responsive Design

Responsive design is a growing trend in websites. Every website has an assortment of elements; a sidebar, a menu, a main content area, etc. In a responsively designed site these different elements are designed to change positions to fit on the screen of the device viewing the website. So on a desktop the sidebar may be on the side, where you would expect it to be. However, on a mobile device the sidebar may be under the main content area. Or another common example would be having an icon that you click to get the menu to display on a responsive site when the site is viewed on a mobile device. A responsive website will basically give you a site that is viewable and usable on desktop, tablet, and mobile devices.

Adaptive Design

Adaptive design is not to be confused with responsive design. While they may sound similar they are different practices. A website that is designed adaptively is basically 3 different websites. Usually there is a desktop site, a table friendly site and a mobile website. The site will check to see what type of device is accessing it then choose the correct version of the site to display. While a responsive site will usually display all content to all devices an adaptive site grants the ability to tailor the content to each device. For example, if certain features are more applicable to only desktop or tablet users they can be excluded from the mobile site.

Mobile Website

Mobile websites are simply mobile versions of a website. Developing a mobile website can be a very cost effective way to improve your site’s mobile usability without having to redesign your site responsively or also develop a tablet specific site. Mobile websites also can be much faster than responsive sites as they can leave out unnecessary resources or content that is not relevant to mobile users.


Apps are stand alone programs that can be developed either natively for iOS, Android or Windows 8 or developed to be cross platform compatible with HTML5. Apps are meant for mobile use, and are built specifically for mobile users. However, they are generally more complex than a mobile site. If you need the ability for users to login, manage accounts or use e-commerce functions, an app may be just the ticket. Apps are great for providing your users with a very interactive experience.

Responsive design, adaptive design, mobile websites and apps all tackle one main problem: how to give website visitors the best mobile experience. When it comes to choosing which option to use there is no correct answer. Every website has different needs and each technique has its own benefits and drawbacks. Knowing what these terms mean and how they can impact your site will let you and your designers and developers work better together to design the site that will best suit your needs.

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Learn even more web design terms:

The Non Techie’s Cheat Sheet to Web Design Terms