Menu Close

Web Words: Adaptability

  • keyweb
  • Jun 12, 2012

In the Web design industry, there are hundreds of words that get thrown around, and sometimes it can be a little confusing (even among designers) to understand just what is being said. In this series of posts, I hope to explain some of the popular terms in our industry today to help to shed some light on the dark back alleys of the Internet.


This is an old term when it comes to web design; however it has started to take on some new meanings and some new technologies as well. Originally, adaptability was thought of as making a website view-able on a wide range of devices by building for the smallest device. This led to websites that today look like they are tiny, thin sites starting in the center of your screen with tons of space on the sides. Today, the standards are much wider- average display sizes are roughly 1366pixels- a far cry from 800pixels just a few years ago.

The move to mobile

The big push today in our industry is mobilization- making everything look, act, and feel sleek and easy to browse with minimal effort with one hand while driving (Key Web Concepts does not condone browsing the web while driving).  A web site should be able to behave on a wide range of devices without and issues, right? If it is built to do so, yes, but if not, there could be issues with many things- primarily the formatting. A site not built of mobile usage makes the mobile user have to zoom in constantly and have to turn their screen just to read the site. Building with mobile in mind from the onset of the site is something that has begun to take hold and it won’t be going away.

The common thread here is the end user. You want them to be able to find you on their smartphone, find out some info, and then potentially transfer devices (desktop or tablet), and have no nasty surprises like a completely different site looking back at them. This is where the “mobile app” falls a little flat and the adaptive frameworks of today can really shine.

An adaptive framework is responsive based on the size of the display and the changes are based on the view-able area. This technology is based on the old theory of fluid width layouts of websites, which based all of the styles on percentage rather than a fixed width, so that you could use more monitor real estate. This was abandoned for the more practical fixed width to the smallest denominator approach which made building a site more logical with fewer kinks to work out. Today, there are new framework systems being added that address these issues and even have conditional styles that change elements of your site based on what type of device you are viewing it on. For instance, your standard navigation could become hard to use at mobile size, so changing it to a clickable drop down on your phone makes the site more usable on that device.

To sum up

Every day the web is moving forward and finding new ways to surprise even those that work with it daily, and the tools were used 6 months to a year ago could become today’s skinny hugging the center of the page website. Do you guys remember Flash? Not if you use an Apple product.

Resources to learn more

From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability

The Web Standards Project

The Dao of Web Design

Ready to get started?

We'd love to chat!