Simplifying Adaptive Layouts

Started by outsourcelink, Mar 16, 2023, 03:09 AM

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outsourcelinkTopic starter

Hi there!
Adaptive layout can be a bit of a headache, particularly when it comes to maintaining code. This is often referred to as the "entropy of the code".

One solution that has been gaining popularity is the use of rem units in CSS, which can simplify things significantly. By writing a few media queries for the html tag that specify base font sizes in pixels, and then using rem units instead of pixels for the layout itself, the code becomes much easier to maintain across different resolutions.

The downside to this approach is that it can be time-consuming to convert pixels into rem units, particularly for larger sites with multiple layouts. Some people also use em and percentages for font sizes, but it's not clear how much this helps with adaptivity. In fact, it can sometimes add to the complexity of the code.

Ultimately, there doesn't seem to be a single go-to methodology for adaptive layout. Some web studios and designers simply do what works best for them. However, there are definitely some best practices that can help minimize the entropy of the code and make it easier to manage layouts across different resolutions.


Why do we use relative units of measurement? They are typically applied to specific blocks, such as buttons for example. By setting the font size of the block, all elements within it adjust proportionally.

While there is no one-size-fits-all methodology, the lack of a clear approach doesn't necessarily indicate poor design practices. Many successful web developers opt for methodologies like SMACSS and BEM, which focus on layout rather than adaptation. By implementing a system like BEM and customizing it to fit individual needs, designers can significantly ease the pain of adaptive layout.


Bootstrap can offer solutions to a number of adaptive layout challenges, but it's important to simplify the structure of your site when designing for phones or older tablets. This means streamlining elements such as the logo, menu, list of materials, and footer, without adding any extras. By focusing on simplicity, you can ensure that your mobile site is easy to navigate and manage. Neglecting to do so could lead to an endless cycle of design revisions and holdups.


The "Mobile First" methodology, also used in Bootstrap, can alleviate the pain associated with adaptive layout design.

Essentially, this approach prioritizes designing for mobile devices first by creating a simple one-column layout with minimal decorative elements. At this stage, CSS styles are established for basic text, background, and color elements. With larger screens, additional columns and more complex designs are added via media queries, with previously established styles inherited from the mobile version.

By refining each component of the design as it expands to larger screen sizes, the final product ultimately matches the original design. An example of this methodology in action can be seen via the podcast at If the code isn't visible, logging in to incognito mode without adblock may help.


In website design, there are scenarios where the mobile and desktop versions of a site differ greatly. Some functions such as advanced search with wide selection filters may be excluded from mobile versions. Alternatively, only reduced icons and more compact layouts may be used in the mobile version.

However, in certain cases, the website only requires one version of the page, like when being accessed via Instagram on a smartphone. The need for adaptive site layout is growing due to the increasing use of mobile devices. About 55% of total web traffic comes from mobile internet traffic according to Statista. As such, businesses must ensure their websites are user-friendly and optimized for mobile browsing.

Adaptive layout differs from responsive design and the mobile version of the site. Responsive design adjusts the website interface to screen size and resolution through one layout. On the other hand, adaptive layout requires loading one optimized page design, which is much faster to load and offers better performance.

Mobile versions of sites, on the other hand, require separate development and can become expensive. These mobile versions have their own URL and limited functionality compared to adaptive design. Online adaptability testing services such as Google Mobile-Friendly Test, I Love Adaptive, and Browserling can help test and verify website adaptability.

In summary, adaptive layout ensures that website pages adapt to the user's device. It is necessary for businesses today given the increase in mobile device usage and is distinct from responsive design and mobile versions of sites.


Simplifying adaptive layouts involves finding ways to streamline the process of creating and maintaining layouts across different resolutions. Here are a few strategies that can help:

1. Responsive Grid Systems: Utilize responsive grid systems, such as Bootstrap or Foundation, that provide predefined grid structures. These frameworks handle much of the heavy lifting for you, allowing you to focus on content placement rather than worrying about complex layout calculations.

2. Flexbox and CSS Grid: Take advantage of CSS flexbox and grid properties, which provide powerful capabilities for creating flexible and responsive layouts. These CSS features allow you to easily align and distribute elements within containers, making it easier to adapt the layout based on available space.

3. Mobile-First Approach: Start designing your layouts with a mobile-first mindset. Begin by designing for the smallest screen size and then progressively enhance and adapt the layout for larger screens. This approach ensures that your design remains clean and focused on essential content, avoiding unnecessary complexity for larger screens.

4. Modular and Component-based Design: Break down your designs into smaller, reusable components. This allows you to build complex layouts by combining these modular components, making it easier to maintain and update your codebase.

5. Testing and Debugging: Use browser developer tools and testing frameworks to ensure your layouts display correctly on various devices and resolutions. Regularly test your designs and make adjustments as needed to ensure a consistent experience across different screen sizes.

6. Documentation and Style Guides: Document your design patterns, layout structures, and guidelines in a style guide. This helps create consistency across different pages and ensures that other developers can easily understand and work with your code.

Experiment, gather feedback, and continuously refine your approach to find the best balance between flexibility and maintainability for your specific project.