Responsive and adaptive website design - all you need to know


Date: 25 August 2020

Responsive web design concept - close up of a laptop, tablet pc, notebook and smartphone with the same website

It's well known that Google consistently recommends those sites with responsive website design (RWD) - especially since the update back in April 2015, which ranked mobile-friendly websites higher. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that responsive design is the only way to make a website 'friendly' for mobile, laptop and desktop devices.

Another method that comes to mind, but which is often overlooked is adaptive design.

In this article, we're going to talk about both web design methods and help you understand what's best for your company's website.

Adaptive vs. responsive website design

Responsive design

Responsive website design adjusts the website automatically to any device's screen size and width. Sites with responsive design typically adjust the functionality and layout to browsers that are either 300 pixels or 30,000 pixels wide. It's made possible due to the fluid grid, layout, and CSS media.

If you open up a responsive website on your desktop device and then adjust the browser window's size, you'll notice that the content moves dynamically, arranging itself optimally for the browser window. But when you open the website up on a smartphone, this happens automatically; the site looks for any space available and then adjusts itself automatically in the optimal layout.

Responsive website design is pretty straightforward. Its fluid layout will allow users to access your website and enjoy it on practically any device. It means you need an in-depth understanding of your target audience's wants and needs design when developing and conceptualizing your website.

Adaptive design

Unlike responsive website design, the adaptive design doesn't have a single layout that continually changes. Instead, there are a variety of different layouts designed for numerous screen sizes. These different sizes are better known as static templates that are based on differing breakpoints in the pixel width of a web page on a specific device. Adaptive design offers a template based on the pixel width of the browser or device the site is being viewed on adjusting at specific breakpoints to offer larger or smaller templates.

Another way to explain it is that when an adaptive website detects a device that matches its particular template, the entire layout of that website will be pre-loaded for that device. This means that adaptive designs offer visitors the best experience since every web element has been designed for a particular interface. Compared to a responsive website screen that "flows" from one screen size to the next, adaptive websites provide users with tailor-made solutions.

There are a handful of sites that have embraced adaptive design, including Apple, USA Today, Amazon, and

For adaptive design, there are six common designs that need to be developed for the following standard screen widths (measured in pixels):

  • 360
  • 480
  • 760
  • 960
  • 1200
  • 1600

Adaptive design vs. responsive design

In most cases, web developers will suggest a responsive design for your website - especially if you want higher SEO rankings. However, there are glitches that can be encountered from time to time. For instance, pages that include graphics or tables may not give you the results you hoped for.

Even so, when comparing the two options, it's clear that responsive design offers greater web page flexibility. While an adaptive site offers several different layouts, a responsive website simply adjusts the web page's content to an appropriate size, no matter what device you're using. If site users are viewing your site on a range of devices, it's clear that a responsive website design will be a better overall choice. Not only does a web page's content look better, it's easier to understand and digest.

Critical differences between adaptive and responsive design

1. Adaptive design has less flexibility

The one major drawback of adaptive web design's easy-to-make approach is that the different screen sizes don't necessarily display the best results for all screens. This means that adaptive sites only work as far as the fixed templates react to the most appropriate screen size unlike responsive design which perfectly adapts to any size imaginable. So, if a brand new device is released with a screen size that isn't covered by the standard template sizes, you will find that none of the adaptive layouts will display well.

2. Responsive sites are more expensive and difficult to make

At first, responsive design is a more expensive option since it requires great attention to a website's organization and CSS to ensure that it functions well on any device. It's more affordable to make several different layouts than to make one that scales to any screen size. It's also easier to make an adaptive site than a responsive website that will work for any device.

3. Responsive sites have much faster loading times

The one major benefit of a responsive site is that it can scale to any screen size across any platform. In contrast, an adaptive site has to load every possible layout to ensure it matches the current device's screen size. This means an adaptive website takes longer and requires greater resources to load. Of course, this isn't always the case. A responsive site with over a hundred pages will still take longer to load than an adaptive website with just 10 pages due to the size of website.


Despite both adaptive and responsive website designs having their pros and cons, it's clear that the ball rolls highly in favour of responsive design due to its flexibility in scaling to any screen size and the faster loading times.

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