Design, UI, UX, Insights

Responsive vs Adaptive Design – Which is better?

In a world in which we all have much of everything, it’s hard to stand out. Without a doubt, developing an online presence is a make or break. The first impression cannot be repeated.

A poorly-designed website is detrimental to any consumer interaction, from product purchases to customer service. Companies must ensure their websites are customer-friendly and fully optimized for conversions.

With more consumers accessing websites from mobile devices than desktops, many businesses update their websites more frequently in order to ensure that their online portfolio matches the market needs in 2022.  In this article, we will review the two main approaches used by most websites: responsive vs adaptive design. We will explain what they are and which are the key differences between them. We will also provide an overview of how each design approach can be implemented.

Article overview:

  1. What is the difference between Adaptive and Responsive Design?
  2. Responsive Design: Definition, Advantages, Cases, Examples
  3. Adaptive Design: Definition, Advantages, Cases, Examples


1. What is the Difference Between Adaptive and Responsive Design?

Responsive website design and adaptive web design are two different methods of creating websites. While both focus on responsiveness, they go about it in different ways. Responsive web design uses fluid grids and flexible images to shrink and grow the width of the website based on screen size, while adaptive web design allows for multiple layouts based on screen size.

While it’s very common even to compare responsive design vs adaptive design, we have to admit that they both have their advantages which are not to be underestimated.


2. What is Responsive Design?

Responsive design uses proportion-based grids to rearrange content and design elements, depending on the screen size and orientation of the device being used to view it. Whether you’re using a tablet or a smartphone, you’ll find that websites created with a responsive design look great on nearly any screen size, so users can switch between devices with ease. It is because responsive UI is made to adjust according to the browser’s space.

Most new websites these days are created using responsive design. This allows for easier theme creation and site management, thanks to the availability of CMS-friendly themes built using popular platforms such as Joomla, Drupal, and especially WordPress which holds a staggering 64.9% market share of all CMS platforms.


2.1. Responsive Design – Advantages, Use cases, and Examples

Many people resort to responsive web design, as it saves time, and money and Google favors it a bit. But is it that true? Let’s find out.

4.1. Advantages of using RWD

  1. Easy maintenance – with responsive web design, maintenance is not a headache for designers or developers because once a change to the website is made, it will be applied across all devices. With mobile-friendly layouts and a responsive site, you’ll save time, money, and headcount.
  2. SEO boost – mobile devices are the future of web browsing, accounting for more than half of all internet traffic. Google has started to take mobile-friendliness into account when displaying search results — mobile-responsive websites will be placed ahead of sites that aren’t optimized for phones and tablets.
  3. Faster to build, cheaper to run websites – you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that a one-size-fits-all will end up cheaper. But it is not a myth. You can start from scratch and build a website in no time, meaning you can be up and running within days.


4.2 Use cases

RWD is an outstanding option to create your website. However, it is a must-have in several scenarios:

  1. You have a tight budgetWebFX has really broken down every single cost associated with building a website on WordPress. You can go really cheap with your website and you could potentially have a decent online presence within $5000. Of course, you can fit in within $1,000 but you risk decimating your project right from the start.
  2. SEO is a top priority for you – if Google has said so, we cannot deny it. Responsible web designs are easier to crawl since there is one set of code. Indexing is better, too.
  3. Less development work – it’s not a factor to dismiss. Many small businesses don’t have available developers to work on their websites, others even don’t have any developers at their disposal. Because it’s easier to maintain, everyone can do it with a little bit of training.


4.3. Examples

Responsive design is very popular among small and large businesses due to its versatility.


Example 1: Shopify

Shopify’s website is responsive. As we can see, it works perfectly on any type of device. Of course, Shopify themes are also following the same pattern.


Example 2: GitHub

GitHub offers a very solid UX across a variety of devices. Although the design differs in mobile phone experience, compared to tablet devices (to avoid cluttering), it still shares an almost identical user experience everywhere.


2. What is Adaptive Design?

Adaptive design has become an increasingly popular technique in user interface design. Its function is to allow the display on devices of different sizes to be the same, thus improving readability and usability. In simpler terms, the adaptive web design allows the interface and content to change size and location based on the screen size of the device.

After the site determines which layout would best fit a given space, it adapts the design to meet that space. When open on a desktop, the site displays in a large format. When opened on a mobile device, the site displays with a smaller format; resizing the device has no impact on the design.

Websites that select adaptive website design usually consists of six different width formats:

320px | 480px | 760px | 960px | 1200px | 1600px


2.1. Adaptive Design – Advantages, Use cases, and Examples

The digital world is moving away from separate mobile-optimized pages to a more immersive and responsive user experience on almost any device. However, as web designers continue to become more familiar with Responsive Web Design (RWD), there are still many who feel that Adaptive Web Design (AWD) is nothing but possible. While some claim that it’s too much work or just unnecessary, this hasn’t stopped giants like Amazon, Apple, and Lufthansa from using it for their e-commerce sites — and these companies have never missed out on any trends.


4.1 Advantages of using AWD

  1. Supreme page load speed – adaptive design reigns supreme when it comes to loading time performance and UX. Once it detects the screen width, it provides the best version available and runs it throughout the whole customer journey. Images and media are resized just once.
  2. Tailored experience – unlike responsive design, offering multiple versions of the same website could be beneficial, if you’d like to offer mobile users a different experience, for example.
  3. Allows work on progress – when updating a website’s code, businesses don’t have to start from scratch. Developers can work with the existing code base and improve or remove elements that are not currently working well. It’s a great way of updating the website while keeping its original foundation intact.


4.2. Use cases

Adaptive designs could be an amazing option in several scenarios:

  1. You have a legacy website that you’d like to update – if your website uses legacy code, it doesn’t make much sense to try and rework it completely. It’ll be best to do the work piece by piece.
  2. Platform customization – many huge platforms (especially airlines) offer different functions on their desktop and mobile versions.
  3. Page load speed is a priority for you – if you would like to improve your metrics, one of the biggest advantages of AWD will come right on time.  There are plenty of examples in which page load time affected results dramatically, even for big fish.


4.3. Examples

Example 1: Amazon

Amazon is a typical example of a website that utilizes adaptive design. It has a version for both desktop and mobile users, in order to stay on top of user experiences and provide fast speeds (given the fact it’s the biggest eCommerce website in the world).


Example 2: Apple

It’s not a surprise for anyone that Apple always tries to do things “their way”. And this strategy works. But there is another reason to do so. After all, Apple has been a market leader for mobile devices for years, being an undisputed champion of tablet sales with a market share of over 34% while in Q4’21 almost every fourth phone sold was an iPhone.



Choosing which design model works best is hard. There are supporters of both approaches but the simple truth is that everything depends on personal needs.

Pick Responsive design OVER Adaptive design if:

  • You have a limited budget.
  • Need to build a website quickly.
  • You need to improve SEO.

Pick Adaptive design OVER Responsive design if:

  • You have a legacy site with code that you cannot just throw away.
  • You want to offer different user experiences for desktop and mobile users
  • Your website is too heavy.

Responsive vs adaptive design will continue to be a hot topic. However, the more you know your needs, the easier it will be for you to decide.

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