Responsive vs. Adaptive Web Design


From giant corporate monitors to tiny smart watches, users across the globe can now access online information from a variety of sources on a variety of screen sizes.

With technology at our fingertips, it is imperative that designers make websites which are mobile-friendly and easy to load, view and navigate. Therefore, for business owners creating and managing a website which caters to its new and old customers is always the first and the most critical step towards building an online presence.

Today consumers access websites from a variety of devices. From monitors, laptops, tablets, smartphones and smartwatches, the range of screen sizes widely differs. Therefore, building a website which will work effortlessly on any given screen size is a challenge. Designers today can bridge this gap with the help of two types of website designs i.e. responsive design or adaptive design.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive Web Design responds to the changes in the browser by aligning and arranging the various elements according to the given screen size. The term responsive design was first coined by designer Ethan Marcott in his book of the same name. Responsive Design changes with the change in the browser width by adjusting the placement of its design elements in the available browser space.

If you open a responsive website on your desktop as well as on your smartphone, the contents of the website will arrange themselves dynamically on both your desktop and mobile screen spaces. Responsive Web Designs can be viewed as they are meant to be i.e, across a range of screen resolutions from 1024 x 768 to 1920 x 1080 displays and every other resolution in between. This design is fluid and straightforward. Responsive design websites make a stunning appeal on tablets as well as smartphones. Responsive designs result in zero distortion, better adaptability and cleaner codes.

However, if a web designer purely looks at Responsive Design from a smartphone viewing perspective, he is potentially missing out on a broader user experience. On the contrary, numerous designers choose mobile phone viewing as the basis of the foundation of an effective website design and then work towards expanding to additional sizes.


  • Design friendly
  • Can work across multiple templates
  • Can be easily implemented or changed
  • SEO Friendly
  • Good UX


  • Lagging mobile download time
  • Design elements move around
  • Limited control over designs across screen sizes

Adaptive Web Design

The concept of Adaptive Design is relatively new as it was conceptualized in 2011 by web designer Aaron Gustafson in his book. While Responsive Design relies on changing the design pattern to fit the real estate available to it, Adaptive Design has multiple fixed layout sizes. When the site detects the available space, it selects the layout most appropriate for the screen.

When you open a browser on the desktop, the site chooses the best layout for that desktop screen. Resizing the browser has no impact on the design. Each version of the design is assigned to specific browser widths, called ‘anchor points. Anchor points tell the browser exactly when to jump to the next layout. In adaptive design, it’s normal to develop six designs for the six most common screen widths which are 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200, and 1600 pixels. Apple, Amazon, USA Today and have developed Adaptive designs for their websites. If you open these sites on multiple devices you will notice the layout being different for different screen spaces.

One of the greatest advantages of adaptive design is that it allows the designer to custom-make solutions so that the GUI appears optimally on different screen sizes. The disadvantage of this design is that it could be expensive because it requires the designer to create up to six individual GUIs which is equivalent to six versions of a single webpage so as to have the best one ready to be displayed with the required screen specifications. Another disadvantage is that adaptive design might leave users without a standard-sized screen with no optimal solution for viewing a webpage.


  • For some devices, designers have more control over UX
  • The user's environment can be sensed
  • For smart devices, ads can be optimized


  • Can interrupt flow due to the constant change in screen size
  • Takes longer to build
  • Not as SEO friendly as search engines take comparatively more time to appreciate likewise content on multiple sites

How to choose between the two designs?

Adaptive and responsive websites are similar, as they both adjust the user interface (UI) of a website depending on the width of the browser window. However, the way in which they do this is what makes the two techniques different. When it comes to deciding which of the above designs to implement for your product and services it is imperative for you to take a call basis the needs of your target customers. On the surface, it appears that adaptive requires more work as you have to design layouts for a minimum of six widths. However, responsiveness can also be more complex as improper use of media queries (or not using them at all) can make for display and performance issues. Your choice of design will also depend largely on whether you have an existing business website or building a website from scratch.

Responsive design has become the go-to design technique and it’s thought that around 1/8 of websites now use responsive (while there’s little to no data on how many use adaptive). Adoption rates for responsive are growing in a steadfast manner and have almost reached the same level as standalone mobile sites. However, if a client or company has the budget, then adaptive might be a better choice.
The popular website Mashable has already called Responsive Design the design of the year in 2013 owing to some of its features which are least likely to ever go away. It is often debated whether responsive web design is here to stay or will fade out just like a flash in the pan.

A responsive website is mostly recommended to ensure the best user experience regardless of the device you are using to access it. With the rapid advancement of technology, we really cannot predict when a new screen size will come up. Adapting the responsive web design seals you from creating a further design to cater to the new screen size. Also, with this design, you can ensure that your business website is looking good at every pixel level and responding appropriately irrespective of the browser size it is being viewed on. The responsive design includes features such as reading and effortless navigation and the least of browser scrolling, panning and resizing.

Another reason why we recommend a responsive website is because websites are not only made to appeal to aesthetics but also optimized so that they work correctly and your business is found when someone is searching for a product or service you are selling. Search Engine Optimization is extremely important and the purpose of a website is that it acts as a tool to help your business grow online.

Choosing with insight can empower you to plan and execute your designs with better aim, purpose and results.
With proper insight, designers can plan and execute with a clear purpose and deliver clear results.

Hexadesigns is a Kolkata-based web design company. Hexadesigns develop and design websites, e-commerce, custom software, and mobile apps and work on search engine optimization. Through this blog, we share insights and tips for our readers and clients.

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