Responsive Vs Adaptive Design – What To Choose? | WebSurf Media

Responsive Vs Adaptive Design – What To Choose?

We live in a society where the average person has at least a couple of devices used to browse the internet. We’re regularly met with new challenges and increasing pressure as we try to keep people connected, and more importantly, happy. Luckily, we have a number of tools at our disposal ready to help us overcome those challenges. These include using adaptive and responsive web design principles when creating websites, in order to deliver a seamless user experience across multiple devices.


The Debate

Which one is better? has been the topic of numerous heated discussions between users. Having different opinions on the matter at hand is perfectly reasonable, but it doesn’t change the fact that both of these designs are fundamentally similar. They change the appearance of a website based on browser environment used to view them. The difference is in the execution. Adaptive websites adapt to the browser width at predetermined fixed points, where responsive websites respond to any browser size and adjust their content fluidly to fit that size.

Adaptive web design

Adaptive web design works by detecting the size of the screen and loading the appropriate design layout. This layout is tailored to fit and adapt to the most commonly used screen sizes, or screen widths, to be more exact. These are 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200, and 1600 pixels and they cover for most desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile devices. Adaptive design is generally used to freshen up a desktop-only website by adding mobile-friendly usability. It gives web designers more freedom and control regarding the placement of content and page elements on each of the 6 device sizes.

There is the option of creating a standalone mobile website. However, Google has been giving the same preferences and rankings to adaptive and responsive websites as it once gave to mobile ones. Not to mention that creating a separate website not only costs more, but you also have to maintain two websites and keep their content in check. This is where adaptive shines, as it doesn’t require creating a separate site. This is particularly useful for those who already have a website since they don’t have to waste their time and resources creating a new one.

Another great benefit that comes from using adaptive design is the time it takes to load a page. Only the most essential elements get loaded on mobile, which greatly increases the page loading speeds. You can build an adaptive website from scratch, just make sure to start with the lowest resolution first and then progress toward the larger ones. It easier this way, as it allows you to use the media queries to expand your design layout for larger resolution viewpoints.

Are there any downsides to adaptive design?

Adaptive web design demands advanced web development knowledge in order to properly implement it. You have to prepare several templates for the page layout and test it across multiple devices. The same goes for modifying the existing template layout. As you prepare your layout design for each device width, you might notice that the result is sometimes less consistent across devices then you might expect it to be. This type of work often requires investing a lot of time, effort, and, of course, resources.

Responsive web design

Responsive web design, unlike its adaptive counterpart, doesn’t care about the screen size it’s being viewed on. A responsive website’s layout and content are designed to fit any given device. This is accomplished by using flexible images, fluid grids and CSS media queries to move, hide and resize the content. Responsive web design was created on principles of flexibility and fluidity, which perfectly describe the way content and page elements rearrange themselves in order to fit a specific screen size.

All page elements, including buttons, menus, and images are fluid and scalable, allowing for a more consistent experience across various devices. Where adaptive design relies on static units, responsive design uses relative units such as percentages. If you make a specific page element 50% wide, then that page element will always take up exactly half of the screen. This is particularly useful when scaling textual content: a single screen wide column of text is perfectly normal on mobile, but on a desktop, it would take up the entire screen and look awkward and out of place.


Responsive design also falls into mobile-first initiative launched by Google. Now that half of all internet traffic is coming from mobile devices, it’s important to develop a website which is mobile-friendly from the start. Additionally, it’s far easier and cost effective to optimize just a single website and its content that it would be to optimize one website for desktop and one for mobile. Responsive websites keep the content intact and simply shift it around the page according to a specific device.

Which one is better, adaptive or responsive?

Choosing between adaptive and responsive design depends largely on the target audience which is going to view it. Once you’ve figured out exactly who your audience is, you can make an educated estimate regarding the types of devices they’ll be using and plan your design accordingly. Another factor you need to consider is whether you already have a website in place or you’re building one from scratch. If you do, then adaptive design is your best choice, as it allows you to keep the existing infrastructure and simply focus on building new layout templates.

Final Words

On the other hand, if you don’t have a functional website and have yet to build one, it’s better to go with responsive. It has become a go-to technique for web developers and it’s estimated that around 1/8 of all websites are now responsive. Which one will work best for you is determined by how much time and resources you have on your hands. In the end, it’s safe to say that responsive design will continue being the popular choice until we find a better solution for the amount of maintenance required by adaptive websites.

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