Responsive Design vs Adaptive Design – What’s The Best Choice For Your Business?

With over 50% of all web traffic being generated by mobile devices, having a website with an appealing design on smaller screens is crucial. To achieve this, you have two options: responsive design vs adaptive design. Although these design approaches are often confused one for the other, they are vastly different.

However, before deciding on choosing between adaptive design or responsive design, you first need to make sure that you’ve got the right design agency behind your back. For example, there’s a great NYC website design company that can handle both design methods.

What are they, how do they differ, and which approach might be better for you? That’s what we are going to talk about today.


What Is Responsive Design?

By definition, responsive design is a web design approach that allows websites or web pages to display on all devices by automatically adapting to the device’s screen size to view it. The way it does this is by using flexible images, fluid grids, CSS3 media queries, and a responsive navigation menu.


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In other words, the responsive approach allows designers to create a single website, which will automatically change its appearance based on the differences in screen sizes.


What Is Adaptive Design?

Adaptive design is a form of the graphical user interface (GUI) that adjusts to various screen sizes. Designers use it in graphical user interfaces (GUIs), such as web pages, that must work on various devices. As the device detects the browser size, it selects the most suitable interface for the screen (for example, a smartphone’s) in adaptive design.

Adaptive design, which adapts to various screen sizes, is close to adaptive design. The distinction between adaptive and responsive design is that in adaptive design, the content follows a set layout scale, while in responsive design, it shifts dynamically. Adaptive design, in other words, begins with a few fixed formats and then chooses the right one for the current screen size.


What is adaptive design?


On the other hand, the responsive design employs a single interface that resizes to match the screen size. Designers in the adaptive design are expected to create six designs for the six most popular screen widths: 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200, and 1600 pixels.


Responsive Design vs Adaptive Design

As web and app designers, the distinctions between responsive and adaptive design approaches illustrate essential choices. Choosing with intuition will help you plan and execute your designs with more intent, meaning, and effect.

Because of mobile devices’ widespread use and diversity, we as designers must accommodate a wide range of screen sizes. Every web and app designer is currently confronted with this issue.

There are several ways for users to access information online today, ranging from the large corporate display to the smartwatch. Because these design approaches are different, each one of them comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s discuss these in further detail.


Responsive Design Advantages

Responsive design only requires one version of your website. For example, a responsive website is often cheaper, and it takes less time to build than an adaptive one if building it from scratch.

It’s also easier to update or maintain since every change you make will automatically port over to other devices.

Websites with responsive design offer a consistent UX (check best UX practices), meaning that a user will have the same experience when visiting your site, regardless of the device he is using.

Not only that but having a single URL for every type of device means that the time users will otherwise spend while being redirected is eliminated.

And finally, opting for the responsive approach over building separate websites for desktops and mobiles will ultimately boost your SEO rankings. Creating a website designed for all types of devices will eliminate the risk of being classified as having duplicate content.


Responsive Design Disadvantages

Although this approach eliminates the time a user spends while waiting for redirects, some responsive websites experience slower loading speeds.

That’s mainly because, as its layout is being scaled down from desktop to mobile, the website’s images will only decrease in size visually instead of being resized for optimal loading speeds.

As we’ve previously mentioned, going for the responsive approach will cut down development times and costs. However, that’s only true if you are planning to build a website from scratch.

If you already have a website that is not built with a responsive design in mind, an overhaul may be required. In that case, you will be better off by opting for the adaptive approach.

Lastly, displayed advertisements might not always scale down in size as the website flows from device to device, negatively impacting the site’s aesthetics.


Adaptive Design Advantages

One of the main advantages that an adaptive website has over its responsive counterpart is that it gives designers the ability to create custom UXs dedicated to each type of device.

In other words, the responsive approach offers a consistent user experience across all platforms, whereas an adaptive website can create the best possible UX regardless of the type of device.

Adaptive design has the advantage of appearing more relevant to today’s user experience. In contrast, the responsive design reflects a more desktop-centric approach (with the demands of other devices taking a secondary, almost passive place).

Take a literal example: if you were driving through a long tunnel, wouldn’t you prefer a GPS screen that changes its brightness in response to the environment? The context-based efficiency and usability are reassuring, ensuring that your smart device is capable of adapting and being even more useful.

Research shows that a company with an adaptive website outperforms a company with a responsive website in speed tests. This isn’t a minor distinction. Adaptive sites are typically 2-3 times faster than responsive sites, and they offer the user fewer data to deliver the user experience.

Consequently, using the adaptive approach will also optimize the loading speed for each version of the site.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, if you already have a website, going for the responsive approach will require you a rebuild. With adaptive design, you can leave your website as it is.


Adaptive Design Disadvantages

Adaptive design has certain disadvantages. To begin with, it takes a lot more time and effort than designing a responsive design. As a result, an adaptive website’s biggest drawback is that of high development costs.

The majority of adaptive templates are used to redesign existing websites to make them mobile-friendly. As a consequence, maintenance will also be more difficult. That’s because every single change will require you to go over all separate versions of the website.

The majority of search engines also do not rate similar content across multiple URLs in the same way. That means being aware that an adaptive design can cause you to fall behind on SEO.

Now that we saw the advantages and disadvantages of these two approaches, the following question might arise: Which one is better for your business? Well, let’s answer that.


Why Should You Choose Responsive?

The responsive approach might be the better all-around choice, especially if you are on a tight budget. It’s cheaper and easier to maintain compared to its adaptive equivalent. Although UX might not be as good, the lack of costs makes up for it.


  • Uniform & seamless = good UX
  • Abudance of templates to use
  • SEO friendly
  • Often easier to implement

  • Less screen size design control
  • Elements can move around
  • Advertisements lost on screen
  • Longer mobile download times


Why Should You Choose Adaptive?

Building an adaptive website is recommended in some instances. As we previously mentioned, if you already have a website up and running, which is not mobile-friendly, going adaptive rather than doing an overhaul is worth it.

Furthermore, if you notice that a user’s behavior tends to change based on the device they are using, going adaptive will allow you to optimize the UX based on the device. That can potentially increase conversions if you’re running an online store, for example.


  • Allows designers to build the best UX for the appropriate device
  • Mobile devices can sense their user’s environment
  • Designers can optimize advertisements based on user data from smart devices

  • Labor-intensive to create – most adaptive designs are retroffiting traditional sites to make them more accessible
  • Tablets and netbooks can have trouble with site configuration tending to be smartphone or desktop oriented
  • Challenging to SEO


Responsive vs Adaptive Conclusion

All in all, both of these approaches come with their upsides and drawbacks. When it comes to it, the trick is to first and foremost understand your audience, no matter what web design strategy you follow.

When you know exactly who they are and what platforms they tend to access the web, it is easier to make a decision.


AUTHOR BIO: Emma is a marketing strategist and web designer. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand. Emma is a digital enthusiast interested in web design, social media, and anything marketing-related.

DISCLOSURE: Posts may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, I might get a small commission, without any extra cost to you. Read more about it here.

2 thoughts on “Responsive Design vs Adaptive Design – What’s The Best Choice For Your Business?”

  1. Adaptive as well as Responsive both are best for a developer to use for their web or app development process. Both have their pros and cons but one thing that need to be taken care of is to first properly understand the actual need and requirement of a website to build so that it becomes easy to accordingly choose anyone of these. Both possess great features and feasibility. Please let me know about some applications or websites build by these approaches which help me to get even more clarity on this concept.

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