Understanding The Key Differences Between Responsive and Adaptive Web Design

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    The Journey of Websites and Webpages

    Web design has evolved tremendously over time, both in terms of design and functionality. Today, no matter who you are or what business you run, having a website has become a must. For most brands, the key factor that determines the quality of a webpage or website is its user-friendliness. If users like the website, and are able to access it on-the-go, they’re more assured of positive feedback.

    For Web Designers, there’s always the challenge of producing something unique yet relatable. Did you know? As of 2019, there are 1.94 billion websites all over the world. Of course, not all of them are great websites, and some of them are just blank pages with a registered domain name, but the fact that remains is this – webpages are the future databanks of information.

    Figuring Out Web Design

    For this and many other reasons, the focus in the past few years has also shifted to something else – web design. Great design isn’t just the color scheme, themes, or on-page design elements; great design relies heavily on how adaptable, easy to use, and flexible the page is. Can a user view these pages from absolutely anywhere? Will they be able to view it on various devices and platforms? Will it be a smooth or glitchy experience?

    To answer all of these questions, web designers created layouts that were more fluid and flexible in nature, making it a better experience for both the owners of the site and the consumers. Today, web page designs come in many forms, but there are two that stand out and are the most used as per current standards – responsive and adaptive.

    Responsive vs. Adaptive Web Design – An Overview

    To explain each design type in the easiest way possible, let’s compare Responsive Design to water and Adaptive Design to paper.

    Responsive design is meant to be fluid; right from its look and feel to the way it conforms to different screen ratios, the movement of the design is also fluid, like water. Pour water into any container, irrespective of its shape, and the water will also take its shape without changing its composition. Responsive layouts are just like that.

    Adaptive design, on the other hand, is flexible but not fluid. Various screen ratios have set measurements and shapes as per digital standards, and responsive design is like a “made to order” site that fits those specific shapes. The movement of such a web design isn’t fluid, but it still fits the screen ratio perfectly without compromising on any elements.
    Paper, the right comparison, can be cut into any shape with a pair of scissors, but it doesn’t do so on its own. One needs to cut it manually. In the end, the desired shape is achieved, but not without intervention.

    Responsive vs. Adaptive Web Design – What people prefer

    For clients that require a web design that doesn’t require them to check in on it or make changes often, a Responsive design makes more sense. B2C brands and companies often opt for Responsive layouts because it’s customer friendly and also gets the job done on its own. These work well for designs that aren’t too technical in nature, or websites that aren’t updated very often.

    Most regular websites go for a responsive layout. Considering that so many users today access web pages directly from their smartphones and tablets, and that larger screen like Desktops aren’t as popular as they used to be, this fluidity of a Responsive website is highly beneficial.

    However, this doesn’t imply that Adaptive designs aren’t good enough. B2B sites, for example, are always under the purview and the process of being upgraded. Information and elements can change quite often, which then warrants a design that is more in control of the website owner. In such a case, an Adaptive design would be the better choice.

    There is a misconception that Adaptive designs are not user-friendly; they very much are, but just not as smooth in operation as Responsive designs. Such designs respond to any changes in browser or screen width by dynamically adjusting the placement of each of the design elements on the page, optimally fitting the screen ratio.

    There is definitely more work that goes into creating an Adaptive web design, but for some requirements, it definitely is the more viable option.

    Responsive vs. Adaptive Web Design – Pros and Cons

    Let’s list out the pros and cons of both Responsive and Adaptive web design:

    1. Responsive


    • Seamless operation with maintained uniformity on all platforms
    • A better user experience
    • Preferable for SEO-friendliness
    • Easier to create, design, and implement


    • Less control over the design adaptation to various screen sizes
    • Chances of design elements moving around or getting displaced
    • Ads and banners can get lost or be hard to notice
    • Downloads and uploads take a longer time, especially on mobile

    2. Adaptive


    • Gives designers full flexibility is optimally designing the appearance of the web pages for each screen size respectively
    • Ads can be optimized and also customized based on the data received from user’s devices
    • Mobile layouts are less messy and more organized


    • Takes a lot of time to design and create each individually fitted layout
    • If the page configuration is specifically made for phones and desktops, netbooks and tablets may not respond favorably
    • Due to the content and design being identical, search engines aren’t as responsive, which makes it difficult for SEO

    In Conclusion

    Web design is a rather dynamic vertical, one that is bound to get even more interesting in the coming years. A website has to be a package deal – design, content, experience, information, and credibility. A web designer’s biggest challenge is incorporating all of these elements, whilst helping the brand achieve the goals it has set. As for the question of Adaptive vs. Responsive, the answer is a subjective one. Based on need, usage, and outcome, either of the two can be a great choice! One just has to know which one fits where.