How do adaptive design and responsive design differ?

In simple terms, adaptive design is when you have to create several layout sizes of a website to fit into different screen sizes while in responsive design, the same layout size automatically conforms to all screen resolutions.  

Since people now use a large variety of devices to access online, every designer should know which strategy to adopt according to factors like project requirements, target audience, and design preferences. 

Let’s know more about adaptive vs responsive design. 

What is Adaptive Web Design?

Adaptive web design involves creating different static layouts of a website depending on the device or screen size it will be displayed. The common screen width sizes (in pixels) that layouts are created for are 320px, 480px, 760px, 960px, 1200px, and 1600px.

What is Responsive Web Design?

Responsive web design is a way of creating a website that is meant to be adjustable to any screen size when loaded. Not much changes in the website itself but the website changes in response to the size of the screen to be presentable to a user. 

Websites are commonly said to be “fluid-like” as they change to fit the screen as a liquid would be based on its container.

Adaptive vs Responsive Design: How They Differ

Here is a quick rundown of their differences: 

Adaptive designResponsive design
Layout Have different layouts made for different sizesChanges according to screen size
Efforts in designRequires more effort than responsive design as multiple layouts are needed to be designedRequires less effort than adaptive design since only one overall design is necessary
Coding difficultyFairly easy for developersVery difficult for developers
Customizing difficultyCan be complex due to having multiple layoutsFairly simple as there is one layout
State of layoutStaticDynamic
Loading screensFast Slow
SEOTricky for SEOMore SEO friendly

Pros and Cons of Adaptive Web Design


  • Total control of layout regardless of screen size

Adaptive web design allows you to create different layouts based on the screen size they will be displayed on. As a result, you have total freedom on how you want to present your site to users of various devices. 

For example, if you run an online clothing store, you can choose to show more details and suggested items for a desktop monitor screen. If you show the same information on a smaller screen, like on a phone, it will look congested. 

Instead, you only show the clothing and pricing (along with other important info) to mobile users, giving them an equally pleasant experience browsing through your site.

You can research to find out the intent behind users visiting your sites from different devices and create layouts to satisfy their needs better.

  • Easy for developers to code

Due to the static nature of each of the pages, it is easier to code for adaptive websites than responsive ones. Moreover, they only need to code for the resolutions they are asked for.

  • Fast loading screens

Since the pages are coded with certain devices in mind, it means they have to only load in what they are created for, making very fast loading screens. 

There are no unnecessary things that load in the background as all the visuals are accounted for according to whatever device they are assigned to.


  • Extra work for designers
  • More layouts mean more work for UX designers. Here, they cannot just resize all the content on the site and call it a day. They have to account for the best user experience and resize and redesign accordingly. 

This involves making important decisions like which content should be resized and how much. They may also have to decide which elements should be excluded entirely from the front page.

Sometimes, the same website can serve different purposes based on which device is used. This means even more work for UX designers. Maintenance of such a site will also be difficult as you will not need to work on every layout for even the smallest changes.

  • The site formats incorrectly

Since the websites have specified designs based on screen size, sometimes they do not account for uncommon sizes. This causes the site to come out incorrectly formatted on such devices, rendering it virtually useless there. 

This wouldn’t be that much of an issue if not for the fact that a lot of new devices are coming out as mobile companies always experiment with different phone sizes. Incorrect formatting can thus lose you a significant portion of potential visitors.

  • Bad for SEO

Search engines like Google and Bing use web crawlers to understand the structure of a site. They also use them to find suitable pages for user search keywords. The issue with SEO comes when crawlers encounter duplicate content. They will perceive the different layouts as different pages, confusing them on which to present to a user. This can negatively impact SEO for the site.

Pros and Cons of Responsive Web Design


  • Only need to design one layout

As the website changes to fit the screen, designers only need to concentrate on creating one perfect layout. Maintenance of such a site will also be fairly easy to do.

  • Can account for any screen size

As the website changes itself according to screen size, it can be easily viewed on any device,  even uncommon ones. No matter what device you decide to log in from, it will always format accordingly to show the best layout on its own.

  • Good for SEO

Google and other search engines prioritize mobile websites when ranking sites for their search results. As responsive web designs change to whatever device they are loaded on, they are considered to be mobile friendly most of the time, making rank very high, and boosting their SEO.


  • Less control over devices

For responsive web design to work, you should have a “one size fits all” mindset. While that decreases the workload for your design team, it can lose you device-specific opportunities. 

You will be unable to create layouts that cater to the devices being used losing you a lot of potential conversions.

  • Difficult for developers to code

Due to having one layout that changes itself, developers have to work hard and do complex coding to make it work. Even if developers or designers work together, there is no way they can calibrate the overall design based on every device out there. 

Not to mention, developers will need to rigorously test the device on different platforms and make adjustments, which can sound like routine work but can be difficult to do.

  • Slow loading times

As they are coded to work on every device, responsive websites fail to take into consideration the configuration of the device. 

So, every time someone enters the site, everything tries to load in at once, slowing down times, which is a huge downside in user experience.

  • May not respond well to some devices

It is almost impossible to make sure that the website runs smoothly on every device on Earth. As a result, there will be instances where all the design elements or content of your site are not presented in a user-friendly manner. This can cause a lot of users to have a bad user experience with your site.

Adaptive vs responsive design: which one is better?

Looking at the differences, advantages, and disadvantages that come with both types of web designs, you may be wondering which one is better.

Truth is, you cannot simply say one is better than the other. The better question would be which one suits you more. There are two main factors to consider here.

  • Your audience
  • Your resources

To decide on one type, the most important thing you need to figure out is the type of audience you have and what devices they use. If you have that knowledge, it will be easy for you to design layouts that appeal the best to your audience.

Your resources will also dictate what type of website will be feasible for you. If you have the budget to hire designers or skilled programmers, you can implement adaptive or responsive designs based on what suits you. 

Right now, responsive sites are the more popular of the two sites. They can be hard to set up but maintenance is easier to do in the long run. 

Do keep in mind that just because it’s the popular choice does not mean it is always the best. If your site can be more active on smartphones, it will be better to use an adaptive design. Even if maintenance and updating can be a hassle, it will be worth it due to the potential conversions it can bring.

The main argument against adaptive sites is the laborious maintenance it requires. That does not mean it is not a worthy contender to consider. Its versatility in different screen types is worth the trouble of maintaining such a site.

If you have the manpower and resources, we would suggest going with an adaptive web design, especially if you have different utilities for users on mobile.

Otherwise, it is best to use responsive web design, which will make your site more than just usable on any site, not to mention the SEO it provides.

Factors to Consider When Chosing Between Adaptive and Responsive Design

Before you finalize a type of site, here are some more factors you should keep in mind as you make a decision. Certain aspects will be more beneficial in one type than the other. You can decide upon a type based on which factors you should prioritize and how they benefit from using the type of site design you choose. 

First impression

People judge a website based on the first impression they get after entering it. It is important to capture their attention with the very first thing they see as they enter your site. This means optimizing your header, your hero section, and everything else visible on entry.

The header should be able to tell the audience what your company is, what you offer, and what your site consists of. You will need to adjust all of these based on whether they will be viewed from a monitor or a mobile screen.

Your hero section is a great place to show off your creativity and your brand image. You can display images, videos, infographics, and many other things to give the audience an idea of what you are all about. It is a great way to convert visitors into customers too with enticing CTA buttons that direct them to service and contact pages.

You will have more room to work with on a desktop monitor, giving you more opportunities to show off to your users. On a mobile phone, your options will be fewer. You will need to decide on which parts are the most crucial and that they need to be the front and center for both desktop and mobile phones. 

You will also need to figure out what to display on the extra space you will be getting on a desktop that is not significant enough to be cut from a mobile screen.

First impression

Look how the desktop version uses the full screen without feeling like it overwhelms you. Meanwhile, for mobile devices, the resized elements make sense to be the way they are, showing the title and thumbnail just like the desktop versions. 

The only difference between the two is that the sidebar is not visible for mobile devices, which is smart because it would have cluttered the screen. Here, is utilizing responsive web design.

Thankfully, you can make customizations based on where your site will be viewed on both adaptive and responsive designs, albeit with more options when using adaptive design styles.

Not only do you want your text to be readable but also presented in a manner that is consistent with the design language of the whole site itself. When selecting the overall typography of your site, it is important to maintain a balance between readability and visual appeal.

Text readability

Adaptive website can be great if your users are coming from multiple devices. You can design the layouts as optimally as you can, making sure you present your website the way you want. 

This can be difficult to maintain with responsive designs as you do not have as much freedom to make changes as adaptive layouts.

Text readability
Text readability

Look at this example with Turkish Airlines. They are using adaptive designs here and because they have accounted for screen sizes, their text is readable on both desktop and mobile.


Navigation is one of the most important aspects of your website, playing a great role in determining user experience.

With the option for a large header on a monitor, it is easy to put links to different sections right away. It becomes a challenge when making designs for navigation for a smaller screen because there is not much space to work with.

Thankfully, digital product designers over the years have come up with solutions to this problem in many ways. Some commonly used tactics are Hamburger menus, sticky menus, full-screen pop-up menus, and many more.

  1. Hamburger menu

Hamburger menus are the three-lined icons you see on many sites that usually open up a menu on a side when clicked on.

a.	Hamburger menu
  1. Sticky menu

Sticky menus are the header or footer menus that “stick” with you as you scroll up or down a site on a phone, meaning they will remain accessible to you all the time even if you scroll further from their original location.

Sticky menu
Sticky menu
  1. Full-screen pop-up menu

Some websites will provide you with a menu option that when clicked, will make a menu pop-up in fullscreen.

Full-screen pop-up menu

These techniques along with many others have become a common practice among not only mobile websites but desktop websites as well due to their convenience. Use them as you see fit no matter which website you decide to go with.

Hierarchy presentation

The hierarchy of a website informs the visitor of the total structure of the website and the best pathway to find everything it has to offer. It is important to present the hierarchy of your website in a visually clean manner without overwhelming your visitors. This can be a difficult task, especially for mobile users.

You can use headers, navigation tools, images, white space, and other methods to make your hierarchy easily digestible to visitors. They are great for visually presenting a structure of information so audiences can find what they are looking for and how to access it. 

It is also a great way to establish related content with sections. Don’t forget to infuse your creativity as you go along making your designs.

For adaptive design, you can arrange your hierarchy appropriately for every device, giving you options to optimize your design.

For responsive design, it is best to stick to one style of presentation for all devices, so that when they get resized, everything is still easily understandable to viewers.


Finally, you want to make sure that interacting with your website is a breeze. Aside from the obvious optimization of performance like quick loading of pages and decent scrolling speeds, you will want to pick the right mode of interaction based on the customer’s intentions. 

Before that, make sure your buttons and interactable elements are easy to find and obvious to the average eye. You do not want your visitors playing Where’s Waldo looking for buttons.

Think about what a customer wants when they click a button, and how that can change based on what device they are using. For example, you have provided your contact information on your site. 

When a desktop user clicks on your contact info button, they are either expecting a mail address or a phone number. They will either send a mail from the desktop computer itself or dial the number on their phone looking at the screen.

In this example, you can make the email clickable to make it easier to proceed to their desired action. And make the phone number large and visible so that they can easily write it down on their mobile phones viewing their screens.

Now, when mobile phone users are using the site, chances are that they will be dialing the number when looking up your contact info. In this case, you can make things easier by making it such that pressing the contact info button directly calls your number.

There are many differences regarding how interactions will go depending on the devices visitors will be coming in from. Desktop users will be using mouses while phone users will be using their touchscreens to swipe or tap through your site.

So when picking between adaptive and responsive designs, do not just think of the layouts, also take into consideration how your designs will affect interactivity.

Wrapping it up

Choosing between adaptive and responsive design can be tricky, but going through this article will help you understand both designs better and help you make an informed decision. We hope that you utilize all the insights to make your website and accomplish your goals.

If you still feel unsure and need more information or even a helping hand, feel free to contact us. Our expert team of designers can provide you with anything you may need and help you on your path to success.


If the layout of a webpage looks different on different devices, it is an adaptive website. If you find the layout of the website to be the same across multiple devices, just resized to fit the screen you are viewing them on, it is a responsive website.When were adaptive web design and responsive web design created?Ans: The term “adaptive web design” was coined by web designer Aaron Gustafson in 2011, in his book “Adaptive Web Design: Crafting Rich Experiences With Progressive Enhancement”.The term “responsive web design” was coined by Ethan Marcotte via Smashing Magazine.While the terms were introduced in these years, variations of both design types were used in the early 2000s when mobile web browsing started to become common.