How Responsive Web Design Differ from Adaptive Website Designs?

Mobile devices have become a priority for every business and they cannot afford to ignore it, especially in this era when mobile devices have become more than a need of the individuals. They depend on these devices like smartphones, tablets, etc. to visit different websites. If you have a business website, then it should be easy to view on mobile devices, otherwise, consequences will be drastic. You will lose your customers and your website traffic will drastically decrease.


Designers, who have been working with customers and developing project ideas with their clients, always present two options for website design:


  • Adaptive design

  • Responsive design


Clients get confused when it comes to choosing between adaptive and responsive web designs. Some consider adaptive designing as a subset of responsive designing. Therefore, it’s necessary that all parties concerned with a project must use the same expressions when talking about site implementation. It will help team members to be on the same page and help them select the best approach among adaptive or responsive design for the project.


There is a diversity of mobile devices with varying screen size. It is designers’ responsibility to cater the designing needs of the users as per screen sizes. This is the biggest challenge as from big corporate monitors to smartwatches, there are numerous gadgets that users can use to access information online. To bridge this gap, designers use both the design options. Those who don’t have much knowledge of designing and platform, they will not be able to distinguish between responsive and adaptive, but when you look closely, there is a clear difference between the two.


Let’s understand how.




According to Wikipedia, “ It is an approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors).” No matter what type of device you are using to see a website, responsive designs respond to the size of the browser. The website adjusts its layout and perhaps functionality so that it is optimized well on the screen. The browser width doesn’t matter because the website layout will respond accordingly.


There are three technical elements of responsive website design:

  • Fluid Grids

  • Flexible Images

  • Media Queries


It is a challenge to create websites that can change context according to the site being consumed. This means our grids should be fluid, our assets (images, videos, and other graphics content) should be flexible, which means serving the right asset to right devices at the right time and media queries should be well defined like where content breaks.




It is the layout that changes in adaptive web design. There are several different layouts for multiple screen sizes and the layout used depends on the screen size. For example, there could be a specific layout for mobile phones, tablets, and desktop computers and these layouts are made in advance for each device. It can be best understood as – let’s say you have designed a webpage at 3 different sizes: 320 for mobile phones, 760 pixels for tablets and 960 for desktop browsers. In Responsive sites, design responds while you fine-tune a browser window; on the other hand, adaptive files don’t respond on loading. It responds by detecting the device first and then calls up the properly sized layout to appear.


Adaptive design is more like the contemporary classification of progressive development. It first detects the device and its other features, and then gives the suitable feature and layout depending on a limited set of viewport sizes and other characters. There are three layers of Progressive Enhancement:


  • Content layer = rich semantic HTML markup

  • Presentation layer = CSS and styling

  • Client-side scripting layer = JavaScript or jQuery behaviors




  • Both the methods allow websites to be viewed on mobile devices irrespective of the screen size, providing visitors a better user experience.

  • Both these methods differ in the way they deliver website structures. Responsive website design depends on fluid grids and flexible images. Adaptive website design depends on predefined screen sizes.

  • Responsive design is the most difficult to work out since it requires more time and efforts on the site’s CSS. It needs a proper organization to ensure that it functions well at any possible size. It can be better explained as making a few specific web layouts is much easier than making one layout that can work on any screen size.

  • As it follows an easier approach, so the one drawback of the adaptive design is that the layout may not always display the best for screen sizes of all widths. While responsive site designs are assured to work well on all screen sizes, adaptive designs only work on as many screens as its layouts are capable to. So, if a new device is released with a new screen size, adaptive layouts may not fit well.

  • An adaptive website needs to load all possible layouts while in responsive websites you need to load only one layout that works across all platforms. There is a lot of loading stuff to do in Adaptive sites, which takes extra time and resources. That’s why it is a bit slower than its responsive counterpart.




After considering all facts and figures of both the design options, responsive website design is almost the safer option to go with your website. It will function well in spite of any new screen size come and go. It will have quick loading time and it would be worth spending extra time and efforts in creating different layouts.

For smaller and newer websites, adaptive web design may be a better option as it is easier to create with limited layouts.


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