Websites: Responsive Vs Adaptive

18th Feb 2019

Websites: Responsive Vs Adaptive

For every website today, the key is to ensure that it is accessible to multiple devices. From tablets to smart phones to smart watches, there are so many ways that consumers could come across your site - and desktop is decreasing. However, there is more than one option when it comes to tailoring websites for multiple devices - responsive and adaptive web design both achieve a similar result, just via slightly different means.

The key functions

  1. Adaptive web design has a number of unique layouts for multiple screen sizes. A pre-set layout is delivered for the device that the website detects.
  2. Responsive web design uses a single layout that changes and adapts depending on the device that is being used to view it.


Creating the website

If you're already working with an existing website, it's very difficult to retrofit this to be responsive. However, applying an adaptive design to a fixed-width website is much easier, as the existing website can be left as it is and adaptive breakpoints applied where necessary. This approach is also better suited where the development budget is limited. If the website is being built or redesigned from scratch then responsive design is simple to implement.


The way the website performs

Criticism has often been leveled at responsive design for not delivering when it comes to download speeds and performance. However, this is not a problem inherent in responsive design but rather the way that designers have approached it, attaching small screen media queries onto a site's existing CSS. This has often meant that the resources in place for bigger devices went to all device instead, basically slowing everything down. Today, responsive design has evolved considerably so this does not need to be an issue.


Browser support

Both responsive and adaptive designs are pretty well supported by browsers. The only issues that may arise are responsive websites encountering the oldest versions of Internet Explorer.


Visual design

Responsive design isn't limited to specific pre-sets as an adaptive approach is. However, the reality may be that responsive design looks great at some of the more popular resolutions but not so great for anything in between. Adaptive design is more reliable when it comes to design control, as this has been defined in advance. However, it's also important to remember that to get a high-quality result, resources may be required to design each of the pre-set layouts that are involved.



Responsive design has the advantage, as it is created to accommodate all screen sizes, even those that have not been invented yet. Adaptive, on the other hand, may not deal with new resolutions.


Making a choice between adaptive and responsive web design requires an evaluation of existing resources and budget, as well as the purpose of the redesign. There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to web design - each one is, necessarily, very individual.

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