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Choosing between Responsive Design and Adaptive Design Made Easy

Published on 13 October 16
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To adopt a responsive design or adaptive design? has been a conundrum for web developers and client companies for quite some time now

With the growing diversity in the number of devices we access the web through, designers and innovators have a lot of work to do when it comes to adjusting a web page according to the screen size of a device and providing an elevated user experience. In order to do so, you would need to know the basics of these two design types and which will work best in a given situation.

Responsive website design

When the user sends out a request to view a responsive web page on a screen different from what the web page was designed for, the web automatically alters the design to automatically fit within the space available. The interesting point to note here is that while doing so, the functionality and usability of the site doesn’t get altered.

This is exactly the USP of responsive website design. This varies from device to device. For example: if a site has 8 horizontal tabs, on a smaller screen, the responsive web design would allow these 8 tabs to rearrange themselves such that 4 of them above and the rest 4 below them are aligned to fit the screen.

Adaptive website design

An adaptive web design is, however, more of a specified tailored design. Although adaptive to the circumstances of a smaller screen size, this design bears already designed specifications beyond which, the page doesn’t shrink. Using the similar aforementioned example, if the same site has 8 tabs, then the adaptive web design will cause these 8 tabs to shrink to a tailor-made specification, but not one above the other.

Adaptive website design has fixed layouts even if they are accessed on different screen sizes. It may, however, be noted that in some cases, the web page layout for desktop and mobile may differ, but that is only in a rare few cases where the designers have taken enough pain to customize website versions to suit numerous screens of different sizes. This will ensure a good user experience on the desktop as well as mobile. However, the challenges with this approach become immediately evident.

Why responsive design would add value better than adaptive design

We strongly recommend going with a responsive design website. Its benefits far outweigh the advantages of an adaptive web design in the following ways:

  1. A responsive web design reduces work on the designers’ table by initiating a universal page for all screens sizes, form factors, or operating systems. It provides users with the same design across a smartphone, tablet, iPad, or a desktop. This makes the user experience uniform, consistent, and seamless. It also means much less work for developers and hence, simpler, when compared to adaptive website design.


  1. The fluid design flow of responsive website design involves more coding at the outset as compared to adaptive design. But imagine what happens when there is a change, revision, or update to be made. For adaptive design, changes will have to be done for each layout maintained under the adaptive design scheme. Now if there are multiple iterations of scope changes or post-release updates, the issue magnifies exponentially during development, testing, compatibility checks, and functionality of SEO, content, and links. This is where responsive website design shows its ability to justify the costs over a longer term.


  1. With developers get better control over the spread of screen sizes which the website need to cater to. As a rule of thumb, they start with mid-resolution and then employ CSS media queries, flexible set grid layout, among other tools, to go up or down depending on the screen on which the site is being viewed. This approach can easily take care of the key requisite of performing uniformly across all the screen size the website is being viewed on.


  1. A responsive website design may require zooming in and out so as to easily access each and every corner of the website fully to make appropriate use of the information it provides. This isn’t, however, the case with an adaptive design. Since it adjusts to different screen sizes, the pre-defined layouts make your devices’ screen size as the most suited one, and hence aids in optimal performance.


Deciding on which website design to choose needs considerable thought. While we strongly support responsive web design, there may be situations where adaptive design can come in handy. If you know that your target audience will use only a specific set of screen sizes, then it makes sense to go for adaptive (for instance, business users may utilize BlackBerry most of the times). However, since this is not applicable most of the time, it will be wise to opt for responsive web design and not limit yourself to screen sizes for the client’s business success.


To adopt a responsive design or adaptive design? has been a conundrum for web developers and client companies for quite some time now

With the growing diversity in the number of devices we access the web through, designers and innovators have a lot of work to do when it comes to adjusting a web page according to the screen size of a device and providing an elevated user experience. In order to do so, you would need to know the basics of these two design types and which will work best in a given situation.

Responsive website design

When the user sends out a request to view a responsive web page on a screen different from what the web page was designed for, the web automatically alters the design to automatically fit within the space available. The interesting point to note here is that while doing so, the functionality and usability of the site doesn’t get altered.

This is exactly the USP of responsive website design. This varies from device to device. For example: if a site has 8 horizontal tabs, on a smaller screen, the responsive web design would allow these 8 tabs to rearrange themselves such that 4 of them above and the rest 4 below them are aligned to fit the screen.

Adaptive website design

An adaptive web design is, however, more of a specified tailored design. Although adaptive to the circumstances of a smaller screen size, this design bears already designed specifications beyond which, the page doesn’t shrink. Using the similar aforementioned example, if the same site has 8 tabs, then the adaptive web design will cause these 8 tabs to shrink to a tailor-made specification, but not one above the other.

Adaptive website design has fixed layouts even if they are accessed on different screen sizes. It may, however, be noted that in some cases, the web page layout for desktop and mobile may differ, but that is only in a rare few cases where the designers have taken enough pain to customize website versions to suit numerous screens of different sizes. This will ensure a good user experience on the desktop as well as mobile. However, the challenges with this approach become immediately evident.

Why responsive design would add value better than adaptive design

We strongly recommend going with a responsive design website. Its benefits far outweigh the advantages of an adaptive web design in the following ways:

  1. A responsive web design reduces work on the designers’ table by initiating a universal page for all screens sizes, form factors, or operating systems. It provides users with the same design across a smartphone, tablet, iPad, or a desktop. This makes the user experience uniform, consistent, and seamless. It also means much less work for developers and hence, simpler, when compared to adaptive website design.


  1. The fluid design flow of responsive website design involves more coding at the outset as compared to adaptive design. But imagine what happens when there is a change, revision, or update to be made. For adaptive design, changes will have to be done for each layout maintained under the adaptive design scheme. Now if there are multiple iterations of scope changes or post-release updates, the issue magnifies exponentially during development, testing, compatibility checks, and functionality of SEO, content, and links. This is where responsive website design shows its ability to justify the costs over a longer term.


  1. With developers get better control over the spread of screen sizes which the website need to cater to. As a rule of thumb, they start with mid-resolution and then employ CSS media queries, flexible set grid layout, among other tools, to go up or down depending on the screen on which the site is being viewed. This approach can easily take care of the key requisite of performing uniformly across all the screen size the website is being viewed on.


  1. A responsive website design may require zooming in and out so as to easily access each and every corner of the website fully to make appropriate use of the information it provides. This isn’t, however, the case with an adaptive design. Since it adjusts to different screen sizes, the pre-defined layouts make your devices’ screen size as the most suited one, and hence aids in optimal performance.



Deciding on which website design to choose needs considerable thought. While we strongly support responsive web design, there may be situations where adaptive design can come in handy. If you know that your target audience will use only a specific set of screen sizes, then it makes sense to go for adaptive (for instance, business users may utilize BlackBerry most of the times). However, since this is not applicable most of the time, it will be wise to opt for responsive web design and not limit yourself to screen sizes for the client’s business success.




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