Responsive Vs Adaptive Design: And The Winner Is…


Google has always Responsive Web Design (RWD) on its on-the-go list as per its big update that was rolled out on 21 April this year, that always hunts for mobile-friendly websites. Though it is not clarified whether it must have responsive design or not, but it should be accessible on smartphones with good UX, site speed and other factors.

Let us go through some pros and cons of both designs – adaptive and responsive in terms of their UX and performance.

One of the never-ending debates since the rise of use of mobile everywhere whether to choose responsive (RWD), adaptive (AWD) or standalone mobile site (with its own m. URL). To proceed further, we will opt out standalone sites as they serve as the evergreen solution in case both designs do not work out.

A Key Difference

Responsive is quite flexible and adapts itself to the size of the screen without bothering about the targeted device. RWD responds at any given point irrespective of the browser width and its other functionalities. It does not make a difference as the layout responds accordingly only if it is done correctly. It only happens because responsive websites use CSS media queries to make style changes based on the device based on the factors like display type, height, width etc.

While adaptive design on the other hand, uses the concept of static layout and responds to the browser’s width at specific points. Generally, it detects the screen size and loads the appropriate design. You can design an adaptive site for six common screens widths – 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200 and 1600.

Adaptive designs demand more labor as you have to design layouts for minimum six widths. But on the contrary, responsive could prove to be more disastrous if proper use of media queries is not done.

Why Use Adaptive?

Adaptive is useful in case of adding an existing file to make the site more mobile friendly. It allows you to control design and development of multiple and specific viewports. But the number of viewports you choose totally depends on your company and budget.

Certainly, you begin designing with a low resolution viewport and continue the process in a way to ensure that the design does not get stiffed by the content. Though you make designs for six standard resolutions, however you can go for more informative resolution by simply looking at your web analytics for the most used devices and then design as per the demands.

Why Use Responsive?

The majority of sites go for responsive designs which can be adopted even for less experienced designers and developers. And all credit goes to the available themes that are accessible through CMS systems – WordPress, Drupal as well as Joomla.

Not only it requires much labor, but takes fewer efforts to build as well as maintain. While doing designing for responsive theme, you have to keep all the layouts in mind, make you confused and thus, complex. So, you have to be very careful while and focused while creating viewport for mid-resolution and then, use media queries according to low and high resolutions later.

Points To Consider

Responsive sites suffer more when it comes to site speed and require more coding to ensure that it fits on each screen. On the other hand, modifying adaptive sites is more complicated as you will have to ensure that everything is working aside like SEO, links and content when it is the time for implementation. Do not forget to consider user experience factor in both the cases.

According to Amy Schade, “Responsive design often turns into solving a puzzle — how to reorganize elements on larger pages to fit skinnier, longer pages or vice versa. However, ensuring that elements fit within a page is not enough. For a responsive design to be successful, the design must also be usable at all screen resolutions and sizes.”

The Decision

There is no shortcut to decide the technique as both requires tasks that comes along with creating a site and it should be like one-size-fits-all. Moreover, when it comes to decide then choose as per your audience. And once you know exactly about your target audience, do not hesitate about the complexities of the chosen technique.

But keep in mind the fact that it is always better to go for responsive designs for new projects and adaptive for the existing ones.