Responsive Design vs Adaptive Design Strategy: How to Choose the Perfect One | Techreviewer Blog (2024)

Today’s Internet space is quite different from the one we had 10 years ago. Now, users have an overchoice of websites to surf. It is becoming more and more difficult to catch and hold the audience’s attention. A powerful tool to prevent users from leaving pages and abandoning carts is improved UX.

User experience rules the present-day online world. And the baseline of a sound UX is sound website design. Today, there are thousands of smartphone and tablet models, not to mention PCs and laptops with various screen dimensions. That is why the main criteria of user-friendly website design are perfect displays on desktop and mobile devices.

This task is easily performed by the adaptive or responsive web design approaches. Although both of these designing methods solve the same issue, their strategies are far from identical. Moreover, it is very risky to be wrong with the web design type. You can ruin your UX performance and lose your audience!

So, which approach matches your website? It is high time to compare responsive and adaptive web designs.

What Is Responsive Web Design and How Does It Work?

Imagine that you have several glasses. One is short but wide. Another glass is high but rather narrow. The third one has an extraordinary zigzag form. You start to pour water inside these glasses. The color and consistency of the liquid will not change but the water will take the shape of the glasses.

The same story is about your responsive web design. Your content (as color and consistency of the water) with the precise message to your target audience and graphical elements are not going to change when it comes to different screen sizes. The task of responsive design is to adapt to the dimensions and other specifications of the device the website visitor uses:

  • PC;
  • smartphone;
  • tablet.

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Each page is reformatted according to the required size. CSS specialists create only one codebase for the website but undertake custom adjusting related to the screen formats. This way different layouts in the context of the column number are developed. For example, the desktop version can be 4-column and the one for tablets – a 3-column layout.

The notable feature of responsive web design is that the content and graphic elements stay the same. For example, Starbucks desktop and mobile versions are very similar to each other (including CTAs, buttons, texts, and imagery).

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What Is Adaptive Web Design and How Does It Work?

Let’s draw a parallel between adaptive web design and shaping cookies. You have dough and molds to make cookies in the form of stars, hearts, Christmas trees, etc. Each cookie will be unique because of the mold applied to the dough. The same story is with adaptive design. It is necessary to create various website layouts for each screen.

This way web designers need to create different UX designs for the following screen sizes (other dimensions are also possible):

  • 320px;
  • 480px;
  • 760px;
  • 960px;
  • 1200px;
  • 1600px.

It means that you cannot use a single static page for all versions of the website. The web designer has to think of different layouts that can be used automatically when the system recognizes the screen size.

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It is worth noting that UX designers undertake a detailed analysis of the best-matching location of the CTAs, content, and graphical elements for each device to improve the user experience of every well-developed layout for the site.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the adaptive design examples. This is the eBay marketplace. Here is a mobile version of the website. Popular categories are presented under the search box and the block with special offers.

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At the same time, the desktop version has another design. Popular brands and the advertising of automotive accessories and other products come first on the homepage. The search box stays at the top as in the mobile version.

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To sum up, the main difference between adaptive and responsive designs is the way they are created. But there are many other aspects to compare. With an in-depth comparison of adaptive vs responsive design, you can decide which one is most suitable for your website.

Responsive Design Vs Adaptive: What to Consider for Comparison?

It is a rather challenging choice – adaptive vs responsive website design. Take into consideration all the differences to select the best option. Compare both web designs to choose one that will fit your online business needs and boost your performance on the Internet.

1. Difficulty

It goes without saying that the development of various layouts required for adaptive web design is a complicated practice. You need to create several variants for different devices for a perfect website display on any screen. It means that responsive web design is easier when it comes to implementation. Nevertheless, one pitfall should be mentioned.

The single layout you use for responsive design also has increased difficulty. Designers and web developers should focus their attention on the CSS performance and quality of other organizational issues to deliver an error-free design for all screen sizes at once.

One of the responsive design examples is the Housekeep website. The site is displayed well both on the desktop and mobile screens.

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2. Load Time

Internet surfers are impatient today when it comes to website load time. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the mobile responsiveness of the site. Bounce rates increase if the page loads longer than 2 seconds. As adaptive design uses specific assets for each screen size, the load time of such websites is better than ones that are responsive-based. There is a range of solutions for responsive design to increase the load time rates but they are limited. For example, it is possible to optimize graphical content with inline static and dynamic images.

To sum up, websites with adaptive design are usually loaded faster. You can check load time with the help of the site audit tool. Using the SE Ranking auditing option, a case study was undertaken. Site 1 with responsive design and Site 2 with adaptive design were analyzed. The following results of the load time rates are:


Site 1 (responsive)

Site 2 (adaptive)


1,2 sec

0,56 sec

Webpage load time

1,1 sec

0,58 sec

Objects downloaded

6 sec

2 sec

3. Layout

The main difference is the number of layouts required for responsive and adaptive designs. If the responsive-based website adjusts the optimal version according to the screen dimensions of the visitor who browses the site, the adaptive-based one will have several layouts at once (usually, 6 versions: 320 px, 480 px, 760 px, 960 px, 1200 px, and 1600 px).

One more difference is the way the layout is decided. If the responsive web design uses the browser window to determine the proper viewpoint width and height, the adaptive design defines the layout on the backend. The ready-made layout templates are used for each device type to provide a seamless user experience.

4. Flexibility

On the one hand, adaptive web design seems to be more flexible because it provides specific layouts for different screen sizes. But on the other hand, this type of design is vulnerable to the ever-changing market of modern gadgets. If some new model of smartphone, tablet, or PC appears, there is a risk that existing layouts are not enough to provide a great UX.

The responsive web design is not limited to screen sizes even if some new device hits the market. Its layouts are adjustable to any dimension. That is why responsive-based websites are considered more flexible. Also, it is about providing the best experience with less maintenance and without having to create new layout versions for all the new gadgets.

5. SEO-Friendliness

Google still recommends using responsive web design since it is SEO-friendly. According to the guidelines of the top search engine about website mobile-friendliness, sites rank higher on the SERP this way. At the same time, adaptive design is considered rather challenging for SEO.

Note that responsive web design is not lacking in weak spots when it comes to search engine optimization. Slowly-loading pages of responsive-based websites have a direct impact on bounce rates. And this is harmful to SEO performance. The idea is that the increased bounce rates promote a negative knock-on effect when it comes to user intent. This aspect factors critically in rankings on search engines.

One more great practice of responsive web design is using the same URL across all gadgets. This is about SEO-friendliness as well. Different site versions created in the context of adaptive designing can change the content and other on-page elements. Plus, some errors can take place that will harm SEO.

Pros and Cons of Responsive and Adaptive Design

As can be seen, there are both strengths and weak spots of each type of web design. To choose the best type for your business needs and goals, take a closer look at the review of pros and cons of responsive and adaptive design.

Responsive Design Pros

  • Same experience in all devices. This web design type is absolutely adjustable to any screen size that promotes sound UX independent of the gadget the Internet surfer uses.
  • Less maintenance. There is no need to create numerous site versions to meet the expectations of the visitors and display content with graphical elements properly. Only one cross-functional and flexible layout is used and easily maintained.
  • Everything in a single URL. There is no risk of losing any content, CTA button, or other on-page elements and harming your SEO performance.
  • Absolute design precision. Although responsive designing requires a huge scope of work, the final result is extremely UX and SEO-friendly.
  • More budget-friendly. One website version applied to all screen sizes is about less time and expenditures.
  • More search engine friendly. Google prefers mobile-friendly sites. That is why this design type is highly appreciated by search engines. Responsive websites rank higher in the SERP.

Responsive Design Cons

  • Slower page loading. In comparison with adaptive web design, it performs slower load time. This way bounce rates might increase and detract from the perfect UX.
  • Integrating advertisem*nts. This type of web design is not optimized well for advertising. Extra time and effort are needed for ads integration.

Adaptive Design Pros

  • Best experience. There are custom separate-standing versions for each device. Users can count on the great display of the content and graphical elements.
  • Fast loading. Pages are loaded faster which improves both the UX and SEO performance of the site.
  • Optimized for advertising. There is no need to integrate ads manually which saves time and cuts extra expenditures.
  • Reusable existing website. Each version contains the same content but differs in its representation for each layout.

Adaptive Design Cons

  • Harder to maintain. It is necessary to undertake maintenance of at least 6 website versions at once.
  • More expensive. Designing several layouts is about an increased budget and more effort for the development and modification procedures.
  • Not SEO-friendly. Search engines prefer responsive design. The only strength of adaptive ones is their fast-loading pages that reduce bounce rates and increase Core Web Vitals scoring points.
  • Challenging cross-linking. Focused attention should be paid to redirects when it comes to adaptive web design. Webmasters should be sure that site visitors are redirected to the mobile version if they surf the Internet from pocket screens.

How to Make the Choice between Responsive vs Adaptive Web Design?

Knowing all the advantages and disadvantages of these types of web design, it is possible to define the best matching one for your needs. If you are limited in budget, it will be cheaper to develop a small but functional responsive-based website. It will be easier to maintain and SEO-friendly from the very beginning, right after its launch.

At the same time, for business representatives who are interested in complex sites (usually, these are big-sized companies), it is better to opt for adaptive web design. But be ready for it to be more expensive and require some time and effort.

Let’s compare other aspects that matter when it comes to the selection of the web design:

Responsive design is suitable for:

  1. small or medium-sized companies that would like to have a mobile-friendly uncluttered website without a complex structure.
  2. new online businesses that have just hit the market - the brand-new responsive-based site will come in handy for a fast start.
  3. service-based and retail businesses whose websites contain a lot of imagery and text.
  4. companies that appreciate all the pros of responsive web design (a single URL, SEO-friendliness, etc.).

Adaptive design is optimal for:

  1. companies that obtain complex websites and need a high-quality mobile version for the perfect display on any screen size.
  2. business representatives who require fast-loading websites to improve competitiveness and UX.
  3. location-dependent sites that should often be adapted to different aspects like service coverage, contact information, etc.
  4. projects that would like to get optimized advertising background and spend less time on ads integration.

All things should be considered. Weigh all the pros and cons before choosing a web design. Remember your own goals and needs. Each business has specific requirements to perform well in the local and global markets.

To Sum Up

The adaptive vs responsive design battle has no winners and losers if the choice is made correctly. Consider all the aspects before starting to design your site. The amount of websites that use adaptive and responsive design is almost equal. This can be explained by a variety of business goals and needs.

Some entrepreneurs are focused on SEO performance and the best experience, so they choose responsive web design. Another category of business representatives aspires to get extremely fast-loading websites with perfect ads optimization properties. Identify yourself as a responsive or adaptive design enthusiast.

Responsive Design vs Adaptive Design Strategy: How to Choose the Perfect One | Techreviewer Blog (2024)
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