Responsive web development vs. adaptive web development

Nov 25, 2022

Are you responsive or adaptive with your web design, and does it really matter?

In short, yes.

In fact, it matters a lot.

For all adaptive and responsive web design both aim to achieve a great website suitable for viewing across various devices (essentially making it mobile-friendly), their approach to achieving these results is very different.

Technology is complex, and designing the ultimate user experience isn’t always straightforward.

However, today, having a mobile-friendly website is essential. Essential for optimisation, higher search rankings, and an improved user experience. Hence, choosing between a responsive and adaptive design is no longer nice to have but vital to have.

Responsive vs. adaptive web design

Websites now have to look good across all screen and device sizes. From desktop to mobile and various tablets, we, as consumers, all access information differently. This means content must be usable and legible across all devices for businesses to stay on top and competitive.

Most website builders and content management systems will offer you a responsive website, optimising your site’s layout no matter what device it is viewed on. However, this doesn’t rule adaptive out. On the contrary, there is still room and reason for taking an adaptive approach as not everything can be as responsive as you’d like, i.e., technical graphics and tables.

Understanding your requirements, the information your site holds, and how your users view your site will all play a vital role in whether you choose to develop your

website responsively or design it adaptively.

Ultimately, to develop a mobile site, we use either responsive designs or adaptive site coding, and below, we look into the pros and cons of each and the importance of these in the future of your website.

Responsive web design

A responsive website is fluid, built to automatically adjust and adapt to the screen size that a person is using to view the site.

Using front-end development techniques, responsive design uses fluid grids (we size web pages using percentage widths rather than pixel units), flexible images (sized in relative units, so images aren’t displayed outside container elements), and CSS metrics (rules based around characteristics of the device).

A responsive website provides consistency in design with similar navigation no matter what device the site is viewed on. The major benefit is that consumers have the same user experience across desktops and tablets, which can be essential for brand building and recognition.

A responsive design is also good for SEO as it delivers the same HTML code for all devices, avoiding duplicate content and making it easier and faster for search engines to index.

However, due to designs adapting flexibly to screen size, sites can be slower to load as images and content resize during download.

Pros of a responsive web design

  • Adapts to any screen size
  • Easier to maintain as you only have to make a change once
  • Content is readable
  • Keeps everything streamlined
  • Only have to create a single version of a webpage
  • Images and videos are adjusted accordingly
  • Flexible
  • Navigation is fully functioning and useable
  • SEO friendly

Cons of responsive design

  • Slower to load
  • Not as much control
  • As all images are downloaded and resized, performance can be affected
  • It can be more complex to develop as these sites require more coding from the onset to ensure full compatibility.

Adaptive web design

The approach to developing sites is very different regarding adaptive vs. responsive web design.

For example, for adaptive designs, we create separate, static website layouts with varying codes of HTML for each possible screen size (there are typically six standard screen widths). The server then detects the device and displays the layout developed for that device.

The major benefit of adaptive design is that it provides an optimised website experience unique to each device; this can be extremely beneficial if your users have different needs, i.e., desktop for information and mobile to purchase quickly.

With adaptive design, you also have control over the multiple viewports, where you can choose how many viewports you design.

Pros of adaptive design

  • Web pages optimised for a specific device
  • Faster page loads
  • If you have a highly targeted audience using specific devices, adaptive design can be the better option, ensuring all content is displayed consistently.

Cons of adaptive web design

  • It can be time-consuming as designers must create separate HTML and CSSodes for each layout.
  • Modifications can be time-consuming.
  • If you don’t produce an adaptive design for a specific device, your content won’t display properly, potentially causing you to lose consumers and sales.
  • Duplicate content on multiple sites can negatively impact your search rankings.

Responsive web design vs. adaptive web design

Creating mobile-friendly sites, both responsive and adaptive, aim to make sites usable and easy to read and navigate; it is simply their development approach that is different.

At Buzz Panda Digital, we strongly believe that a responsive site can help you future-proof your site development, as it can adapt to any new device that comes onto the market at any given time.

In addition, search engines (and by search engines, we mean Google) recommend responsive web designs and favour these in their search engine algorithms.

However, the best solution to answer whether you should be looking at a responsive or adaptive site design is to use web analytics to find the most common devices used to view your site. Knowing what types of devices your audience uses makes improving the overall user experience much easier.

Do you have an existing site that you’re looking to redesign, or are you developing a site from scratch and deciding between adaptive web design v responsive web design?

Let us help.

At Buzz Panda Digital, we can help you with all your adaptive web design vs. responsive web design questions!

Make now the time to challenge your website’s responsiveness.

Call 01606 374 995 or email us at

Reference video: Timothy Ricks