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The Difference Between Responsive and Adaptive Design

March 30, 2020

By Amanda Singleton

Whether you’re creating your new website from scratch or simply freshening it up, user experience (UX) and usability should be at the forefront of your mind.

Web development is not a one-and-done process; new design trends and increasing competition mean that organizations must keep the digital face of their brand fresh and optimized for a positive UX. An increase in mobile device usage has also contributed to the web-design boom. More and more visitors are accessing your site from mobile devices, so your website needs to meet the needs of both mobile and desktop traffic. 

However, before you start working on your site, you must first decide how you want to design it to accomplish those goals. One of the most common questions at this stage of the web development process is whether you should choose responsive or adaptive design?

The Difference Between Responsive and Adaptive Design 

Adaptive Design: As its name implies, this website design style adapts to different screen sizes. Designers must create layouts for the most common screen sizes in order for this to work. The adaptations of the design are limited to what the designer created for the website. 

Responsive Design: This design style automatically resizes its layout depending on device size and environment. Only one design is needed, but coding must be hierarchical so that modules stack in the right order on smaller screens. Regardless of the device type, the design fits the screen. 

Pros and Cons of Adaptive Design 

Despite its limitations, adaptive design has been a popular choice for web design over the years. Before deciding on this course for development, you should understand its pros and cons. 

Pros of Adaptive Design

  • Adaptive design is useful if you’re looking to add a mobile version of your website without redesigning all of your existing work. If you have a website and don’t have the time or budget to create a new, responsive one, adaptive design is a useful tool for retrofitting your existing site. 
  • User intent also plays a large part in choosing adaptive design. If mobile visitors to your website have significantly different goals than desktop visitors, then it might make sense to choose adaptive design. For example, a doctor’s office might offer a full suite of capabilities on its desktop site, but offer easier access to appointments and directions on an adaptive, mobile version. 

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Cons of Adaptive Design

  • The most apparent downside of adaptive design is the need for layouts of all sizes. Your designer and developer must work together to ensure there are layouts for the most common screen sizes, and even then it’s possible that atypical devices will get left behind. 
  • You must write additional HTML and CSS for each screen size. Although this isn’t necessarily a ton of extra work for the developer, it can make it harder to ensure consistent updates across your website. Adaptive websites are more complicated to modify and maintain, meaning you could spend more time down the line when you need to add or remove content. 

Pros and Cons of Responsive Design 

Responsive design has seen an increase in popularity in recent years, but that doesn’t mean it’s without limitations.

Pros of Responsive Design 

  • One of the reasons that responsive design has become so popular is its ability to integrate with a variety of popular content management systems. Turnkey solutions for web design are becoming increasingly popular and available to through WordPress, HubSpot, and other platforms. 
  • Responsive sites only require one layout, so there’s no need for additional coding and design like there is for adaptive web design. Updating and maintaining your website is easier because there is only one layout to edit. 
  • Responsive design also (usually) has a better UX because there is more consistency when viewing your website. Creating your responsive website with visitors in mind can improve their experience when visiting your site, regardless of the device they’re using. 

Cons of Responsive Design 

  • The biggest detractor from responsive design is its lack of flexibility. Having only one layout means you’re limited in terms of customization for different devices and screen sizes. 
  • According to some studies, responsive design can contribute to slower load times. The custom stacking requires additional code which can slow down your content, especially if you have other design-heavy elements on your website. 
  • The automatic reshuffling of responsive websites needs to be coded with UX in mind. Without paying attention to how users travel through your site, a responsive mobile site may be confusing or misordered.  

Which One Should You Choose: Responsive or Adaptive?

Although there are pros and cons to both responsive and adaptive website design for inbound marketing, you eventually need to make a choice that fits your organizational needs. Adaptive design can be a good choice if you don’t have time to redesign your entire website or if you’re looking to simply add a mobile-friendly version. 

That being said, if it has been a while since your last site refresh, it might be time for a closer look at your current design. Responsive design is the modern approach to web development and can be used to make beautiful, mobile-friendly websites. If you’re creating a new website or completely overhauling your current one, it might be time to invest in responsive design.


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Topics: Web Development, Website Design