Adaptive and responsive web design both offer ways to optimise your website for different screen sizes; something that’s vital if you want your website to display correctly on desktop and mobile (which you do).

But while the outcome is ultimately similar, adaptive and responsive web design aren’t one and the same. To help you distinguish between the two, and get to grips with what is the difference between responsive and adaptive web design, we’ve compiled this handy guide comparing the pros and cons of each approach.

What is responsive web design?

In responsive web design, the layout and scale of a website changes in response to the orientation and size of the device it’s being viewed on. Your website won’t look drastically different from one device to the next, but elements might shift around and the text automatically resize to enable the website to deliver the best possible user experience, no matter the limitations of the device.

What is adaptive web design?

Adaptive web design produces a similar end result to responsive web design, in that the website appears optimised for the device you’re using. However, whereas responsive design is composed of one singular site that intuitively switches between devices, with adaptive design you build several versions of a site, scaled to fit common screen sizes. When the site is accessed, the version that best meets the proportions of the device’s screen size is then loaded up to give the user the most optimal browsing experience.

Pros and cons of responsive web design

Using responsive web design ensures that no matter what device your website is being viewed on, it will always display correctly and work optimally, even if larger or smaller screens are introduced to the market.

Designing a singular responsive website is also less time consuming than designing a series of adaptive ones, although responsive web design does typically require more coding to facilitate the responsive functionality.

Responsive websites also have their limitations and can be slower to load. One way to get around this however is to create the design in tandem with the input of a developer, who will be able to advise if the design is achievable before coding gets underway.

Pros and cons of adaptive web design

With adaptive web design you have more control over how a website will display for each device, instead of the randomness of responsive design in which elements are automatically reordered. You can also create unique content and features that only appear on select screen sizes; something that’s unachievable in responsive web design.

Adaptive websites can also load quicker and be simpler to code as they automatically default to the optimum screen size of the available options, however, the process of creating multiple sites of different scales can be hugely time consuming for a UX designer.

Considerations

When weighing up responsive web design versus adaptive it’s important to keep in mind not only what your website needs to do today but also how it may need to adapt and evolve in future as your business grows. With responsive design, only one website will need to be altered, whereas in adaptive design you’d have to implement changes on each individual site in turn, which may work out to be more time consuming.

That being said, if load speeds are of the essence and budget is no obstacle, then adaptive design may suit you better. The faster your website pages load also has a positive bearing on where your website places in search engine results pages, and it can prevent users navigating away from your site to that of a competitor.

Ultimately, the choice between adaptive web design and responsive comes down to multiple factors, including the complexity of the site design itself. To ensure you move forward with the best option for your business, we highly recommended consulting with a web design agency who can assess your unique needs and advise you accordingly.