What is the difference between responsive and adaptive web designs and, which one should you choose to develop a user-friendly site? This is an ongoing debate that we often find ourselves engaged in, especially since the sudden rise of mobiles and tablets. While an adaptive web design (AWD) has its own sets of pros and cons, a responsive web design (RWD) features its own attributes that appear equally appealing.

However, to choose a winner between these two web design concepts, you need to learn the distinctions that separate the two terms at the base.

The Key Difference

Simply put, the basic difference between responsive and adaptive web designs is linked with their respective CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) obligations. In responsive web design, the website is created such that it acts fluidly, adapting to the screen size, no matter the type of the target device. It uses CSS media queries to alter page styles based on a particular device’s key attributes, including its display type, height, and width.

On the contrary, adaptive web design uses static layouts, creating multiple versions of a web page from scratch to better fit the user’s target device.

Keynote: While responsive websites load the same design on each device, only rearranging and resizing the content accordingly, adaptive websites are distinctly laid out for each type of device.

Adaptive Web Design (AWD)

An adaptive design initially detects the screen size to load for the respective device adequately. In general, web designers work on six different screen widths to match most target devices’ attributes, including 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200, and 1600.

An adaptive web design seems to require more work on the surface, considering that a different layout needs to be designed for at least a minimum of six widths. However, it’s important to note that RWD is also a complex aspect to work on, seeing that improper CSS media queries can create complex problems for your website appearance.

Why Designers Implement Adaptive Web Design?

Adaptive design can prove useful for adding a component to the website that was previously missing during the manufacturing process, making the online platform more mobile-friendly. This essentially allows web designers to take control of the designing process while developing different layouts for separate viewports.


  • AWD allows web designers the freedom to build the perfect UX for different devices.
  • Smartphones can easily detect the user’s environment.
  • Advertising can also be optimized, based on the user data detected from mobile devices.


  • It’s labor-intensive to develop an adaptive website.
  • It may be problematic for tablets and netbooks to detect the correct site configuration when the site has only been configured for smartphones and desktop systems.
  • Search engines find it challenging to appreciate the same content on various sites or viewports.

Responsive Web Design (RWD)

Most new websites prefer responsive designs, especially since Google announced its particular liking to RWD sites back in 2015. Moreover, thanks to the availability of themes accessible to everyone through CMS systems like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, it’s now comparatively easier to opt for this than adaptive web designs.

Nevertheless, it’s also essential to realize that when planning the different layouts, web designers sometimes get confused during the process, making it a complex task. That’s why it’s better to focus on developing a viewport for mid-resolution before using CSS media queries to adjust the parameters for low and high resolutions.

Why Designers Implement Responsive Web Design?

While responsible web designs don’t offer much in terms of controlling the designing process, it takes considerably less work to develop and maintain these sites. Moreover, responsive layouts are more fluid than adaptive when scaling the screen size, as AWD tends to cause a sudden snap instead of making a smooth transition upon resizing a window.


  • There are many templates for implementing responsive designs for websites.
  • Responsive design is significantly more SEO-friendly, and thus such websites rank higher on search engines.
  • RWD is comparatively less time-consuming to implement, in addition to being less complicated.
  • Ultimately, a uniform and seamless design win more points because of a better UX.


  • In responsive web designs, there is less screen availability, indicating limited design control for web designers.
  • Web pages can suffer in terms of loading speed when RWD isn’t properly implemented.
  • You may also experience odd re-arrangements of elements, as it’s not always possible for everything to move around in the right space. However, the possibility of this occurrence is quite negligible when expert web designers are hired to do the job.
  • Advertisements can often get lost on the screen, especially the ones located at the screen’s sides.
  • Lastly, responsive web designing may also be responsible for taking longer to download files.

Who Wins the Race?

It’s best not to force yourself to choose between the two web designs and instead opt for one according to your needs. Moreover, making a choice becomes easier when you know there’s only a set of specific devices your website must support. For example, let’s suppose that the only devices coming to check out your website are a particular series of iPhone devices. In that case, adapting to it would be considerably easier than accounting for other devices as well. However, on the flip side, a responsive design can be a prudent strategy for future-proofing your website when there’s a possibility of other devices reaching out to your online platform.

Our Final Verdict

Deciding between a responsive and an adaptive design can take careful consideration. While it might be wise to opt for a responsive web design for improving expediency, such as saving cost, enhancing SEO, and keeping users content with better UX and a seamless experience, it’s also crucial to learn the difference between responsive and adaptive web design beforehand. That’s because there can be times when an adaptive design is a preferable option for attending to users’ varying needs. Conclusively, it’s essential to keep your finger on the pulse of change for making the best possible decision.