What’s the Difference Between Responsive vs. Adaptive Web Design? (No Code Talk, Promise)

by | Nov 10, 2014 | Uncategorized

Ever gone to a website using your smartphone only to find that the entire website is showing on your tiny little screen? It’s really small so you can’t actually read anything – much less click on a link. So you zoom in, scroll and tap around a little, then zoom again to see the area you’re looking for. Frustrating!

That’s where adaptive and responsive sites come in, making the experience way more functional for the end user and more profitable for the site owner. All companies will need to “go mobile” to keep up with trending user habits.

Great quote from Ryan Boudreaux at Tech Republic:
“Users who access your websites through their mobile devices or other display screens really do not care what method you use, just as long as they can effectively navigate your website on whatever device they happen to be using.”

So what’s the difference?

RESPONSIVE: Built on a fluid grid that can scale up/down depending on the type of device or browser used. Scaling happens right on your screen.

  • Drawbacks: Pages load slower because all content is downloaded regardless of whether it’s used or not.


ADAPTIVE: Loads a prebuilt layout size for the device on which you’re viewing the site. It doesn’t just scale up and down, though; a server selects the correct size for your device and “pops” it in at certain break points.

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  • Drawbacks: Completely different size layouts can mean more maintenance for your Web developers.


These subtle differences are very important, though, as more and more traffic comes from mobile devices every day. Keep in mind that there are newer screen types out now including appliances, glasses and game consoles that also require scalable Web technology. Bottom line is that either option improves Web accessibility (and therefore traffic) on all screen sizes.

Why does it matter to me?

Whether you’re the site owner/manager or the end user, you want the site to function on all device types and sizes.

  • Users don’t want the frustration we talked about at the start of this post. It should just work!
  • Site owners need to ensure traffic flows across all device types to guarantee consistent traffic, sales, etc.


Which is best?

The answer largely depends on your customer’s specific needs. Is the user more likely to be viewing your site on a desktop or mobile platform? Many organizations have a mix of user types, which can make determining the best route a tough call.

  • Adaptive is likely the way to go if performance and speed are imperative and your site is viewed mainly on mobile.
  • Responsive would be the best bet for content-heavy sites, consistency across platforms as well as SEO reporting.
  • Note that some companies use a mixture of both to deliver the most effective experience possible.



eBay Tech Blog: Yet Another Responsive vs. Adaptive Story


Your Mobile Design Strategy: Responsive, Adaptive, Native, or Not At All?


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