Adaptive vs. Responsive: Which mobile design is right for my site?

Adaptive web design and responsive web design were built with similar ideas and goals in mind: how can you scale a website so that content is displayed in the best possible way for the device viewing it?

Responsive Design aims to increase the fluidity of the web page content so that it can shift and scale to accommodate any browser or device size. The content typically remains the same no matter which size device you use.

Adaptive Design is built for a number of per-determined screen sizes. The server hosting the website will attempt to discover the device being used, and will deliver the corresponding version of the site. Adaptive design allows you deliver different content to different devices – but this can lead to a situation where a visitor wants to access a page or information that you have not made available to their chosen device.

Either method will enhance the viewing experience and accessibility of website content on mobile and desktop devices, regardless of screen size.


Differences Between Adaptive and Responsive Design


  1. Responsive design uses CSS3 media queries to adjust the web page to any screen. Adaptive design makes use of a series of predefined layouts based on breakpoints.
  2. Responsive design is client-side, meaning the page is sent to the device browser of the client, which then adapts the appearance of the page as per the size of the window browser. Adaptive design is predominantly server side, meaning that the web server is responsible for detecting the different devices and loading the appropriate style sheet based on the type of the device.
  3. Responsive design is based on fluid grids and adaptive design is relies on predefined size layouts.
  4. Responsive design will fluidly modify its appearance when the browser window is resized, while adaptive design will load a definite layout for the device used for viewing the site.


When to Use Each

Responsively designed websites usually work better for content-packed websites where there is not a lot of variation in user intent between desktop users and mobile user, and the focus is on simple functionality.

Adaptively designed websites, on the other hand, are more appropriate in cases where the user intent varies significantly between desktop users and mobile users, and website performance becomes a critical factor in shaping visitor conversion and satisfaction, such as in e-commerce websites.

While both responsive design and adaptive design have their own virtues, deciding which one is appropriate for a website can be deduced by assessing a customer’s needs while achieving business goals.