A Simple Look into Adaptive and Responsive Web Design

Long gone are the days when a household only relied on a single computer to browse the internet. If you were about to do some shopping, hang out in chat rooms, or just look for information, you had to wait for your turn. Things are totally different today.

Tablets, smartphones, laptops, all of them of varying sizes, processing power, and screen layouts. Adapting your website to fit into every screen is a challenge in and of itself. 

If you want to provide your user base with the best experience possible, you need to choose between adaptive and responsive web design.

1. Why Does This Matter

To put it in simple terms – your website needs to fit people’s screens properly. It can’t look the same on a 20-inch desktop monitor as it would on a 6-inch iPhone screen. Most of the information will be cut off or blurred. Furthermore, the loading speeds and the lack of functionality would be maddening.

The article below goes into the differences between adaptive and responsive web design, their advantages and disadvantages, as well as some other things to keep in mind.

2. A Quick Note

The intensity of the advantages and the disadvantages of these two design approaches really hinges on your resources, both in terms of money, time, and the skillsets of your employees.

For example, let’s say you are based in New York. You have a strong budget, but your developers already have a lot on their plate. It might be easier to employ a local New York web design company and have them go all out on your adaptive design. On the other hand, if time and funds are limited, a responsive approach might be better.

Furthermore, you might have noticed that, according to your analytics, people are only browsing your site through tablets, phones, and computers. That means you only need three layouts for adaptive design. On the other hand, if they are using many different devices evenly, you should invest in responsive web design.

3. Adaptive Design In A Nutshell

Let’s start with adaptive web design – commonly abbreviated to AWD. Now, AWD works by detecting the screen size of the device being used to browse a website. It works by having breakpoints that break, expand, and contract, based on the device that has been detected. Its core feature is being based on preset layouts.

Usually, the following width layouts are used:

  • 320px
  • 480px
  • 760px
  • 960px
  • 1200px
  • 1600px

These layouts mean that your elements will be displayed differently on every device. The above are the most common screen sizes in general, so you will most likely cover all your bases.

4. Responsive Web Design Explained Quickly

Responsive web design, or RWD, changes dynamically. Instead of having preset layouts, you have the same site for every device. However, the site itself will use a flexibility-based approach, staying fluid and changing the size and layout of its elements based on the device being used.

In practice, that means a layout composed of three columns can switch automatically to two columns to fit the appropriate device screen. It’s always the same content, and the same design.

5. Advantages Of Adaptive Design

The core pros of adaptive design are:

  • Websites load much faster
  • Sometimes you don’t need that many layouts in the first place
  • Greater control over layouts (and content)

One of the great benefits of AWD is that, once a designer has already made some preset layouts, the website loads very quickly. They just deliver the code needed for a specific screen size, and unlike responsive designs, they don’t have to calculate and change as much, if at all.

These same layouts mean that the developer will know exactly what a website will look like on the devices they are building for. This further allows developers and designers to tailor content to a specific device (like pushing more smartphone-centric content on layouts dedicated to phones).

Furthermore, check your analytics. If you’ve noticed that your target audience only uses desktops and iPhones, you won’t have to build a layout that is dedicated to tablets.

6. Disadvantages Of AWD

However, there are some issues that can spring up, like:

  • Need to build layouts for multiple devices
  • Uncommon screen sizes can be trouble

If your analytics show that there are many different devices used by your audience, you need to accommodate all of them. Building multiple layouts can mean a lot of work for your designer. If you limit these layouts, you also limit your audience.

Even if you don’t have, say, tablet users now, not creating a layout for them is a gamble – you’re potentially excluding a piece of your audience.

Finally, even if you invested all that time and effort into the six common layouts, you still might not provide the best experience for people who have unorthodox screen sizes on their devices.

7. The Pros Responsive Design

There are several advantages to responsive design:

  • Easier to create
  • Accommodates any screen size, even uncommon ones
  • More mobile-friendly (better SEO)

For developers, it can actually be easier to create a website that uses responsive design. Instead of building multiple different layouts from scratch, a designer sticks to just one setup. He or she will work on updating and developing only it, not having to worry about multiple layouts.

Furthermore, since it’s responsive, no matter what kind of new screen type shows up, you won’t have to worry about it being completely unresponsive. Just a few tweaks to the code here and there, and you’re good to go.

Finally, Google’s algorithms give better rankings to responsive websites because they are seen as more mobile-friendly.

8. The Cons Of RWD

However, responsive design can also be difficult because:

  • Less control over layouts
  • Can be slow to load

Due to all that extra code, these websites might take a bit more to load on certain devices. The severity of these slowed-down loading times depends on the user’s device, and the complexity of your website.

Furthermore, responding to any device is a blessing, but it can also be a curse. Since you can’t test every possible screen size, some people might end up with a sub-par experience. This also means websites like these might require more long-term coding updates.


Remember that everything you do when it comes to web design needs to be tailored to your user bases’ experience. Providing them with the right information doesn’t matter much if they can’t actually see it.

If people have to work hard to make a purchase, to read your content, or just to contact you, they probably won’t do any of that. By sticking to adaptive or responsive web design, you will provide people with a good experience, no matter which gadget they are using.

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