The Difference Between Responsive and Adaptive Website Design


The way we view website today have drastically changed. When once we need to log on to a laptop or desktop computer just to get access to our online pages, now we can conveniently do so through our phones. For most users, a website that is exclusively designed for desktop usually doesn’t get visited anymore.

In fact, mobile visitors have already influenced the way Google crawls websites. Now, pages that are designed for mobile access are given priority on the search engine, while those that aren’t are penalised. You can start checking out if your page is mobile-friendly through Google’s Mobile-Friendly test page. If you don’t make the cut that might mean that you’re losing visitors just because you’ve not updated your design.

However, there are two words going around that describe what a mobile-friendly design is: adaptive and responsive. Some people think they’re the same thing, but actually, both are types of mobile-friendly websites. Here’s the distinction between adaptive and responsive design and the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Responsive design

A responsive design means that, depending on where you’re viewing the website, it’ll shrink or grow all the elements to fit the space of the screen.


  • You only need to design one website to suit all devices, which cuts down on development time.
  • In effect, it means if you need to make changes, you only need to do it once since it automatically carries over.
  • Google champions responsive website design patterns


  • While responsive designs have less maintenance, they do require additional work. You’ll have to make sure that, in the way it’s coded, it will be responsive to all resolutions. For this reason, creating a responsive site from scratch may be more expensive than developing an adaptive site.
  • If you have an existing site, you’ll have to redesign the whole website to fit the responsive page best practices. It’s not just putting a code in, you’ll have to drastically change certain elements on your page, not to mention, edit the content within.

Disadvantages aside, you’ll be able to create a more consistent user experience with a responsive design.

Adaptive design

When you choose to create an adaptive page, it requires you to create two different designs: one for desktop and one for mobile.


  • You can build a much faster and leaner website since most elements you put on your desktop design can be customised and optimised separately from the mobile design. You can prioritise design elements which are important to the user for each one.
  • There’s no need to redesign your existing website, especially if you’re already happy with its current look and interface. Leave it as is, then just develop a version for mobile.
  • Each design is tailored specifically to the device it’s going to be viewed on.


  • It takes a very long time to develop the website because you’re designing two different sites.
  • Dedicated maintenance is required since you’ll be updating multiple templates.
  • Adaptive designs usually leave out tablet users.

With adaptive design, you may put a link on your desktop version so that users know that there’s a mobile version they can open.

When you design your website, keep these things in mind so that you’re guided by the pros and cons of both. If developing one from scratch may not be possible right now, you may choose website templates which are already designed to be optimised for both desktop and various mobile devices.

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