What Is the Difference Between Responsive and Adaptive Design?

Adaptive or responsive web design is a way to create websites, landing pages, or Apps. Considering the growing number of gadgets and mobile devices, it is quite a cost-effecting and appropriate concept or better philosophy for building a relevant web page for different mobile devices.


responsive and adaptive design difference
Designed by Pavel Mednikov


You may ask: adaptive or responsive? To learn what approach is the most suitable for the project you're building, you have to know the differences between these ways, features, all the pros and cons of their nature. But before starting, think of AWD and RWD as about philosophies, it will be easy to feet the differences.

What Is Responsive and Adaptive Web Design

Each type of the above-mentioned design was created years ago, but the adaptive one is much older. AWD appeared in early 2000, at the beginning of Internet popularisation. At that time were not many screens, so this one was very suitable. The main purpose of adaptive design is to fit perfectly the screen of the user's device. Basically, for each screen, you need to create a static version of the page, which sometimes it's not cost-effective.


adaptive design


If you want your design to be more flexible and sometimes convenient, you can build a website using RWD (responsive web design), which is an approach that making rendering a page easier on any devices or screen pages. The coolest feature of the RWD is Dynamic serving, which is a setup where the server responds with HTML or CSS code with a single URL, depending on the user's device (web, mobile, or tablet).


responsive web design


Now the tendency is clear: adaptive websites are trying to convert (or include features) into responsive ones. Here is why.

When We Use It

Think of AWD as stable and solid, while RWD is being flexible and always in motion. For different purposes, we need AWD and RWD. Since the adaptive one needs you to develop and maintain separate HTML and CSS code for each layout, it's better to be used for complex web pages, for the website with ad spaces, online stores.


Responsive one is needed when we have it to be both pixel perfect, and flexible: landing pages, low budget websites, and service industries – all are suitable.

Difference Between Responsive and Adaptive Web Design

Websites and apps that are made with responsive web design are the most popular ones now. Here is why:


  1. It's more SEO-friendly (Google ranks better the websites built with RWD)
  2. It's easier to implement because of the various CMS such as WordPress etc.
  3. Responsive design is better translated automatically, that's why it's handier for the users
  4. The same layouts for the same URL
  5. Less coding, compared to the CSS and HTML coding in AWD
  6. It works better for mobile users

There is one huge minus in RWD – page loading, it's slower than the AWD. Adaptive web design also has its pluses and minuses you should know about:


  1. Lots of coding from the scratch makes this approach time-consuming
  2. Redirects the users flow to the subdomain and then to the appropriate version of the page, which means you have to create a different layout for each device
  3. Less attractive for SEO
  4. Fast page loading


The differences are distinctive, you only need to choose between a fast and fluid or solid and time-consuming approach.

Adaptive and Responsive Web Design: Case Study

For illustrative purposes, we'd like to show you some pages created with AWD and RWD.

Adaptive Web Design Example: YouTube

Quite an old service, which is using AWD. Such websites are needed to be updated frequently and managed thoroughly. And to change HTML markup, you have to add some Java Script enhancements.



Responsive Web Design Example: AZ Recipes

For a young medium-sized business, responsive design is what it needs: better implementation, SEO-friendly, and cost-effective building. No need to write any code, everything can be done within one layout and several plugins.

Designed by Tubik



Responsive and adaptive web design can help businesses reach their goals. Depending on the company's size, features, and budget, both RWD and AWD can provide the necessary elements of the design. Before using any of them think about such things as:


  1. The goals of the web/app
  2. Budget
  3. Level of your designer (their ability to write a code)
  4. Support of the web/app
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