Adaptive vs Responsive Website Designs: Which Is Better?

Consumers can view your content and offerings from various screen sizes in 2020 – be it your iMac or your smartwatch.

To ensure that your site seems riveting in all the screens, your web developers and designers have to take it upon themselves to make sure that they adopt the required measures.

And therein comes the question: Adaptive Site or Responsive Site?

Before we jump into comparisons, let’s have a good look at what these terms mean exactly in terms of web design.

What is adaptive design?

Famed web designer Aaron Gustafson called this “progressive enhancement” in his famous 2011 book, ‘Adapting Web Design- Crafting Rich Experiences with Progressive Enhancement.’

This kind of design involves a predetermined selection of fixed layout. Usually there are six sizes – 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200 and 1600 pixels. Once the site receives the screen’s dimensions, it picks out the layout that will work best for the site. Amazon and Apple feature among the leading companies who were quick to realize the virtue of adaptive designs and jumped onto the mobile-optimization bandwagon!

What is responsive design?

Ethan Marcotte came up with this term in his book, ‘Responsive Web Design.’’

It is the adjusting of browser with and webpage elements to accommodate to different screens. The site gauges the browser area and then fits all content and design into the available space accordingly.

Though this process seems easy, it involves studying customer psychology and their perception of the website in different cases.

Now that we’re familiar with the basics of the topic let’s dive into the real matter of this post- which one should you go for!



  1. SEO friendly

Responsive designs use a single URL – so your site is consistent throughout the web. This is a good SEO practice.

  1. More consistent and hence, better for user experience

It would be best if you had a strong consistency between your desktop and mobile sites to get the user’s best response. This is why responsive website designs usually incite good user experiences.

  1. Easy to implement

Quick and can be done by a small team. Only a single design is needed, and a developer to tweak the arrangements depending on the screen.

  1. Unlimited number of templates

You are not bound by size or a fixed number of templates. Thus, you can go all out and A/B test with as many templates you have.


  1. Less control over the design

You have no idea how the final design will look like on the screen it adapts to. So you are powerless in the outcome.

  1. Advertisements may cause an issue.

Ads may get lost in the final design that comes up. This can put a dent in your budget because even though you are splurging a fair amount, the ROI will be zero if the ads don’t show.

  1. Longer time to download

Because the site is figuring out the best way to present the design on the screen, it often takes responsive sites a good amount of time to load. The result?

Poor user experience and low rankings.

  1. The placing of elements may get out of control.

A significant part of web design is human psychology.

Studying it and understanding the best way to place elements, to divert the main attention to benefits and CTAs.

But in responsive design, you cannot be sure which element ends up where- and all your calculations about customer psychology and response goes down the drain!



  1. A personalized experience for customers

Adaptive design, as its name suggests, adapts to what the user needs. And this gives a more personalized feel to the users. It shows we care enough to change our site according to what they need.

  1. Easier to optimize ads

Adapt to the situational needs of the user and place the ad to appeal to them most convincingly.

  1. Higher site speed

They are 2-3 times faster than responsive sites as the extra time to rearrange elements and fit into the screen is not required.

  1. Create UX based on device- stay in control

The design and placement of elements are entirely in your control. You can design it exactly the way you want the user to view it.


  1. Time-consuming

The creation of so many separate templates is labor-intensive and time-consuming. You need a whole team of people who will get together and decide how to present the same idea and theme in six different ways.

  1. Problematic for mid-sized screens at times

While the sizes for adaptive sites cater to mainly desktops, laptops, and mobile, the mid-sized screens like tablets and netbooks are left out of the lurch. Often, the final sizes do not cater to these screens, and they finally have to be adapted accordingly for the device- costing more time.

  1. Not good for SERPs

While the site speed does go up, adaptive design often bears the brunt for Google preferring responsive design. Adaptive sites are also often penalized for duplicate content because Google may not be able to ascertain that it is the same site for different screens.

The design you will choose for your site ultimately depends on your audience and what device they primarily use.

Are they on their laptops all day long? Responsive.

Are they students and on the go? Adaptive.

The budget question also holds merit because adaptive design costs more and provides a better user experience. So if your pockets are deep, go for it.

But if you are building a website from scratch, with minimal resources- go for responsive; even Google wants you to!

Or better still, just drop Seattle New Media an email. We are a digital marketing agency in Seattle that offers one of the best web development and web design services in the city. Our team of developers and designers will audit your existing site and pick the design you need to go for.

Ready to charm your target audience? Hop on board!