What’s the Difference? Adaptive Websites vs Responsive Websites

Have you been experiencing difficulties in deciding to choose between responsive vs adaptive design? Look no further as we’ll guide you through the basics of understanding adaptive websites and responsive websites.

What are Adaptive Websites?

A man doing web design

Let’s start with adaptive web design. So, where did it come from? The term Adaptive Web Design was introduced in the book Adaptive Web Design: Crafting Rich Experiences With Progressive Enhancement, written by web designer Aaron Gustafson. Adaptive design is also known as the progressive enhancement of a website.

While responsive websites are designed to change their layout to fill the available space, adaptive websites are designed to have multiple fixed layout sizes. When a website determines the space available on whichever device, it selects the most appropriate layout for the device screen. So, resizing the browser has no impact on the adaptive layout of the site. For example, when you open a browser on a mobile device, the site will select the best layout for that mobile screen.

Some established businesses (such as Amazon and Apple) have incorporated an adaptive layout to their websites and are optimized for mobile devices. Through mobile optimization, the displayed layout on a mobile website may vary from the desktop version of the same adaptive website. Why? This is because web designers choose different layouts for mobile device screens instead of letting the design rearrange itself.

There are six most common screen widths designed for adaptive websites.

  • 320 pixels,
  • 480 pixels,
  • 760 pixels,
  • 960 pixels,
  • 1200 pixels,
  • and 1600 pixels.

Pros of Adaptive Web Design

Now that you understand what adaptive web design is. What are the pros of adaptive websites?

  • Adaptive websites load at faster speeds.
  • Web designers have control over each layout because of their ability to create the most optimal design for each screen size. To further elaborate,

Because of the various layouts, as opposed to responsive websites, adaptive websites use multiple URLs for a single page. Additionally, web designers can add or subtract content for different screen sizes if necessary.

For example, let’s picture a restaurateur choosing to use an adaptive layout for their website. Why should the owner opt for this layout instead of a responsive web design? Because they know that users who visit their site on mobile devices tend to be either looking at the restaurant’s location or the menu to see if the restaurant is a place they would like to eat at.

However, a user visiting the site on a desktop could be searching for more background information on the restaurant. With an adaptive website, you can choose to display different content on your homepage depending on the screen the user is using.

Cons of Adaptive Web Design

Those pros look promising, now what are the cons of an adaptive web design?

  • Because of the duplicated content due to multiple layouts on adaptive websites, it could affect the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking of the website.
  • Using an adaptive web design is tedious because it requires a lot of time and effort.

Examples of Adaptive Websites


IKEA’s mobile website utilizes an adaptive design optimized for mobile screens. It has streamlined menus and product browsing, which also highlights the shopping list option (which is not as visible on the desktop version of the website). This design targets customers who use their phones while shopping in a physical location.

IKEA mobile website

Image taken from IKEA

2. Adidas

Adaptive websites such as Adidas utilize an adaptive layout that imitates the desktop website to give mobile users a smooth experience. It has lighter images and a simpler shopping process.

Adidas mobile website

Image taken from Adidas

3. Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines allows mobile users to select between three versions of an adaptive layout: desktop website, mobile website, and mobile app. The mobile website has a redesigned, sleek look to fit smaller screen widths. Its web designers highlighted features that travelers search for (such as online check-in and flight status), and flight booking features for mobile users looking to book a flight.

Turkish Airlines mobile website

Image taken from Turkish Airlines

What are Responsive Websites?

So, when and where did responsive web design first surface? The term Responsive Web Design was introduced in the book Responsive Web Design, written by web designer and developer Ethan Marcotte in 2011. Responsive websites are designed in a way that responds to changes in browser width with the adjustment of the placement of design elements.

The content on a website with a responsive layout is shown based on the browser space available. As opposed to adaptive websites, If you open a responsive website on the desktop, then alter the browser window size, the content will move dynamically to self-arrange its elements optimally for the browser window. On the other hand, this process is automatic on mobile devices as the site will check the space available before presenting the ideal arrangement of the website.

Pros of Responsive Web Design

Now that you understand what responsive web design is, what are its pros?

  • As opposed to adaptive websites, responsive websites use a single URL to accommodate any screen size for each page. Due to technology constantly changing, this feature solves problems before it occurs.
  • The process of designing requires less time.
  • A responsive design allows consistency across all devices, which is a significant factor for a good user experience.
  • A responsive layout is better for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) compared to an adaptive layout.
  • There are many templates for responsive websites due to its popularity among web designers.

Cons of Responsive Web Design

So, what are the cons of responsive websites?

  • Responsive websites load at a slower speed compared to adaptive websites.
  • A responsive web design requires more time to develop because it has various moving parts. A lot of tweaking and auditing is crucial to the development process before a website goes live because responsive websites need to be able to self-alter to fit any screen.
  • Images on a responsive website could become distorted or body texts could become too wide (or narrow) because design elements move around.

Examples of Responsive Websites

1. Real Meal Grill (Desktop and Mobile Website)

Real Meal Grill Desktop Website

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

Real Meal Grill Mobile Website

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

2. Dr Chai Tea (Desktop and Mobile Website)

Dr Chai Tea Desktop Website

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

Dr Chai Tea Mobile Website

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

3. Grow Food Where People Live (Desktop and Mobile Website)

Grow Food Where People Live Desktop Website

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

Grow Food Where People Live Mobile Website

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

Comparing Responsive vs Adaptive Design

Still unsure? Let’s compare adaptive websites and responsive websites.

• Adaptive Websites are Easier to Develop

An adaptive design does not require the extra attention to a website’s CSS and organization (to ensure every layout for any screen size functions) that a responsive design requires. It is much easier to create many layouts for your website instead of creating a single layout that fits any screen size. Despite adaptive websites requiring a bit of flexibility to function on various screen sizes, it is much easier than creating a single layout that fits all of them.

• An Adaptive Design is Less Flexible

A drawback of adaptive websites would be that the final results might not always display the best for a wide variety of screen sizes. While a responsive web design guarantees its functionality on any screen size, an adaptive web design only functions on as many screens as its layouts could work on. So, if a newly released device with a new screen width is released, all the adaptive layouts you create might not fit as well as you’d want it to. This would mean that you will have to either edit them or create a new one.

Responsive websites have the flexibility of functioning on their own whereas adaptive websites would most likely need maintenance depending on the circumstances.

• Responsive Websites Load Faster

It is important to consider the load time of your website. An adaptive website needs to load every layout developed while a responsive website would only need to load a single layout that is suitable for all screen widths. Adaptive websites will take more time to load than responsive websites due to all its extra layouts and resources.

However, this won’t be the case at all times. When comparing a website design with a responsive layout that has 50 pages compared to a website design with an adaptive layout that has 10 pages; the adaptive website will most likely load faster due to the size differences.

Which Web Design Should You Choose?

So, should you choose an adaptive web design or a responsive web design? Consider the user first and foremost, by doing this you get more insight into their habits (such as what devices they tend to use when viewing websites. If you think users tend to view websites like yours when they are on the go and on their mobile device or prefer to look at content-intensive pages on their desktop, it becomes much easier to decide between adaptive websites and responsive websites.

Another factor to consider when choosing your website layout is time. Adaptive websites require more effort upfront because you’ll technically be creating at least 4 to 6 different layouts. However, responsive websites are more complex because they’re designed in a way that leaves more room for performance and display issues that could lead to future maintenance needs.

Have you been searching for a website builder to create your new website? Strikingly features stylish and responsive website templates that allow you to create the adaptive websites that you want. Strikingly has a mobile view feature that allows you to preview how your site would look on mobile screen size. This allows you to alter your content as necessary when you continue to build your page.

Strikingly website templates

Image taken from Strikingly product

Strikingly offers its template library (that is continuously growing!) to all its users - both paid and free plans- and the ability to design your own website. So what are you waiting for? Discover the many features this website builder has to offer and sign up for a Strikingly account today to begin designing adaptive websites (or responsive websites) today!