Dec 10 2015

Responsive or Adaptive Design? Design trends to look for in the year 2016

December 10, 2015 in Web Design Tips & Tools Website design | No Comments

Responsive or Adaptive Design? Design trends to look for in the year 2016

From the start, Google has been quite keen on designing responsive websites and has been continuously notifying webmasters to ensure that their sites are mobile-friendly. As per an update that was rolled out on April 21st 2015, Google has brought into practice the new system of ranking only mobile-friendly sites over the search engines.

Regardless of whatever high-end code or state-of-the-art technology you implement on your design, it will be of no use unless your site is mobile-friendly. The update does not directly imply the implementation of responsive web design, but it specifies that you need to design your site to be accessible across mobile devices, featuring excellent UX and performance.

Adaptive design vs Responsive design has been a long debated topic based on their excellence &  scope of performance and UX features. Here, we are going to continue the debate taking into consideration the pros and cons of both the design types and also discuss how each of them will create an impact in the new year 2016:

Since, the introduction of mobile devices and its growing prominence and large scale usage, has made it essential to decide what kind of designing entity needs to be implemented: Responsive Web Design, Adaptive Web Design (AWD) or standalone mobile sites. The last one is the least preferred choice among designers and developers as it is highly expensive to develop and maintain the sites aligned across standalone web site entities. So, we shall limit our debate to find which is better: Responsive or Adaptive web Designs?

Difference: Responsive vs Adaptive

Difference: Responsive vs Adaptive

Let us examine what is the key feature that distinguishes responsive sites from adaptive web designs and makes it so popular among the designers?

Responsive Web Design:

Liquidification: No matter what kind of device you are using to access the site, responsiveness makes it gratifyingly adaptable across the varying screen sizes. CSS media queries direct style factors such as display type, height, width, etc. to change as per the device type along which it is being accessed and the site utilizes only one of these to instantly adapt to the varying screens.

Also Read: Responsive Web Design (RWD) Best Practices

Adaptive Web Design:

Minimal or No Dynamic Layouts: If you have been using adaptive web designs, you might have observed that it implements layouts that are static with breakpoints that are usually non-responsive upon loading. This is the problem with adaptive designs, it has been designed to detect standard screen sizes and pour out the layout based on it. The following are the commonly utilized standard screen widths that you will be using when building an adaptive site:

  1. 320
  2. 480
  3. 760
  4. 960
  5. 1200
  6. 1600.

Minimal or No Dynamic Layouts

Now for a debate, we could possibly conclude that adaptive web designs are too complicated since, it involves a lot of effort and work and is time-consuming, as you will be designing layouts for a minimum of 6 varying widths. Comparatively, responsive web designs can be even more complicated if the designer is not an expert and lacks the real idea on how to host media queries and how to implement these appropriately which can lead to display and performance issues.

Also Read: 5 Handy Tips for Responsive Web Design

Over the past few years, people have been reluctant to use responsive web designs over any other kinds of designing models, though it might be capable of delivering an exact desktop model these are slow to load across mobile devices. You can tackle this by implementing media queries though it might result in certain drawbacks, which brings us to the conclusion that responsive sites can never achieve the speed of a dedicated mobile site.

When should you choose Adaptive Web Designs?

If you have a site that is quite old and feel like it is lacking the old charm at attracting customers then obviously you are thinking of revamping your website. Adaptive web designs are usually the most preferred choices of designers while back-fitting a site to enhance it and to make it mobile-friendly.

When should you choose Adaptive Web Designs

This provides the designer with the complete control of the design and strategize the development process across specific & multiple viewports. Depending upon your budget, and business needs you can choose the number of viewports that you wish to design. Also, the exciting part is that it will allow you to exercise a higher level of control over the various design entities such as the content and layout, unlike the responsive design that is not ready to budge over these entities.

Usually, designers start their work by starting with a low resolution viewport while examining the potential features at each stage to ensure that the design does not collide with the content.

As we have already discussed the standard design is aligned across six varying screen widths but you can derive a better resolution support by researching across the web analytics where you can find out which are the most commonly used devices and then align your design across the specific viewports.

If you are planning to design an adaptive site from the scratch, you can do so without any complications as it is quite easy and hassle-free with the available tools and techniques. When it comes to designing from the scratch you can start with the lowest resolution and proceed upwards just as in revamping. You can implement media-queries in case you wish to align it across the layouts for viewports with higher resolutions. Most of the times, it has been observed that while designing for multiple screen size variations, it can cause the layout to “hop” as and when the window is resized.

When designing and developing a site from the scratch it will be quite time consuming and involve a lot of effort to make it adaptive across multiple screen size resolutions so it is better to confine it for retrofitting purposes.

When should you use Responsive web designs?

The CMS systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla provides you with a wide number of themes across which you can design and develop responsive web sites. Adaptive is more flexible when it comes to providing control over the design layout, though responsive is quite inflexible in this context, but it is easier to build and maintain responsive websites. As we have already discussed responsive layouts provide more fluidity while this is not the case with adaptive web designs that provides lesser fluidity as it uses percentage while scaling and this causes the layout to again “hop” while resizing the window.

Responsive Design

In the above image that depicts a fluid layout, the designer implements percentage widths to adjust the view according to the device on which it is being accessed. While using the responsive mode of design, you need to take into consideration all the parameters of the design which complicates the process. Your work would be easier if you can create a viewport with a medium resolution and then use media queries to implement it across smaller and higher resolutions at a later time.

This helps us to conclude that responsive web designs can be a great choice if you are working on a design from the scratch while adaptive works well over retrofits.

Considering the pros and cons of both:

We have already seen that responsive sites might become less flexible when the site speed is taken into consideration in situations where they are feebly implemented. The developer has to do a lot of hard work in the coding part to ensure that the site is flexible across any screen over which it is being accessed.

But, when it comes to adaptive designs, you will have to work on developing and maintaining separate HTML and CSS code for all the layout sections, which is again a lot of work. It is quite a difficult task to revamp adaptive sites as you will have to cross check and ensure that all the different components of the site including the SEO and content have adapted to the change before it is ready to get wired.

Also Read: SEO Guide for Web designers

While all the compatibility factors are taken into consideration you cannot possibly ignore the most important one which is the user experience. As we have already discussed responsive web designs aligns across fluidification process to fit the device window appropriately, this is when you need to focus majorly over the design’s visual structure as you move across.

Responsive designs resemble a puzzle solving process when it comes to recognizing the elements aligned across the larger pages and how they can be organized to fit into smaller pages and vice-versa. Of course, ensuring that the elements fit appropriately within a page is the key aspect, though the responsive design succeeds only when it can be accessed across varying screen resolutions and sizes.

This brings us to a point where we can conclude that there are no shortcuts to making your site mobile friendly regardless of whether you implement the responsive or adaptive web design technique. Both involve equal effort to realize the common goal that is to design one-size-fits-all. Responsive can offer a slightly higher level of comfortability as you do not have to waste your time for site maintenance in the long run.

Which is better?

Which is better: Responsive or Adaptive Design

When it comes to deciding which is a better process, put your audience first regardless of what kind of technique you are using. It is easier to design when you know what kind of people you are targeting and the devices that they will be utilizing to access your site, these factors will help you to decide on a more flexible design.

The decision depends on what kind of a site you are working with- whether it is an existing site that you are remodeling or if you are developing an entirely new site from the scratch. Studies reveal that every one website out of 8 are utilizing responsive web designs while no actual data is available on how many people use adaptive designs. Actually the tendency of adopting responsive web designs is growing at a stead fast rate and will soon surpass the records created by the standalone mobile sites.

This brings us to conclude that responsive is a more preferred methodology when it comes to choosing between responsive and adaptive designs because of the amount of work involved in adaptive when compared to responsive web designs.

According to a test that was carried out by Catchpoint, they proved that it would be a great idea to use adaptive designs if your company has the resources and budget to accommodate the requirements. They derived the difference by building two sites in WordPress: one was built using the standard WP Twenty Fourteen responsive theme and the other using a plugin called Wiziapp.

The site developed using the plugin that aligns across a mobile theme facilitates the users with the ease of accessing their site from any device and also provides you with advanced configuration parameters that can be used in streamlining the process further.

If you check the load time you will understand which works better.

The point to be noted here is that though no optimization has taken place at all, but still you can find that the responsive site is too keen on downloading each and everything that is necessary for the desktop. This means that the theme was not a good choice as the performance is quite poor.

You can override this technical issue by implementing media queries. But from the above example it is quite clear that though responsive web designs are a popularly preferred choice you cannot think of it as the best option for mobile devices.

Let us keep calm and await a great innovative solution to replace the limitations of responsive designs though for the time being you need to get along with this model by focusing on how to code and implement great design features.


We can conclude that responsive designs are a popularly preferred choice due to the limitations that adaptive designs pose when it comes to its maintenance process that is complex. But we cannot conclude that adaptive design is totally out of the scenario though responsiveness is the key to the web’s heart. The debate will continue over which is the best practice until a seemingly better technology comes into implementation.

Which of the two – responsive or adaptive web designs are you powering your site across or are you using stand-alone sites? How well does it fit across the various mobile devices? Which of them are you planning to implement in the year 2016? Share your thoughts and feedbacks with us.

Acodez IT Solutions is a leading web design company based in India offering mobile-friendly website designs implementing the latest and modern design trends and techniques to enhance the accessibility of these sites across a variety of devices. We also provide digital marketing solutions to ensure that your business gains the expected level of reputation and reaches the target group of audiences. For more details, contact us today!

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