G2 32 x 32 White Circle


Product and mobile app analytics insights from industry experts
Globe iconEN
  • America IconEnglish
  • Brazil IconPortuguês
  • Spain IconEspañol
No credit card required



Adaptive vs. Responsive Design: How to Optimize Your Website


14 April, 2019

Annemarie Bufe

Content Manager

Adaptive vs. Responsive Web Design

Life has been a lot easier before the invention of smartphones, tablets and laptops in every imaginable size – at least in terms of design and programming.

There are different ways to optimize the design of a website for different screen sizes.

A mobile-optimized website is important!


The usage of smartphones rose from 17% of adults who owned a smartphone in 2008 to 78% in 2018, the tablet usage rose from 2% in 2011 to 58% in 2018. And new inventions like wearables are coming, or have already reached the market.

Do you think desktop PC’s are still important?

Sure, but the number of users is falling. While 69% of the adults owned a desktop PC in 2008, just 28% owned one in 2018.

Still not convinced that you have to think about a mobile-optimized website? Have a look at what Google found out.

“¾ of mobile users say they’re more likely to revisit mobile-friendly sites” – Google

Now let’s start from the beginning, the differences between the most common techniques: adaptive and responsive design.

I’ll explain the advantages and disadvantages of both and help you to decide which is the best for you.

But be aware, I can’t give you a general blueprint when you have to use which type, but I can give you everything you need to understand the differences and benefits of both designs so that you can decide which is the best for you.

Adaptive Web Design

Adaptive design offers different fixed layouts for multiple (but not all) screen sizes. The layout used depends on the device and screen size.

Generally, you would design adaptive layouts for the six common screen widths: 320px, 480px, 760px, 960px, 1200px and 1600px.

In essence, the website is optimized for different devices.

How does this work?

The website recognizes the screen size and selects the best fitting layout size. Resizing the browser window doesn’t change the layout constantly like a responsive design would. It changes when the screen size crosses the border to another layout size.

For example, there are three different layouts for desktop, tablet and smartphone. When opening the site it was detected which device or screen size was used and the fitting layout was delivered.

If the device on which the website loads, the website has the exact screen size for which the layout was optimized, then the presentation is perfect. If the screen size is bigger or smaller than the presentation is not perfect. A display which is wider than the layout means a waste of space. A smaller display means it’s harder to optimize presentation. In the worst case, it loads the wrong layout (e.g. it loads the smartphone layout on a small tablet).

Pros of Adaptive Web Design:

  • Because of the fixed dimensions of the layouts it is easy to plan and design different layouts with the help of wireframes and sketches

  • Technically easy to implement

  • Content just has to be arranged on the designed dimension, it hasn’t to arrange automatically

  • One layout is faster to implement than a responsive layout

Cons of Adaptive Web Design:

  • The layout is just optimized for a given number of devices

  • It does not cover uncommon screen sizes

  • The layout is just optimized for fixed dimensions

  • Frequent misrepresentation of deviating sizes

  • Need to analyze the target group and the commonly used devices of the target group

  • Probable waste of space if the device is bigger than the layout

  • In worst case it loads the wrong layout

  • Less flexibility than a responsive design

  • To cover all common screen sizes, you have to design six different layouts

Responsive Web Design

Responsive Design provides the optimal viewing experience of a website, no matter what size or type of device is used.

The website grows and shrinks according to the range of the device or browser window. The design is flexible so that the available space is always optimally used. It adjusts the placement of the elements to fit the available screen size. When you change the size of the browser window, the content elements rearrange itself dynamically and automatically in the given space.

Pros of Responsive Web Design:

  • Optimized presentation for every screen size

  • Good user experience on every device

  • No waste of space

  • It covers new devices and screen sizes too (no need to design a new layout like in an adaptive layout)

  • It covers very uncommon screen sizes

  • More flexible than an adaptive design

Cons of Responsive Web Design:

  • Implementation is more complex

  • Implementation needs more time

  • It’s harder to design the layout with wireframes or sketch notes because the dimensions are not fixed

  • Full design control is not possible, wrong presentation of content is possible

adaptive vs responsive web design

What design is the best for me?

A responsive design is the best option if you want to make sure it will show your website in a mobile friendly way, doesn’t matter which device or screen size your users use. Especially when your company reaches out to a larger target group, focus on this design.

However, if you focus on one special target group which uses mostly one type of device and screen size, the adaptive design will be easier to make an option for you. With this you can make sure that your personal website looks good or minimally acceptable on different devices. You can save on designing and programming resources and focus on your main website. But take in mind that when you want to cover all the common screen sizes, you have to design 6 different layouts.

If you want to take control over how the content is delivered on the most important devices, the adaptive design is probably the best solution for you.

If you want to cover all screen sizes and make sure that your website looks good or if your target group uses a wide range of mobile devices, the responsive design is a great option for you.

No one can tell you which is the 100% perfect solution. It is just about finding out what is the best solution for you and your customers. Weigh the pros and cons, compare the costs of time and money with the benefits and focus on your target group.

It doesn’t matter which design you choose, just make sure you are mobile!

Related articles:


Annemarie Bufe

Content Manager

Passionate hobby dancer. Working at UXCam.

Get the latest from UXCam

Stay up-to-date with UXCam's latest features, insights, and industry news for an exceptional user experience.

First name
Work email*
Thanks for submitting the form.

Related articles

Product best practices

User Centered Design (UCD): definition, benefits, principles, and methods

So you want to put your users first, but where do you start? There's a framework for it. Learn the basics of User Centered...

Marilyn Wilkinson
Marilyn Wilkinson

UI/UX Design

What is UX Analytics?

UX Analytics helps you to improve your product, thus increasing your conversion rates and...

Jonas Kurzweg
Jonas Kurzweg

Growth Lead

Product best practices

Push Notification UX Design: The Ultimate Guide 2024

Push notifications can lead to mass uninstalls — or a higher conversion...

Annemarie Bufe

Content Manager

UXCam logo



    Logo SOC2

    UXCam has successfully completed a SOC 2 Type 2 examination by Johanson Group.

Sign up for our newsletter

First name
Work email*
Thanks for submitting the form.

© 2024 UXCam. All rights reserved.

Privacy policy.

Terms of service.