Responsive vs Adaptive Web Design: What to Choose?

Responsive vs Adaptive Web Design: What to Choose?

Umbrella IT

The first question you ask as you start developing any application is whether it will be easy-to-use and how its interface will look like when displayed on screens of various devices.

The answer to this question often involves making a choice between the adaptive layout vs responsive layout. Both approaches provide for making the content image adapt to various screen sizes, but the goal is achieved in two various ways.

In our article, we will specify the difference between the responsive and adaptive web design and describe cons and pros specific to both approaches.

The key difference between two types is as follows:

The responsive designprovides for creating applications capable of “stretching” to any screen size. Initially, the developers create the single template, which resizes dynamically as the browser window changes. In other words, the responsive design responds to changes in the browser window.

The adaptive design also means developing a single structure for all application versions, but the developers also include sets of styles which match with definite parameters of devices (size of window browser, resolution, image orientation).

Depending on the user’s device the browser starts applying that very set of styles which is adapted to the parameters of this device.

As a result, this kind of application not only simply responds to changes in parameters of the device used to enter the application but is also modified in such a way that it becomes as user-friendly as possible.

Further, we are going to study in details the pros and cons of both web designs.

Umbrella IT offers you a table at the end of this article, which will help you to compare visually two types and choose the one that best suits your concept.

Let’s start with more pleasant issue - the pros of two types.


As we already know, the responsive approach makes the “fluid” images adapt to screens of various formats.

The responsive design has the following advantages:

  • Uniform Looking Interface

Irrespective of the device used your application always looks the same: icons, pictures and text remain practically unchanged and may only slightly move relative to each other.

Your interface will look familiar and be easy-to-use, as users do not have to get accustomed to a new layout and to spend time searching for the functions they need.

  • Reduced Development Time

As you already know, the application interface looks uniform on every device due to the fact that developers create the single template capable of adapting to any screen resolution.

It does not require either much time from developers or high investments on your part to develop the single application version. This means such approach allows reducing expenses in case of a limited budget.

The interface which is familiar to the user and responds to any changes in browser window size and the cost effective development are two factors which refer to the specific advantages of the responsive design.
Now let’s check what benefits your application will acquire in case it is adaptive.


We have already cleared out that the adaptive application implies definite available sets of styles which account for content display on various devices depending on their parameters.

The example of The Guardian on various devices.

This concept gives rise to the pros of the adaptive vs responsive design:

  • User-Friendly Balanced Interface

Each set of styles used by the adaptive application is designed to make the user feel as comfortable and easy as possible.

To achieve this, the UX-experts (User Experience) explore the most popular devices used, users behaviour, and typical operations. The designers take this information into account as they work on every separate version of the adaptive product. Then the developers select the best set of styles for specific ranges of device parameters.

This team work results in the balanced interface, accurately selected functions and user’s feeling of comfort.

The practice has shown that the user needs on an average about 2 sec to form his/her opinion about the page. In case nothing on the screen attracts his/her attention within this time, the user will leave the page in search for more exciting information or design.  From this point of view, the adaptive design is the best solution and contributes to attracting potential clients.

  • Optimized Content Display on Various Devices

If you choose the adaptive application, the volume of the information displayed will differ depending on the device used to access the application.

You have a possibility to define the exact functions and information that will be displayed on the desktop or mobile version. As a result, the user will be offered the applicable functions only and will not be distracted by features which are useless on this specific device.

  • High Percentage of Covered Devices

Chronologically the adaptive design appeared later than responsive due to the increased number of mobile devices and mobile users, correspondingly. In spite of all its advantages, the responsive design remains fit for desktop computers and notebooks but cannot ensure that the content will be in the optimal way displayed on the mobile devices with small screens and various resolutions. Consequently, the adaptive approach serves as a kind of feedback to changes in user needs.

The user may access the adaptive application with any device. Due to the fact that each version is visually and functionally adapted to the definite device parameters, the user never sees the difference and will not face any difficulties using this or that device. This means your application will find its constant visitor or future client in this person.

The adaptive vs responsive web design provides more comfort for the user due to optimization of the image displayed and the functions of the application in accordance with the parameters of your device. Besides, your adaptive application will cover more devices and more users accordingly.

Unfortunately, neither of two above approaches can be called ideal. Both types have their own disadvantages that you have to face with when creating your application.


Though the responsive design gives you an opportunity to create the affordable application which will look familiar and uniform for the user on any device, this solution involves some challenges:

  • Unbalanced Design

When creating the responsive design for your application you want it to look good both for web and mobile versions. But in practice this cannot be achieved using pure responsive techniques only. The mobile version will look too overloaded with spare elements or, vice versa, the application will look boring and empty on the computer screen.

  • Complicated Use

Things seem to be simple – the browser window changes, the application adapts to the new size and the user gets access to the complete information content which will be displayed in the scaled form. In case of scaling down this may cause problems in using some elements on the page following changes in the size of the interface.

For example, the navigation menu which is common for the desktop user will be scaled down on the mobile phone so that it will be difficult to discern. And huge tables loaded with data will look absolutely unreadable.

The mobile user without any mouse and keyboard at hand or simply being pressed for time will rather leave the page, then go into the strange interface.

  • Low Percentage of Covered Devices

The responsive mobile version will look unbalanced and be inconvenient for the user. As a consequence, the responsive design fits the applications only which do not expect any mobile versions.

This means that the responsive vs adaptive design cannot cover the share of the mobile users who could possibly become your clients.

Taking into account the continuous increase in the share of users choosing mobile devices, this disadvantage may become a closing argument in favor of the adaptive design.

According to statistics today about 50% of users prefer mobile devices.


In some cases the solution can be found through developing the responsive design for the desktop version only, while the separate mobile version is created on the subdomain. But this implies that two separate application versions shall be developed, which also causes certain inconvenience.


This type has some definite disadvantages as well. If you intend to create the adaptive application, please, keep in mind that you will have to face the following challenges:

  • High Development Costs

Interested in 2017 development costs? Read more in our article.

If you choose the adaptive design, please, keep in mind that it implies several sets of styles being developed and adapted to various devices parameters. Accordingly, this development requires high financial investments on your part.

  • Search for a team of highly-qualified designers and developers, who do not only work with various types of devices but have a wide set of testing tools at their disposal.

But finally, you will be rewarded with the unique high-quality application.


As you see, both the responsive and adaptive web design have advantages and disadvantages which should be taken into account for final decision.

To assist you in making the right choice Umbrella IT has prepared a kind of comparison table with our estimation of two types (on a scale of one to five).

Based on this table you can analyze both variants and choose the best one for your application.

Thus, in case you intend to create the affordable application within short time frames and you plan no mobile version, do not hesitate to choose the responsive design.

If you dream of a multi functional application that should win users of various devices due to its functions and balanced looking interface, then you cannot do without the adaptive design.

Umbrella IT company recommends you to think carefully on your choice and on our part we are ready to offer you our services and assistance of any kind: starting from a piece of advice to development of adaptive or responsive applications. Do not hesitate to contact Umbrella IT!