May 17, 2022

A Simple Look at Adaptive and Responsive Web Design

A Simple Look at Adaptive and Responsive Web Design

A Simple Look at Adaptive and Responsive Web Design

Mobile devices account for roughly half of the web traffic worldwide. This forced website designers to change their approach to web design and create sites that deliver quality throughout all screen sizes.

Both adaptive and responsive website designs can solve this problem, but there are some differences you should look at when deciding on which approach works best for you.

We worked on this article together with one of the leading Philadelphia web design companies, to help you gain better insights into adaptive and responsive web designs, and we will provide you with some of the best examples for both approaches.

What is an adaptive web design (AWD)?

AWD approach identifies users’ screen size and uploads the most suitable site layout. Its static layout is based on breakpoints and it only responds when loaded. 

There are six different width layout that web designers use for each adaptive website – 1600px, 1200px, 960px, 760px, 480px, and 320px.

This design approach displays elements on the page differently for each device.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of adaptive web design?

There are many advantages of using the AWD approach for your website. The top three advantages are:

  1. Better User Experience (UX) – with AWD, web developers can control each layout and ensure optimal UX for each screen size. Simply put, it allows the implementation of different content for different screen sizes.
  2. Faster loading time – AWD approach allows developers to remove havier content for smaller devices.
  3. Existing website re-usage – developers can make complex sites built with older code fit all devices without having to recode them from scratch.  

When it comes to the disadvantages of the adaptive web design approach, we can single out the following three most important ones:

  1. Labor-intensive – different layouts require different HTML codes. 
  2. High maintenance – with AWD , you can’t update all website versions at once. Instead, you will have to update every version one by one.
  3. Expensive – AWD usually requires a large team of developers, which will lead to more expenses. 

AWD is the best for businesses that want to have customized designs for all screen sizes, use different elements for different devices, and have a lot of content on their website.

What is a responsive web design (RWD)?

RWD approach adapts to all screen sizes automatically without compromising the site’s performances or aesthetics.

It uses Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) queries for resizing the site’s elements, such as width and height, and displays it on different screen sizes accordingly.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of responsive web design?

Responsive web design comes with many advantages. The five most important ones are:

  1. Consistent with all screen sizes – no matter what device your users use, they will always have the same browsing experience.
  2. SEO friendly – RWD allows you to gather all social sharing links through one URL address. This makes it easier for Google to handle the same HTML and content.
  3. Cost-effective – RWD requires only two sets of design renderings and three different sets of CSS styles.
  4. Low maintenance – with RWD you won’t have to maintain multiple websites designed for different devices. One change will update website content for all screen sizes.
  5. Easy analytics tracking – with one website for all devices, you will only have to perform analysis from one source of information.

Three main disadvantages of responsive web design are:

  1. Slower loading speed – all devices load all data. Even if the mobile version requires only 60% of the desktop content, it will still upload the additional 40% and hide it with CSS.
  2. Problems with usability – RWD will not allow your mobile users to perform different tasks from those of your desktop users and vice versa. 
  3. Difficulty with integrating Ads – it is challenging to make all ads display perfectly across all screen sizes.  

RWD is good for small to medium-sized companies that require frequent website updates. It is also good for new businesses that are on the budget. 

Because RWD sites are mostly made up of text and images, they are perfect for service-based industries.

What is the difference between adaptive and responsive web design?

The main difference is that RWD adjusts the same content for every device, while AWD loads content for each device separately. If we were to paint a picture it would look something like this:

[Source: jaintechnosoft]

Another major difference is that AWD requires excessive knowledge of CSS and JavaScript programming languages, while RWD requires knowing only how to apply changes to existing codes.

The 3 best examples of adaptive web design

Many successful businesses are using adaptive web design. Here are the three best examples of adaptive design used in practice: 

1. Amazon

graphical user interface, application, PowerPoint
amazon adaptive design example
[Source: Amazon]

Amazon chose adaptive web design as it helps them decrease page loading time and enables them to deliver customized UX for all their customers no matter the device used.

Their website loads 40% faster than if they used responsive web design.

2. USA Today

[Source: USA Today]

USA Today chose adaptive web design to provide a richer, tailored experience for their users when they interact with the news. 

3. The Home Depot

[Source: The Home Depot]

Home Depot also uses adaptive website design to give its customers a unique experience for each device. Their mobile version can track down the nearest store in users’ area and display real-time store inventory details, such as isle product location, availability, and prices.

The 3 best examples of responsive web design

Let’s look at some of the best examples of responsive web design.

1. Dropbox

Responsive web design
[Source: Dropbox]

Dropbox has created a very attractive responsive website with a fluid grid and flexible visuals. They’ve made the font color change when shifting from desktop to smaller devices screens while changing the image orientation at the same time.

When you browse their website on a desktop, you will notice a small arrow pointing down for more content. On smaller screen sizes, the arrow is non-existent as users are accustomed to scrolling on handled devices.

2. Shopify

Responsive web design
[Source: Shopify]

To make users’ experience consistent across all screen sizes, Shopify made their CTA and images appear differently for every device. 

If you browse their website on a desktop, the CTA button and images will appear on the right side. On a mobile version website, the CTA button and images will be placed around the page’s center. 

Despite using a responsive design, they managed to keep their loading page time below five seconds.


Responsive web design
[Source: WIRED]

WIRED made their website with a dynamic layout that enables the desktop version to have several columns and a sidebar, while their version for smaller devices has a single column and no sidebar.

Their version for handled devices includes only the logo, menu icons, and subscription links. The images are cropped to a 16:9 ratio.

On desktop and laptop versions, images vary between square and rectangle shapes providing users with an enjoyable browsing experience.


Having a website that fits all screens is an absolute must in today’s digital world. Whether you choose an adaptive or responsive web design will depend on what kind of features you prioritize for your website.  

If you aim for faster page loading times, consider using adaptive web design but be prepared for more complicated maintenance and update procedures.

If you prioritize easy analytics tracking and having the same content for all devices, consider using responsive web design but be prepared to compromise on your page loading time.

We hope our article helped you understand the difference between AWD and RWD and decide which one is the best fit for you.