App & Browser Testing Made Easy

Give your users a seamless experience by testing on 3000+ real devices and browsers. Don't compromise with emulators and simulators

Home Guide Adaptive vs Responsive Design: Which one to choose?

Adaptive vs Responsive Design: Which one to choose?

By Kitakabee, Community Contributor -

In web development, the advent of a diverse range of smart devices pushes the need for designers to cater to a variety of screen sizes. From smartwatches to widescreen smart TVs, a website needs to calibrate its layout to different screen sizes to enhance user experience. The dilemma is to choose between two approaches: adaptive or responsive design. 

Let’s analyze the two approaches to see which one you should consider for your design strategy. 

What is Responsive Design?

Responsive web design is a dynamic layout that uses media queries to calibrate the site format according to the device type. A responsive design is usually built on a flexible grid with a single layout that adapts itself intuitively to the interface. CSS breakpoints are crucial to a responsive design to scale design elements.

Advantages and Disadvantges of Responsive Design


  • This approach is more cost and time efficient since designers focus on building a single layout. 
  • It is also easier to maintain and update since it uses a single URL for each page.
  • SEO friendly.
  • It gives a consistent UI experience across all devices.
  • Since this approach is more popular, many pre-built templates are available with advanced functionality on popular CMS like WordPress or Joomla.


  • The process requires more coding from the developers to ensure optimization across all devices.
  • Responsive sites can have a longer load time since some heavier design elements may upload faster on desktops than on mobiles.
  • It requires a lot of testing to maintain the visual hierarchy of design elements with changing screen sizes. 
  • A responsive design approach gives you less control over the design layout in different screen sizes.

Responsive Websites Examples

  • Dropbox

Dropbox has used the fluid grid strategically to enhance user experience across multiple devices. For starters, the hamburger menu for mobile expands to a full navigation bar in the tablet and desktop versions. While the image orientation changes with screen sizes, the sign-up form on the desktop version also changes to a CTA button on the mobile and tablet versions. The desktop version uses an arrow pointer to direct users to scroll down. 

For the mobile version, however, it is assumed touchscreen users will automatically scroll down, making the arrow pointer redundant.

Dropbox Desktop Homepage

Dropbox tablet

Dropbox Mobile

  • Shopify

The globally renowned eCommerce site has maintained a consistent design flow across all interfaces. The hamburger menu for the mobile version is replaced with a full-fledged navigation bar for desktop versions. For the mobile version, Shopify uses a lighter color palette in the user interface, giving a sense of expansiveness to the smallest real estate in screen sizes. They have also changed the position of their CTA button on different screens. While on mobile versions, you can find it beneath the form field, for tablets and desktop versions, it is placed on the right.


  • Slack

The fun and quirky messaging platform integrates its human-centric approach well into its core design interface. The three-column design layout for its desktop version changes to a single-column layout for mobile users. Slack has also personalized the CTA button for different screens. For mobile and tablet versions, it expands along the entire column width with the text “Get Slack for iOS,” while for the desktop version, the CTA button is marginally smaller, placed on the top left margin, with the text “Try for free.”

Slack desktop

Slack mobile

What is Adaptive Design?

Instead of working on a single layout structure, the adaptive design approaches tailor-made layouts for different devices. The site identifies the interface size and loads the custom layout designed to adapt to that particular screen size. In this approach, it is standard for designers to create the six most commonly used screen resolutions, which are – 1600px, 1200px, 960px, 760px, 480px, and 320px. However, more custom layouts can be developed to fit other screen sizes.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Adaptive Design


  • When revamping your existing website, starting from ground zero is sometimes not an option. Complex websites often follow legacy code. Hence, an adaptive design approach will eliminate the need to recode your site. 
  • Websites built on this approach usually outperform speed tests by 2 to 3 times compared to responsive sites.
  • It enhances the user experience across devices since each layout is custom-built for specific screens.
  • Adopting this approach results in a quicker load time because layouts are optimized categorically.
  • Designers have much more control over design elements.


  • The development process is time-consuming and more expensive since each layout has to be created separately.
  • There are multiple URLs for each page. Hence, every layout will need to be updated and maintained separately.
  • Rare screen sizes, like extra wide screens, are not usually considered while developing sites using this approach. If users access the site on a device that it was not optimized for, the design format will go for a toss.

Adaptive Website Examples

  • Amazon

Amazon uses a different hierarchy for its desktop and mobile versions. Adopting this design approach has helped Amazon to increase its access speed on the mobile app by 40% compared to its previous reactive design. At the same time, it preserves the desired functionality by keeping the search bar and common navigation menu structure the same across devices.

amazon desktop

amazon mobile

  • IHG

Having realized that most users access the mobile app for booking reservations, the IHG designed its mobile app to be functionally more action-oriented, with GPS-based location services, quick links to nearby hotels and current offers. The desktop version, however, features a more traditional structure with an expanded search bar at the top.

IHG mobile 1

IHG desktop

  • IKEA

IKEA’s mobile version offers a more streamlined experience to users. For example, the navigation menu highlights product options, shopping lists, and physical stores nearby, unlike the desktop version, which highlights an expanded search bar.IKEA desktop

IKEA mobile

Adaptive vs Responsive Design: Core Differences

Responsive DesignAdaptive Design
Calibrates a single layout for different devicesCustomizes different layouts for different devices
Less time-consuming and more cost-effectiveProcess and labor intensive; hence takes more time and is more expensive
Slows download time on mobileSpeeds up load time across all devices
Minimal control of design elements over different layoutsInfinite control of design elements over different layouts
SEO friendly; improves crawling and indexing efficiencyLess SEO optimization, indexing takes more time due to multiple URLs
Single URL for each pageMultiple URLs for each page, depending on the number of layouts created
Perfect for small to medium sized companies and new businessesBest for established companies with existing complex websites
Site maintenance requires less effortSite maintenance requires a lot more time and effort


How to Test Adaptive and Responsive Websites on BrowserStack?

Irrespective of whether you choose Adaptive or Responsive, it is necessary to test your website on real devices. BrowserStack Live is a cloud-based platform that offers real-time analysis of your website’s design compatibility across 3000+ devices and browsers. To do so, you first need to sign up for a free account on BrowserStack.

Get your free BrowserStack Account

  • Login to your BrowserStack profile and go to the dashboard. Select the OS, device and browser version.

BrowserStack Live 1

  • Enter the URL of the website, and select the device and the browser. Wait for the live test results to upload.

BrowserStack Live 2

  • If you wish to change orientation, report a bug, or switch to a new device, you can do so from the menu option in the right side panel. 

BrowserStack LIve 3

Adaptive or Responsive: How to Choose the Right Fit

To choose the best fit for your website, evaluate your business goals and align them with your website’s needs. Since your design approach will affect the website’s overall functionality, it is essential to consider individual design elements and review how different screen sizes will impact the hierarchy. Some of the main design components you should focus on are:

  1. Header content: The header content is the first thing that impresses a visitor. It contains basic information about the brand, product offerings, CTAs etc. While a desktop version may have plenty of wiggle room, you must prioritize your information logically for a smaller screen.
  2. Font size and readability: When choosing the design approach, consider that smaller screens demand a different font size than larger screens.
  3. Menu icon and navigation bar: While the hamburger icon is a typical choice for smaller screen devices, an extended navigation bar works well with desktop variants.
  4. Visual hierarchy: Maintaining a consistent visual hierarchy across all devices dramatically enhances the user experience. It is essential to structure elements coherently so that a user switching from desktop to mobile doesn’t get confused.
  5. Media files: While adaptive designs don’t usually face a problem loading media files, in responsive design, larger media files can considerably slow down your access time, increasing the bounce rate of visitors.
  6. Interactive elements: Interactive elements tend to differ from one platform to another. While a mobile user will expect to dial a customer assistance number directly from his phone, a desktop user will type it out on his mobile before placing the call. The placement of such elements will change with the platform.

While designing a website, the context becomes as important as the content. As designers, you need to evaluate both aspects carefully before implementing the design. 


Featured Articles

Top Responsive Web Design Challenges And Their Solution

How To Test Website in Different Screen Sizes

Curated for all your Testing Needs

Actionable Insights, Tips, & Tutorials delivered in your Inbox
By subscribing , you agree to our Privacy Policy.
thank you illustration

Thank you for Subscribing!

Expect a curated list of guides shortly.