Responsive and Adaptive Design


What are the major differences between responsive and adaptive design? And can you improve your user experience by choosing the right web design style for your site? In this post, we’ll explore both of these questions and more.

The ubiquity and variety of mobile devices has driven web and app designers to build for an array of screen sizes. From a huge desktop monitor to a tiny smartwatch screen, we can access information in several ways.

This can be challenging. How do you make sure your site scales on any device? Both adaptive and responsive design can address this challenge, but while they might seem similar, each has benefits and drawbacks. Which one is the perfect choice for you? Which will best meet your needs? And is one better than the other?

Let’s take a look.

Responsive design explained

In its simplest definition, responsive design uses just one layout for a web page and “responsively” adjusts to better fit the user’s screen, whether it’s a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or a mobile phone.

Ethan Marcotte coined the term responsive web design in 2010. It’s the responsiveness of web pages to adjust the placement of web design elements to fit in the available device’s space.

?Technically speaking, responsive websites use media queries to target breakpoints that scale images, wrap text, and adjust the layout so the site can fit any screen size. It can be done with HTML and CSS or HTML5 and CSS3.

Starbucks is a great example of a responsive design. It uses a single layout, but the placement of web elements changes from desktop to mobile. 

?With a responsive website, you’ll only need one site. Everything should seamlessly respond and adapt to any user’s device or browser – the design, content, and user interface.

Learn more with Webflow’s Intro to Responsive Design.

Adaptive design explained

In layman’s terms, adaptive design creates different fixed layouts that adapt to specific screen sizes. In short, you have multiple versions of a web page to fit someone’s device, as opposed to a single, static page which looks the same (and reorders or resizes content) across all devices.

Introduced in 2011 by web designer Aaron Gustafson, adaptive design uses distinct layouts for multiple screen sizes. In adaptive design, it’s normal to develop six designs for the six most common screen widths; 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200, and 1600 pixels.

?In a more technical definition, websites built with adaptive design include the CSS media queries of responsive design, but they also add JavaScript-based enhancements to change the site’s HTML markup based on the device’s capabilities. This process is known as “progressive enhancement.”

Amazon is a perfect example of an adaptive website. Customers can use the full site functionality of the desktop version.

?Adaptive doesn’t mean you need two separate sites. It still allows you to maintain all your content in a single place and share the same content with all site visitors. Adaptive sites use a template primed for each device.

How do responsive and adaptive design compare?

For people without web design experience, the difference between responsive and adaptive design is so subtle, it’s not likely noticeable.

To make our comparisons easier to digest, let’s look at their major components.


With responsive design, the layout is decided by the site visitor’s browser window.

In comparison, an adaptive layout is determined on the back-end, not by the client or browser. The design produces templates unique to every device class. The server detects factors like device type and operating system to send the correct layout.

Load time

No one likes a slow website. People get impatient and bounce if a site doesn’t load in 2 seconds or less. Adaptive designs generally load faster than responsive ones. This is because adaptive design only transfers necessary assets specific to each device. For example, if you view an adaptive website on a high quality display, the images will adjust to load faster based on the display the end user is using.

But this isn’t always the case — Webflow developed a feature for responsive images that pushes all inline images (both static and dynamic) to automatically scale to fit every device size and resolution.

The responsive images feature from Webflow builds variants of images you upload to ensure they look great and load quickly on any device. This can speed your mobile pages up to 10 times faster. 


This can be a touchy topic for some. People argue that adaptive designs are more difficult to build because you’ll need different layouts for different devices. Whereas responsive designs only require a single layout that some argue is easier to implement.

But, while responsive designs only have one layout across all devices, they require more effort and time up front. Responsive design involves extra attention to your site’s CSS and organization to ensure it’s fully functional on all screen sizes.

You don’t have to start from scratch with responsive web design. There are many great template options like the Oxy – UI Kit Website Template. Start with a responsive template you love and customize it for your business, portfolio, or blog.
Why your design team should use Webflow

Discover how design teams are streamlining their workflows — and building better experiences — with Webflow.

Collaborate easier


Adaptive design is considered less flexible because a new device with a screen size you didn’t plan for could break your layout. Which means you’ll need to edit an old layout or add a new one. Screen sizes are constantly changing and highly variable.

In the long run, a responsive layout will require less maintenance. Responsive sites are flexible enough to work well on their own by default, even if there’s a new device or screen size in the market. But adaptive websites will need occasional maintenance.

SEO friendliness

Google recommends and rewards sites that use responsive design. A mobile-friendly website ranks higher on search engine results pages. Adaptive design can be challenging to SEO.

Advantages and disadvantages of responsive design

Let’s look at the pros and cons of responsive design.

Advantages of responsive design

Responsive web design has some obvious advantages:

Seamless experience

Regardless of the device type — desktop, mobile, etc. — visitors will get the same, seamless experience. This instills a feeling of familiarity and trust, even as they transition from one device to another.

Fewer maintenance tasks

Because the site uses the same content across all devices, it won’t require much engineering or maintenance time. A responsive design will cut down on the time and effort you spend updating your site. You’ll have more time for essential tasks like A/B testing, marketing, customer service, and content development.

More budget-friendly

Responsive design is easier to set up and faster to implement because you don’t need an additional mobile site. You can save on development, support, and maintenance costs associated with creating stand-alone mobile sites. Logistically, you can also organize and control all your content in one centralized location.

Improve crawling and indexing efficiency

For responsive websites, a single web crawler agent will crawl your page once, rather than multiple times with different crawler agents to retrieve all versions of the content. Responsive sites directly improve the crawling efficiency and indirectly help search engines index more of your site’s content, keeping it appropriately fresh.

More search engine friendly

Google favors mobile-friendly websites, something responsive websites are great at. Make sure your web design tool allows you to create responsive websites that are mobile friendly.

Webflow allows you to preview your site on mobile devices right inside the Editor. This keeps mobile front of mind when crafting your design and content.

Disadvantages of responsive design

While responsive web design is great, it’s not without drawbacks. Here are the things to watch for when deciding which web design format is best for your requirements and goals:

Slower page loading

One of the biggest concerns of responsive web design is load time. Responsive websites load the information for all devices, not just for the device visitors are viewing your site on.

Difficulty integrating advertisements

Because ads have to accommodate all resolutions, it can be more challenging to integrate them effectively with responsive sites. The website will flow from device to device, so while the site adjusts to specific screen sizes, ads may not properly configure.

Advantages and disadvantages of adaptive design

Let’s look at the pros and cons of choosing an adaptive web design.

Advantages of adaptive design

When you go with an adaptive website, you can enjoy the following benefits:

Highly targeted for each user

By optimizing the experience for individual devices, you ensure each visitor receives a positive user experience. You can deliver and adjust your content by targeting things like the person’s location and connection speed.

Faster load times

Only the version of the website visitors need will be loaded, which makes page load a little faster. This is especially true for smartphone users.

Optimized for advertising 

There’s an increasing number of designers who are optimizing advertising options in responsive designs. For example, they’re switching 728×90 banners for 468×90 banners to cater to smaller resolutions. But with adaptive sites, designers can optimize advertisements based on user data from smaller screens.

Reusable existing website

Adaptive means your designers won’t need to return to the drawing board and re-code your existing website from the ground up. This is an essential consideration — many complex websites are built with legacy code over time. Starting from scratch sometimes isn’t an option.

Disadvantages of adaptive design

Here are some disadvantages to be aware of when it comes to adaptive web design:

Labor-intensive to create

Adaptive design is much more work-intensive because of the number of technical aspects to consider.

Harder to maintain

Because you have multiple versions of the website, each version has to be updated individually. Generally, you need to design for the 6 most common screen widths; 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200, and 1600 pixels. And that number keeps growing, making a designer’s job harder and more time consuming when it comes to site maintenance.

As of June 2019, there are more than 20 screen resolutions. Image source: Stat Counter.



Aside from being time-consuming, adaptive web design requires a large team of developers. You’ll incur more expenses to handle the complexity of developing, maintaining, and supporting an adaptive website.

When to use responsive design

If you’re still in doubt, here’s the final consideration when deciding to go for responsive design:

  • Responsive design is perfect for small to medium-sized companies that need to update their existing sites
  • Responsive design is ideal for new businesses that need to build a brand-new site
  • Responsive design is recommended for service-based industries because they’re primarily made up of text and images
  • Responsive design is budget-friendly so you can have a beautiful, fully functional site for a reasonable price
Webflow Ecommerce can help you build a responsive website for your online store — all without writing a single line of code.

When to use adaptive design

When considering adaptive design, here are some final points to keep in mind:

  • Adaptive design is best for existing complex websites that require a mobile version
  • Adaptive design is recommended for speed-dependent sites
  • Adaptive design is> great for a highly targeted experience you can adapt to someone’s location, connection speed, and more
  • Adaptive design is perfect for those who need more control over how their site is delivered to different users across different devices

The decision is yours

As more and more devices are introduced to the market, people around the globe are quick to adapt. This makes choosing between responsive and adaptive design more complex.

Responsive web design seems like the safest bet if you’re looking for a cost-effective, convenient way to build a highly functional, seamless user experience. And, in the long run, responsive sites require less upkeep and maintenance. But this is merely a generalization. Adaptive design also comes with great benefits like a more personalized and target user experience.

The key is understanding and planning for your needs, goals, and budget — now and in the future.


9 Web Technologies Every Web Developer Must Know in 2019


Web development comes with a huge set of rules and techniques every website developer should know about. If you want a website to look and function as you wish them to, you need to get familiar with web technologies that will help you achieve your goal.

Developing an app or a website typically comes down to knowing 3 main languages: JavaScriptCSS, and HTML. And while it sounds quite complicated, once you know what you are doing, understanding web technology and the way it works becomes significantly easier.

We present you with an introduction to web technologies and the latest web technologies list hoping it will make things at least a bit easier for you. Now, let’s take a look.

What is Web Technology?

You have probably heard the term “web development technologies” before, but did you ever think about what it actually means?

Since the computers can’t communicate with each other the way people do, they require codes instead. Web technologies are the markup languages and multimedia packages computers use to communicate.

1. Browsers

Browsers request information and then they show us in the way we can understand. Think of them as the interpreters of the web. Here are the most popular ones:

Google Chrome – Currently, the most popular browser brought to you by Google

Safari – Apple’s web browser

Firefox – Open-source browser supported by the Mozilla Foundation

Internet Explorer – Microsoft’s browser


HTML is the one of the one you should learn first. Thanks to HTML, the web browsers know what to show once they receive the request. If you want to better understand how HTML works, you also need to know what CSS is.

CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets and it describes how HTML elements are to be displayed on the screen.

If you’re a complete beginner, this Essential HTML & CSS training by James Williamson will help you to quickly get started with these technologies.

3. Web Development Frameworks

Web development frameworks are a starting point of items that a developer can use to avoid doing the simple or mundane tasks, and instead get right to work.


Angular is one of the latest web technologies designed specifically for developing dynamic web applications. With this framework, you can easily create front-end based applications without needing to use other frameworks or plugins.

The features include well-made templates, MVC architecture, code generation, code splitting etc. All the expressions are like code snippets that enclosed within curly braces and do not use any loops or conditional statements.

If you would like to start using Angular or to just quickly evaluate if this framework would be the right solution for your projects, you can check out this 3-hour training, published in June 2019 by Justin Schwartzenberger, a Google Developer Expert. This course covers everything that’s necessary to start using Angular, from basic architecture, work with DOM, data binding, routing, and components, to more advanced topics such as directives and pipes.

Ruby on Rails

Ruby on Rails is a server-side website technology that makes app development much easier and faster. The thing that really sets this framework apart is the reusability of the code as well as some other cool features that will help you get the job done in no time.

Popular websites written with Ruby include BasecampAsk.fmGitHub500px, and many others.

Here is everything you need to know about Ruby on Rails.

If you would are interested in a more in-depth training on Ruby on Rails framework, this 10-hour course by Kevin Skoglund, a senior Ruby developer, might be just the right resource to get started. It covers the complete learning cycle from the very fundamentals to more advanced topics such as Layouts, Partials, and View Helpers, giving quite a few practical tasks in parallel.


Web Development Frameworks Yii

Yii is an open-source web application development framework built in PHP5. It is performance optimized and comes with a number of great tools for debugging and app testing. Another plus is that it is pretty simple and easy to use.

Meteor JS

Meteor JS is written in Node.js and it makes it possible for you to to create real-time web applications for different platforms. The framework for creating simple websites for personal use really stand out with Meteor JS.

This is an open-source isomorphic JavaScript web framework which also means that the webpage loading time is significantly shorter. JavaScript stack also makes it possible to get the same results with fewer lines of code than usually.

This online video course gives an interesting practical example of combining MeteorJS and React to build a web app.


Developed in Node.js, Express.js is a web app development network that is great for those who need to develop apps and APIs as fast as possible. A lot of great features are provided with the help of plugins.

This course provides a good insight into advanced usage of Express.js in combination with MongoDB and Mongoose and shows different ways of deploying an Express app and running it in production.


Zend is an open-source framework based on PHP, focused on building more secure and reliable web apps and services. It is one of the first enterprise-level MVC frameworks, which came before the current superhits such as Laravel or Symfony, and many popular PHP engines such as Magento were built in Zend.

Today Zend is still under active development, and even though it may be less popular than it’s opensource siblings, it is a great solution for a large-scale PHP app.

Watch this short video course where different PHP MVC frameworks are compared so that you could make a choice on your own.


Django is one of the most popular frameworks written in Python and follows the MVC architecture. It makes the app development process much easier thanks to its simplicity.

Django simplifies using Python a lot and provides multiple tools that make a web app developer’s life easier – e.g. an ORM, Models, Django admin, templates, etc. This 1.5-hour video course can help any developer, even a beginner, to start developing Python/Django apps in a couple of days.

Check out more popular Python frameworks.


Laravel is a PHP development framework ideal for small websites. It comes with a number of useful features including the MVC support, object-oriented libraries, Artisan, authorization technique, database migration, etc. Currently, it is one of the most community-supported and community-developed frameworks, and given that PHP has one of the largest communities out there, Laravel is a great tool powering both small websites and large-scale B2B web apps managing millions of transactions daily.

To get started with Laravel in less than 3 hours, watch this video course by Bernando Pineda, a senior DevOps, and Engineer with 15+ years of software development experience.

It is one of our favorite PHP frameworks.

4. Programming Languages

As we explained before, since computers don’t use languages that are anything like human languages, they need a different way to communicate. Here are some of the most popular programming languages:

Javascript – used by all web browsers, Meteor, and lots of other frameworks

CoffeeScript – a “dialect” of JavaScript. It is viewed as simpler but it converts back into JavaScript

Python – used by the Django framework as well as in the majority of mathematical calculations

Ruby – used by the Ruby on Rails framework

PHP – used by WordPress, Facebook, Wikipedia and other major sites

Go – newer language, built for speed

Swift – Apple’s newest programming language

Java – used by Android and a lot of desktop application.

So let’s talk about the most popular ones in a bit more detail.


According to StackOverflow’s annual survey, JavaScript is the most popular programming language with 62.5% of respondents claiming to use it.

It is one of the core web technologies and if you want to learn more about it, you can start with this essential training which covers all the basics, working with functions and objects, interacting with DOM, etc. This course is recent – from April 2019 – Javascript evolves quickly, so it makes sure you leverage the newest language “perks” as you learn.


The developers love Ruby – and for all the right reasons. Designed to be user-friendly and really easy to use, it’s no wonder that this programming language is often called “a programmer’s best friend.”

What you can expect from Ruby is a shorter, readable code. Unfortunately, that sometimes means lower efficiency compared to other programming languages – but it also means higher productivity.

If you are a beginner in the web development world, Ruby would be a great choice for the first programming language to learn. A well-written Ruby code can be almost as readable as the sentence in plain English language.

But the real reason most people use Ruby is its popular framework — Ruby on Rails which we mentioned earlier in the text. The great productivity achieved with Rails makes it a common choice for startups who aim for a running start.


Elixir appeared back in 2011 and gained popularity almost immediately. It was inspired by Erlang, a language developed back in the ‘80s by Ericsson. Elixir’s author José Valim himself said that he loved Erlang, but also noticed some things that could use a bit of improvement.


Scala stands for Scalable Language, and is one of the many attempts to “rewrite Java” and it is compiled to run on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). It is safe to say this programming language turned out to be quite a success taking into the consideration that companies like LinkedIn, Twitter, and The Guardian use it in their codebases. Scala is known to be a complex language but also a language worth learning.

This essential 3-hour training may be a good way to start your journey with Scala.

5. Protocols

The instructions for how to pass information back and forth between computers and devices are commonly known as protocols.


Thanks to this protocol, each website can get to the browser. The protocol requests the website from Google’s server and then receives a response with the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript of the website.


Uses websockets to create a consistent connection between the client and the server. As a result of that, you get website updates in real-time without having to refresh the browser.


Used mostly for API’s, this protocol has standard methods like GET, POST, and PUT that let information be exchanged between applications.

6. API

An API (application programming interface) allows other developers to use some of the app’s functionality without sharing the code.

The endpoints are exposed by the developers while the API can control access with an API key. Examples of well-made APIs are those created by Facebook, Twitter, and Google for their web services.

7. Data formats

Data is stored in the structure called a data format.

JSON – JavaScript Object Notation is a syntax for storing and exchanging data (just like XML). It is currently becoming the most popular data format out there.

XML – Predominantly used by Microsoft systems, it used to be the most popular data format

CSV – is data formatted by commas; for example Excel data