Designing the Obvious – Book Review

To me, usability on the Web is an art form unto itself. Knowledge in the area comes from experience as well as testing. In this era of Web applications, usability concerns are more important than ever. While there aren’t a great many publications specifically focusing on Web usability, the few that do exist tend to be landmark publications on the subject. The latest piece I’ve read which tries to tackle this specific subject matter is Designing the Obvious: A common sense approach to Web application design by Robert Hoekman, Jr.

Designing the Obvious book cover

‘Designing the Obvious’ can be put in same ring as the excellent resource Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug, Defensive Design for the Web by Matthew Linderman with Jason Fried, as well as Prioritizing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger.

What I liked about ‘Designing the Obvious’

I’m a really big fan of technical books that simply don’t sound technical. It’s impressive to me when a high level subject can be explained using plain language that’s easy for nearly anyone to understand. It seems to make the learning process that much easier and more comprehensive for readers. ‘Designing the Obvious’ is a book that I found to be quite easy to read as well as engaging. While there were sections of the book that touched on various theories, they helped a bit to see where the author was coming from.

Hoekman mixed things up by including a variety of screen shots as well as real life examples to illustrate the points he was trying to make throughout the text. In my opinion this is one of the greatest ways to write a publication on usability. The aid of graphics can really help convey an intended message more effectively than descriptive language.

There are many great tips to be read in this particular book, and I’d recommend it to those designers and developers looking to get into Web application design.

What I Disliked

While there were many aspects of the book I enjoyed, such as language that was easy to read, there are also some issues I have with this book. Modern Web professionals, in my opinion, are responsible for knowing and understanding modern accessibility concerns.

Accessibility? What Accessibility?

There were many points in the book which discussed various ways to handle user input or validation options which embrace JavaScript to provide another level of functionality, but there’s no mention of graceful degradation. With the abundance of information available regarding the sheer importance of creating accessible Web applications, there is no reason to not take good practice into account.


All in all, I think Designing the Obvious is a well written, high quality piece. There is a lot of information crammed into a small form factor on a subject which still remains under constant revision. However, if you’re on the fence between such books as Don’t Make Me Think or Prioritizing Web Usability, I would suggest leaning toward ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ by Steve Krug before reading this piece, as it seemed to be more comprehensive in nature and a great starting point. That said, ‘Designing the Obvious’ is a great resource, it simply lacks the attention to accessibility that ties so close with Web application design. It stands out from other publications by focusing specifically on Web application design as a whole, and absolutely provides unique content that deserves to be read.