Designing the Obvious – Book Review

Posted: August 06, 2007 Comments(4)

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.

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  1. I read this book this past December and enjoyed it myself. I liked the book for the reasons you mentioned above. I was a little turned off by the praise of Seth Godin found scattered throughout the book. Not that I don’t like Seth Godin, it just seemed like they were advertising pauses – like commercials.

    I also share the same concerns. Usability and Accessiblity are often understood in terms of importance, but many fail to understand some of the underlying principles. I know this book wasn’t about JavaScript – but maybe it would have been better to talk about a server side option for validation, then show the user how to streamline the process by putting the JS layer on top.

    Your review is right on target. This is a great book and resource, but if you are just learning – pick up Don’t Make Me Think, first.

  2. @Nate Klaiber: Firstly, I need to apologize for not recognizing your comment, it must have slipped through the cracks.

    I’m glad we share similar opinions of this book. While it is a good read and has some great content, there may be some other titles which should be read first to ensure a more solid foundation of knowledge. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. […] La sorpresa de la noche fue la aparición de Carlos Marrero, que nos visitó desde el grupo Cadius en Tenerife (este mes, además, ha disfrutado de dos cócteles). Carlos vino cargado de propuestas e ideas, quizás la más relevante fuera la de unas Jornadas centradas en usabilidad, accesibilidad y diseño web con estándares (de las que ya existe, en fase embrionaria, una página, un grupo en Google y hasta un canal twitter). Las jornadas estarían organizadas desde Canarias para romper el mito de que aquí nunca se hace nada interesante en nuestro sector y hay que salir fuera para buscarlo. También compartió con nosotros Designing the Obvious, un libro que él estaba empezando a leer y del que he encontrado una pequeña reseña. […]

  4. Meryl의 생각…

    Designing the Obvious: A Commonsense Approach to Web Application Design
    , Robert Hoekman!! Why Bad Site Design Succeeds도 Good, 이책을 읽은 이가 추천하는 책도 비슷하다…

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