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Designing the Obvious: A Common Sense Approach to Web Application Design Paperback – October 22, 2006

29 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0321453457 ISBN-10: 032145345X Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

About the Author

Robert Hoekman, Jr, is a passionate and outspoken user experience strategist and a prolific writer who has written dozens of articles and has worked with MySpace, Seth Godin (Squidoo), Adobe, Automattic, United Airlines, and countless others. He gives in-house training sessions and has spoken at industry events all over the world, including An Event Apart, Voices That Matter, Web App Summit, SXSW, Future of Web Design, and many more.

Robert is the author of Designing the Moment (New Riders) (, a collection of 31 stories on design solutions from real projects and the principles used to solve them. He also coauthored Web Anatomy (New Riders) (, which introduces “interaction design frameworks” as an essential part of an effective reuse strategy, with revered design researcher Jared Spool. 

Robert is the founder of the user experience consultancy Miskeeto ( Learn more about him at He is @rhjr on Twitter (


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: New Riders Press; 1 edition (October 22, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 032145345X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321453457
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #610,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Manny Hernandez HALL OF FAME on February 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
From 9 to 5 (well, a "little" after 5 most days), I am an Application Development Manager in my company. In my years doing this, I have read a lot of books on the topic of Web and User Experience Design. So far, only a handful stand out above "Designing the Obvious" by Robert Hoekman Jr. and even some of those, he takes his hat off to (such as the case of "Don't Make Me Think", for instance).

Hoekman proposes the "unthinkable" for those entrenched into rusty web design practices, but when you step back and reconsider the experiences you've had, his framework makes perfect sense. Here are a couple of thoughts he brings to the table, to give you an idea:

-Design an application that does one thing, and does it very well. For every additional feature, there is more to learn, more to tweak and configure, more to customize, more to read about in the help document, and more that can go wrong.

-People (users) don't always make the right choices. They make comfortable choices... they make choices they know how to make. To deal with this, he supports Goal-Directed (also called Activity-Centered) Design, as opposed to Human-Centered Design.

Web Design anathema? Violation of User Interface "basics"? Maybe it sounds so at first, but if you read through his arguments, you will find them very compelling and may end up (like myself) reconsidering some of your initial assumptions.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Eric D. Austrew on May 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
The danger in reading a book that tells you to do obvious things is that you may find yourself thinking that since you could have thought of each piece of advice on your own, you would have. Alas, unless you have the depth of experience that someone like Robert Hoekman has acquired by working on dozens of projects, chances are there is at least one obvious thing in this book that you have missed in your last project.

If you're like me there is probably considerably more than one thing.

Hoekman lays out the basic principles of web application design clearly and succinctly. He starts by describing some of the practices that designers should adopt in order to understand how their users actually behave and what they really need. These practices are meant to cure readers of the habit of asking users what they want, which frequently results in honest but inaccurate answers. Hoekman's tools of choice for generating understanding are various forms of shadowing users while they do the tasks your application will perform, and his preferred method of documentation is the use case. No one who has worked in software development for any period of time will be surprised at the use case rules he lays out, but the example he gives is a rare glimpse into how the mind of an expert polishes a basic use case into something truly professional.

He next tackles the question of what features to put into your design and which to leave out. Here Hoekman is firmly in the minimalist camp exemplified by 37 Signals. He advocates ruthlessly stripping out "nice to have" features, and simplifying the rest. Although I had previously read much the same argument in "Getting Real", ([...
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Alex Cox on January 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
I thought this book was very useful on many points. Through the use of illustrative examples, the author really points out what people are doing wrong (and right) in a lot of common web designs. His philosophy, essentially functional minimalism, means that you spend a lot more time stripping features off of applications than putting them on, and this is probably a great idea.

The only issue I have with this idea is that some of the exercises he proposes to help you pare things down are (in my opinion) very hard, or impossible. After all, if we were all decisive enough to excise things from the spec when they weren't strictly useful, they probably wouldn't be there in the first place.

Basically, it boils down to this: Figure out exactly what your application does. This is ONE thing. Then, remove everything that doesn't do that. If you can still do that thing, you won, and have a good design. The book goes into greater detail about a lot of things you can do to make your application as smooth for the user as possible, and helps to avoid common pitfalls. All designers should read this book - and all engineers should read it twice.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dan B on December 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have been designing web sites and web applications for many years. I purchased over 100 books on web development and I have to say that "Designing the Obvious" is a breakthough book for web design and application development.

Clearly and precisely, Robert Hoekman Jr., explains the how's and why's of proper web design. The book not only explains the concepts of common sense designs, but why they should be implemented. The reader is given examples of web sites both wrong and right, for comparison.

The book is laid out in several chapters and covers every aspect of design, from simple registration screens, to complex content editing. The techniques represented show a clear method to allow you, the designer, to create the next application that can rival even the best web sites out there.

Robert also introduces you to a set of tools that can assist you in creating the perfect web application. After reading about them, I registered for several of the free features and even upgraded one to the full pay version. (Thanks Robert!)

Don't think this book is just for programmers. This book is also for web designers, whether graphic designers, Flash designers or otherwise. The book is well rounded and teaches many design from many perspectives.

This book is a must for anyone who designs, writes, edits, critiques or reviews web sites.

5 stars is not enough.
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