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Designing the Obvious: A Common Sense Approach to Web Application Design Paperback – Oct 12 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: New Riders; 1 edition (Oct. 12 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 032145345X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321453457
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.1 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,075,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa83ef33c) out of 5 stars 29 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa799a75c) out of 5 stars One of the best and most usable titles on User Experience Design Feb. 25 2007
By Manny Hernandez - Published on
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.

One of the reasons why his proposal resonated so much with me is because throughout the book, Hoekman introduces concepts that are not familiar in the Web space, borrowing them from long-established best practices in manufacturing (where I worked the first four years of my professional life), such as:

-Kaizen: improving things constantly, in little tiny ways that add up to gigantic results.

-Poka-Yoke: software "devices" meant to prevent user errors from occurring.

-Pareto (80/20 rule): Good, clean Web application design means that 80 percent of an application's usefulness comes from 20 percent of its features.

For longtime professionals and newcomers into the field of User Experience Design, Hoekman's book has turned into an absolute must read.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa799a7b0) out of 5 stars Advice so obvious you never would have thought of it May 29 2007
By Eric D. Austrew - Published on
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", ([...]) once again I found that the example at the end of the chapter gave greater practical insight into how to actually select features to remove.

I found the chapter titled "Support the User's Mental Model" to be the most valuable in the book. As someone who is more often on the project management than the implementation side of web applications, I have often had an engineer propose a feature or refinement that makes perfect logical sense, but for some reason doesn't feel right. After reading this chapter, all of those vague feelings snapped into focus for me. Engineers are so deeply immersed in how the application works, and the possibilities that are available, that they sometimes want to structure interactions in ways that reflect the logic of the code rather than the logic of the activity. Previously I had been attributing most of these errors to the desire to provide more options to the user. Being able to distinguish between the two should help me in approaching these proposals better in the future.

The chapters on helping first time visitors become intermediate users quickly and on handling errors were also valuable, mostly because they focused on the introductory experience. There are dozens of books on design and interactions, but I have yet to see one that focuses exclusively on the crucial first visit of a user to a new site. Since this is where most of our products either succeed or fail, it's great to get some practical advice on how to gently guide a neophyte while still preserving the power a more experienced user will demand. Once again the blow by blow examples that tackle specific interaction problems and solve them are worth their weight in gold.

The rest of the book emphasizes the value of uniformity and novelty, and seemed less useful to me. It's possible that at my intermediate level of knowledge, those were the obvious things I HAVE thought of!

I only had one quibble with the book. Hoekman includes lots and lots of references to web sites and online articles that could be helpful, but each one is buried in the text. A page at the back that simply listed each of these sites would have been very helpful. Or better yet, list them on the author's web site and keep them up to date! What better way to promote yourself as an author long after the original book is dogeared and falling apart?

But this book is an invaluable resource, and one I expect will still be on my shelf long after all the sites it references have gone offline.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa799abe8) out of 5 stars Great philosophy, questionable implementation Jan. 22 2007
By Alex Cox - Published on
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa799afa8) out of 5 stars Simply Amazing Dec 6 2006
By Dan B - Published on
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By RJD - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a UI designer I enjoyed the book. It was clearly written with many useful nuggets of wisdom for those of us building web apps. Typically books like this deal with informational websites or ecommerce, this one covers the missing gap. While most of the examples were fairly light-weight web apps, the foundations covered in this book apply across the board. Usually I skip around in these books since the writing is so dry. Robert has written this one in a conversational tone and I read it cover to cover. Recommended.