REVIEW - Designing the Obvious - A Common Sense Approach to Web Application Design


Designing the Obvious

A Common Sense Approach to Web Application Design


Robert Hoekman Jr.


Pearson Education (2002)




Simon Sebright


April 2007



The first thing that grabs one about this book is the cover. It looks like a search option on a web page, but cut down the minimum. The subtitle is "A common sense approach to web application design". It is the result of the author's experiences in working with web applications, that is web sites which actually allow you to do something, as opposed to view people's intimate details or see pictures of their dogs.

The tone of the book is pretty informal and straightforward. It largely boils down to relatively few concepts. At the end of the day, only put in what is absolutely necessary, the idea being that this simplicity is best for the users. They don't want bells and whistles confusing them or getting in the way.

There are several examples of good and bad websites, some from the author's own endeavours, along with little stories about how features got simplified.

As someone getting into web application development, I found the overall message very informative and inspiring. He advocates a lot of agile-like techniques, and encourages informal processes over documentation. The best piece of advice I found was to cut down the first delivery of a system to bare essentials. Throw away all the other suggestions and then see what users really want as extra features when they use the system.

Over all I would recommend the book as an empowering mechanism for anyone getting into web application development. I am sure the messages could have been delivered in far fewer pages, but it's an easy read. One criticism - there is no technical information. For example, he mentions a "trick" using divs to implement the expand inline pattern, but doesn't give any help or references about how to do that. Excellent index.

Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.

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