At Microsoft I designed computer documentation for a number of years, during the days when printed books always accompanied shrink-wrapped software applications. When I say “designed” most people think of the book cover, but what I did was much more interesting and important than a mere cover. Design included typography and readability, and when there was, like this book, step-by-step instructions, I had to consider the design of the steps in order to make it easy to follow. I think I’m a pretty tough critic of book design generally, and tech doc design specifically.
Having moved from print design to interaction design to UX design over the years, I have used quite a few applications, operating systems, etc. and purchased many books to help shorten the learning curve. I tend to learn best by trying out things, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes as best I can, and then reading books or online help to get to the next level.
The Axure RP Prototyping Cookbook is the perfect book for someone like myself who likes to dive right in and learn on the fly. The tag line or sub-title on this book makes it clear that it isn’t a book for beginners or for someone who is looking for hand-holding: “Over 70 practical recipes to take your wire framing and prototyping skills to the next level using Axure.”
The “recipes” in this book are truly practical and really do help to take you to the next level. Chapters include recipes for prototyping and enchanted prototyping. dealing with specs, wire framing, e-commerce, using Axure in teams, a chapter on adaptive and responsive web design prototyping for mobile, and what they refer to as “miscellaneous explorations.”
For all recipes in this book, whenever code is required, the code is made available for copy and paste.
In each chapter, recipes are broken down by title, followed by a brief explanation of what the recipe is about, and what it’s trying to achieve. The second section of the recipe is “Getting Ready” which details, briefly, what you will need, if anything, to complete the steps. This is then followed by a “How to do it…” section which is the actual list of steps. Finally, the last section of the recipe is called “How it works…” which describes what you are able to do with your recipe. Throughout the book there are short sections of warnings or notes, and tips and tricks. Screens which show Axure dialogs, options, and menus are clear and easy to follow. Most screen are taken from the Mac UI, but having used both the Mac and Windows versions of Axure, I see very little difference between the two, so Windows user should have no problem following these screens.
As critical as I am about doc design, I’m impressed by the clean design and I think it works very well with the authors content, as if the author and designer actually collaborated rather than the author just handing over the content and telling the designer to “work your magic.” I can’t say for sure if this is the case, but it’s rare to see a tech doc as useful and usable as this one is, without that collaboration.
One thing I’m not entirely impressed with is the index. To me, a tech doc without a comprehensive index is like a browser without a search box. The index for Axure RP Prototyping Cookbook is about average — not comprehensive, but OK. Indexing of books seems to be either a lost art or publishers just don’t want to pay indexers to create them. When I need to find something fast, I go to the index, not the table of contents. This index was not all that helpful. Even though indexes physically fall at the end of a book, they shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought. I realize that it’s possible to search an e-book, but that’s not quite the same.
Overall, I really like this book and would recommend it to anyone who is looking to up their skill level in Axure. The sections on responsive websites and prototyping for mobile, are alone worth the price of admission.
Thanks to Packt Publishing for allowing me to review this pre-release e-book.