Book Review: Prototyping Essentials with Axure
Published: July 7, 2014
Publisher: Packt Publishing
Publication date: May 2014
Format: Paperback; 1 x 7.4 x 9.1 inches; 522 pages
List price: $54.99
In Prototyping Essentials with Axure, the authors, Ezra Schwartz and Elizabeth Srail, provide comprehensive information about using Axure to prototype user interfaces.
As for all of my book reviews, I began by looking at the pedigree of the book’s authors and other contributors. Schwartz is a heavyweight UX professional and strategist, as well as a leading figure in the Axure community. He wrote the first-ever book on Axure and founded AxureWorld.org—an excellent, not-for-profit resource for the Axure community. I am less familiar with Srail’s work, but what I do know leads me to believe that she is also an accomplished UX professional and Axure expert.
Appendix A: “Practitioners’ Corner” boasts contributions from Axure experts around the world, who will be familiar to many in the Axure community—the majority of whom I know personally. I contributed to “Practitioners’ Corner” myself, but have no financial stake in this book; and, other than my own contribution, I had no idea what would be in the book. This review covers only the work of Schwartz, Srail, and the other contributors.
As the CEO of Ax-Stream, Axure’s approved training and consulting partner for Europe, I’ll state up front that my opinion about any instructional book on Axure is inevitably from the perspective of how the book compares with, and might complement, Ax-Stream’s Axure training courses. Potential Axure users may be interested in the relationship and differences between these two types of resources for learning Axure—other than the obvious one of cost.
In addition to the paperback book, an ebook is available for about $33. I was pleased to find that the overall format of this book is identical to that of Schwartz’s first book about Axure, Axure RP 6 Prototyping Essentials. It is well structured, beautifully presented, and has a quasi-conversational style, making it engaging and easy to read. I often found myself smiling at the anecdotes that Schwartz and Srail generously provide. Like its predecessor, this book is extremely comprehensive, while avoiding the pitfall of attempting to provide exhaustive coverage of every aspect of Axure in blow-by-blow detail.
Most importantly, this book is very evidently underpinned by the authors’ years of practical expertise, which they’ve gained using Axure in lead roles, on real design projects, working in large organizations. They consistently place the practicalities of prototyping with Axure within the wider context of UX design and the way real enterprise IT systems are—or should be!—developed.
For example, Schwartz and Srail explain how to integrate use-case modeling and flow diagramming into the Axure prototyping process. (Axure supports use-case and flow diagrams well and has excellent features for referring to page layouts in them.) They even touch on the relationship between Axure prototyping and agile development methods, which was of particular interest to me because this is a growing area of consulting for us at Ax-Stream.
The Book’s Chapters
Prototyping Essentials with Axure includes the following chapters:
- Chapter 1: Prototyping Fundamentals
- Chapter 2: Axure Basics—the User Interface
- Chapter 3: Prototype Construction Basics
- Chapter 4: Creating Basic Interactions
- Chapter 5: Advanced Interactions
- Chapter 6: Widget Libraries
- Chapter 7: Managing Prototype Change
- Chapter 8: UI Specifications
- Chapter 9: Collaboration
- Appendix A: Practitioners’ Corner
The authors kick off Chapter 1 with a general discussion of UX design and prototyping that is both contemporary and unique. This is a good read and, in itself, adds lots of value for the UX community. However, it is not a direct update of Chapter 1 in Schwartz’s first book, Axure RP 6 Prototyping Essentials. I’m a big fan of that work, and my advice to anyone entering the field of user experience—as well as to many more experienced UX professionals—is that you would do well to read Chapter 1 in both books!
Chapter 2 begins the practical work of learning Axure by orienting the reader within the overall structure of the Axure workspace. Because the book covers the breadth and depth of the Axure environment, this gives the learner a good framework for understanding the software. This is exactly how the practical work in Ax-Stream’s Axure training courses begins, and I believe that this approach provides an optimal introduction to using the software. To me, this seems the obvious way to start, but the authors of many other instructional books have chosen to completely ignore some aspects of an application’s user interface at the beginning, so maybe it’s not so obvious!
The remaining chapters take the reader through all key aspects of using Axure, with each chapter building well on the learner’s previous knowledge as the learning experience progresses. A single case study runs throughout the book—another thing I’m a big fan of in instructional books. It’s a technique that I’ve used in my own books and papers, and one that we also use for all of Ax-Stream’s Axure training courses. Again, this seems like such an obvious approach to me. It helps to keep the learner oriented and build on previous learning. Books that use lots of different case studies often become disjointed and difficult to follow, in my experience. Given my viewpoint on this, I have a minor criticism of Schwartz and Srail on this point: they do occasionally use examples that are not part of the primary case study, when it seems that case study would have been capable of supporting these examples, too. However, all of their examples work well, so this does not detract from the overall cohesion of the learning experience.
The book concludes with the “Practitioners’ Corner”—an excellent resource that strongly reflects Schwartz and Srail’s practice-based orientation. This Appendix provides additional resources for the Axure practitioner—such as advice on debugging interactions—and contains detailed advice from seven battle-hardened Axure gurus on how to optimally address common issues in Axure.
Throughout the book’s chapters, there are numerous instances of “Warnings or important notes” and “Tips and tricks.” These vary in usefulness from nice-to-know information to killer advice from Axure gurus, and on the whole, they add a lot of value—not least because, in keeping with a key ethos of the book, these have originated from hard-learned lessons on real Axure projects, and they can save you hours of time.
The book also explores some of the concepts and reasoning behind its instructions and why the authors have done things the way they have. No book can compete with a face-to-face training course run by an experienced teacher who is a subject-matter expert on Axure, because no book can flexibly address the needs of individual learners and test that they’ve actually achieved deep learning. However, Schwartz and Srail’s book stacks up pretty well in this regard. This is something that sets a good instructional book apart from an average one.
Since the time of the book’s publication, Axure version 7 has evolved to include several minor enhancements. Therefore, some of the illustrations in the book are slightly out of date—and, of course, the book does not cover these enhancements. Because Axure constantly adds new features, these sorts of inconsistencies are inevitable and are likely to increase. However, the additions are pretty obvious and do not cause any problems for the learner. The instructions in the book remain 100% valid.
My final compliment for this book comes in the form of a criticism! The book is called Prototyping Essentials with Axure. My issue is with the word Essentials. Reading this book definitely won’t make you an Axure guru. You can achieve that level of expertise only through extensive and wide-ranging practical experience using Axure and pushing it to its breaking point on a regular basis. But this book can certainly take you well past the Essentials! Indeed, I’m sure that it will take many UX professionals a long way down the road to mastering Axure, and many of them will keep this book in their rucksack throughout that journey. So I certainly recommend this book to any UX professional who favors learning how to use applications from instructional books.
The people who take Ax-Stream’s Axure training courses appreciate our focus on teaching the core concepts of practical prototyping with Axure. At the end of our courses, many of them ask whether we have a reference manual to which they can refer as Axure’s features evolve. We used to tell them that there was no need for such a manual because we already had Axure RP 6 Prototyping Essentials. Of course, we’ll now be recommending Prototyping Essentials with Axure as the primary support book for our core Axure courses. Why will we be doing this? Because this book lives up to my belief in the unique value of learning from people who have walked the walk. Quite simply, it’s the best all-round book on Axure to date.