Presentation and Structure
The book is highly professional, very well presented with a clear structure and layout, a good table of contents and a good index.
The format of the 70 “recipes” in the book take the form of (a) “Getting Ready” (like getting your ingredient for your dish ready), (b) “How to do it” (like cooking your dish) (c) “How it works” (more about that later).
Interspersed within the recipes are “Warnings or important notes” and “Tips and tricks”.
The “Getting Ready” stages are simple and work well.
The “How to do it” stages are also very competent with clear instructions and formatting. I found many of the recipes quite text heavy and I would prefer to have seen more illustrations. This is not so much because this would significantly improve the chances of getting the right ‘dish’ at the end; rather I think it would have made the text a bit more engaging, attractive and easier to read.
The “How it works” stages were a key focus for me. I was hoping (but not expecting) that these would contain explanations of the key/fundamental concepts that underpin the functionality, and which are generic in nature. This is something I focus on in my Axure courses because I believe that deep conceptual understanding promotes more generic, flexible and transferrable learning of the tool.
This book does not attempt to teach such understanding. Rather, I found the “How it works” stages to be summarised descriptions, or an overview, of the “How to do it” stages. This is understandable as the book clearly promotes itself as a “Cookbook”. It’s also my experience that teaching deep conceptual understanding is notoriously difficult, particularly outside a class room setting. I also want to stress here that the summaries in the “How it works” stages do add some value and constitute good practice in this type of writing.
The “Warnings or important notes” were a valuable addition — they not only contained useful information they also helped ‘break’ up the long lists of instructions so that there was more variety for the reader, that is they also help reader engagement.
I found relative few “Tips and tricks”; and the ones I did find didn’t add as much value as I was hoping. Again, this is an area of particular interest for me, as I teach a lot of ‘insider power tricks’ on my Axure courses that can significantly speed up real Axure work. These have been honed over years of real hard-core Axure use on large scale projects. So the “Tips and Tricks” in this book did not really equate to the “Tips and Tricks” that I teach; nevertheless the book is better with them than without them.
About the author of the book
John Henry’s profile in the book is engaging but I was surprised to find no mention of any user experience design (UXD) or Axure work. This doesn’t necessarily imply that he is not accomplished in these fields (he clearly has considerable Axure knowledge) but I would like to have known about his ‘real world’ UXD and Axure experience.
The story here is similar with the book’s editorial team. Of the five development reviewer’s cited in the book, just one mentions any Axure expertise (a skilled Axure user who I originally trained on Axure).
This could be misleading to readers because as the lack of ostensible credibility in the editorial team is not in keeping with the credibility of the book itself.
So how useful is this book?
You’ll probably have concluded by now that I naturally compare and relate any Axure book to my Axure training materials and my philosophy on training.
With that said, my main criticism of this book is not with this book in particular; it’s more of a criticism of all cookbooks (outside the culinary field). It’s also a problem with ‘cookbook’ training courses or videos where delegates are encouraged to follow what the trainer does. The narrative of a culinary cookbook is that you get your ingredients together, follow the instructions and end up with a nice dish at the end, like a great bowl of tomato soup. This idea works very well and has been successfully over thousands of years: but this is mainly because you don’t need to know what you are doing, how or why it tastes so good at the end or why putting 20% more salt in it might end in failure. The problem is that this narrative has limited application to a design tool because the ‘dish’ you want to produce in UXD is always novel/unique, so there can never be a recipe for it. So you do need to know (to some extent) what you are doing, how and why things work the way they do and why some things have failed.
It’s true that, like all such cookbooks, this text can help you by explaining how to model similar ‘parts’ of your design with Axure, and this may well be useful so long as you can work out how to put these parts together in the way you need. Of course, the difficultly in doing this will depend on the complexity of the design, how many of the parts that you need are covered in the cookbook and the skill of the user. It’s also true that using this book will result in some conceptual understanding of how Axure works that is generic, flexible and easily transferable in nature. However, no cookbook can ever achieve the deep conceptual, flexible understanding that is possible with a good training course. In summary, like any cookbook, this book can only go so far in helping you with real Axure/UXD work.
However, this book doesn’t claim to be anything else than a good cookbook and doesn’t claim to replace training courses. So Axure RP Prototyping Cookbook does what it says on the tin and it does it very well! It covers virtually all areas of Axure, the recipes (design patterns) are well chosen and it’s easy to understand.
In summary, whilst this is not the type of thing I would personally use, and it doesn’t have too much in common with the content or philosophy of my Axure training courses, I can imagine that novices will find it valuable on their road to mastering Axure, particularly those who like cookbooks and are comfortable with rote learning techniques. I can also imagine this book having a place as a kind of ‘super reference’ manual that could be used after deeper learning has been gained on a training course, to later look up how instrumental features of Axure are operated. It also can’t go without saying that at just £22.78 for the eBook, you are not risking too much in buying it.
The “Axure RP Prototyping Cookbook” (2014) by John Henry Krahenbuhl is available at Packt Publishing.
About the author
Dr. Ritch Macefield (@Ax_Stream on Twitter) holds a BA in Creative Design, an MSc in IT/Computing and a PhD in HCI. He is an acknowledged expert in Axure having led Axure projects for clients like Thomson-Reuters, Dell computers and Vodafone. He was a panel speaker at Axure World 2012, contributed to the book “Axure RP 6 Prototyping Essentials” and founded the Axure RP Pro LinkedIn Group.
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