Axure specification templates explored

If you have read my other posts on generating specifications from Axure and the benefits of doing so, then you may want to delve into the world of customising spec templates and the various configurations options.

I am a strong believe in letting the application (in this case ‘Axure’) doing the laborious work for you and therefore increasing efficiency / productivity of your time. Creating a clean and professional looking template for Axure to work with goes a long way to removing the frustrations of writing specifications and allows the BA to focus on the analysis tasks at hand, rather than the idiosyncrasies of MS Word (an all too common problem!).

Most organisations have a standard word template or at least documents that have a consistent style that a template can be derived from, so finding one of these should be your first port of call. Once you have located one of these we shall jump right into the customising your template to fit Axure.

Hit ‘F6’ or click the generate specification button on the toolbar image to bring up the specification configuration options.

The bottom tab ‘Word Template’ allows you select a word template to import or edit the current template and should look like the following.

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This dialogue contains the standard word heading and table styles which Axure uses in its template. To start with a pre-existing word template as your base template, select ‘Import’ and locate your .dot or .dotx word template mentioned earlier. This will import the styles and allow you to edit them to fit Axure.

Axure also has some nice professional looking templates you can use a base as well by selecting ‘Import Axure Template’. I would suggest you edit these to suit your purpose/client rather than using verbatim to give a more professional fit.

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Axure has several clean-looking templates to select from.

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The imported Axure templates give some great examples of how word templates can be used to generate great looking specifications, as demonstrated by the table style above.

Editing your base template

Once you have imported your template, either your company template or an imported Axure one, it pays to edit the styles to better fit the needs of your project and/or client.

To do this, select ‘Edit’ from the ‘Word Template' tab of the specification configuration window shown above. This will open the word template and allow you to edit the relevant styles.

Once the word document is open, create some text to identify all of the Axure styles, apply the styles to each line and update them to how I want them to look. I shall demonstrate with screen shots below.

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Here i have typed out Heading 1, 2 etc and them applied the style to the relevant text to see how they look. To display the style window like above in Word 2007 simply click the ‘expand’ button on the bottom right hand corner of the ‘quick style’ panel, as shown below (button highlighted in orange).

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Now all the styles are visible, we can apply changes and them save them back into the styles for the template, which is read by Axure.

How do we do this? Lets see!

Lets take ‘AxureHeading’ for an example. I want to make this more prominent by giving it a horizontal line underneath and making it much larger.

Select the text for ‘Heading 1’ and click ‘Manage Styles’, a small button on the bottom of the ‘Styles’ panel, shown below.

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Then ensuring ‘AxureHeading1’ is selected again, choose the ‘Modify’ option on the style panel, as shown below.

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Now all the available options for that style are shown and here you can change whichever formatting option of the heading that is required. For the horizontal line under the heading, select ‘Format’ –> ‘Border’

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and make sure the bottom border is applied to the paragraph, as shown below.

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Now once the heading style is saved and applied the ‘Heading 1’ text on our template, it should look something like the following (or should apply whatever other formatting you applied to the template).

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This process should be repeated for each Axure style and once you are happy with all your styles, save the template and return to ‘Axure’ to generated a spec and see how your new template looks.

Quick pointer: Make sure you delete the ‘Heading 1, 2 etc’ text that we put in the template above before you save. If you forget to do this the text will end up in all of your specifications and look out of place!

Table styles – the sometimes-tricky part!

If you have ever worked with Word table styles before you will know how fiddly they can be sometimes and other times it just seems to work as it should. I’m by no means an expert on the subject but I can at least run through updating a table style with some standard formatting for use in your Axure specifications.

As before, edit the specification by selecting ‘Edit’ from the ‘Word Template’ tab of the specification configuration options.

Create a small table to see your table style in action.

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Now in Word 2007, there is a dedicated table ‘design’ ribbon which I’ll be basing it off, but if I have time ill go back and document how it looks in 2003.

Select the table and the ‘Design;’ ribbon should appear at the end of the ribbon.

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The currently used table style is selected in the table style pane; right click it and choose ‘Modify Table Style’. This will bring up a similar window the style editor in the previous step, but with some formatting options relevant to tables (no surprises there!).

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Have a play around with various formatting options in the style editor and be sure to apply different styles to the different parts of a table using the ‘Apply Formatting To’ dropdown. This allows styles to be applied to headers, alternate rows and columns and can make your tables look very smart.

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I normally give the table header a coloured shade, bold/centred text and then give the ‘even banded rows’ a grey-ish fill to make them a bit more readable.

Play around with these until you have the look your after and then save the template again. Generate a new specification to see how it looks with your content and repeat as necessary.

Headers, Footers and Common Elements

Adding automated information to the headers and footers is another good way of adding professionalism and useful context to your specifications. Using Word features like Fields and Quick parks can add dynamic content right into the document without any editing.

Without going into too much detail about use of fields in Word and what not, I'll just quickly go through some things I add to my documentation templates.

Start by editing the header/footer by double clicking where the header/footer lies. This opens up the header/footer editing pane.

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In the above screen I have page number and total page number fields, the document title field and the date field. Ill quickly go over how to add the page number / total page number into the footer as an example.

Type the word ‘Page’ into the footer control and then select ‘Insert Quick Parts –> Fields’

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From the fields window, select the ‘Page’ field and choose the number formatting.

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That should input the current page number into the footer. Then type the word ‘of’ after it so nit looks like the following.

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Then click the ‘Insert Quick Parts –> Fields’ option and select the ‘NumPages’ field and number formatting again.

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and it should look like this.

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That explains the process of adding page numbers, and its beyond the scope of this post to detail all the useful word tricks and fields, but I might follow up with a more advanced / detailed post on the matter.

Refine and Perfect!

I’ve shown you to how to customise and refine your Axure template to your needs, the next step is to refine and customise the template to your needs as many times as is required.

Once you have a solid base template to work from, it wont take you much to modify it to suit project per project or client per client.

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