丁宇 | DING Yu

Notes of "Zen of Palm" - 2 Design Philosophy

Palm sums up its design philosophy in three points:

Among them, the first one is now well known and unnecessary to elaborate. The second one, in common parlance, means Palm OS solutions must be available anywhere, anytime (Windows Mobile is the perfect counterexample). The last one means that every application on the PalmOS should have only one clear focus; one application for only one purpose (this is also the philosophy of UNIX).

Now let's go through the details by doing a quiz.

How can a gorilla learn to fly?

We are not playing Mind Games, so you can't throw the gorilla on a plane. To solve the quiz, we need to talk about the different usage patterns of PCs and handhelds.

Simply speaking, because of the huge differences on capabilities and usage patterns of PCs and handhelds, designing mobile applications by following the conventions for PCs would simply result in an awful product and user experience. This is shown in the following picture.

More can be less

The author of "Zen of Palm" compares the relationships between features and user experiences on both PCs and handhelds.

Feature list vs. user experience

As you can see, the author believes that user experience is proportional to the number of features on PCs, and user experience first increases then decreases when adding features to a handheld.

I personally, however, don’t share the same view with the author on the PCs part. More features tend to bring a worse user experience even on a powerful PC. So the comparison is questionable.

But the idea of, “More is worse”, deserves recognition. Take a website for example, in the process of developing and growing, the overall user experience actually degrades as time goes, even if new features revolved around the core feature. Furthermore, it’s impossible to break the deadlock for designers, by redesigning the Information Architecture (IA) for example, because of the complexity of IA and resistances from various departments. As a result, the website finally becomes a monster that nobody can control.

Then how to solve this? The answer is in the picture:

How can a gorilla learn to fly?

What the picture is trying to say, is you should let the gorilla do whatever it should do if the gorilla is what you have. But if you need an animal that can fly, don’t try to teach your gorilla how to fly, instead, the only thing you should do is to find an eagle.

Some smart people may ask, “How do I know how much difference there is between the new features and the core features?”, or, “How can I decide whether I should put the new features into the existing products, or wrap them into a brand new product?”

No doubt, it’s a matter of degree. The author of “Zen of Palm” names the degree as “Sweet Spot”, and provides some principles about how to find the Sweet Spot. They are both topics I’d like to talk about in the next posts. But remember don’t pin to much hope on it, because it requires a great deal of practice to learn Palm’s way. There will never be an equation that accepts some variables, then tells you where the Sweet Spot is.


  1. jojo @ 2012-09-17 16:45:50 +0800:

    It becomes difficult to read after you change lauguage of your blog into English.why you d like to use English to write blog. Did you wanna share it in international field? I think most readers are still Chinese. but it can improve user's English Reading skill.

  2. dide @ 2012-10-14 04:06:40 +0800:

    I think it is nice to have English posts. Your writing seems to have a nice style in both. Maybe try writing some posts with Chinese infused in English, or English infused in the Chinese. For an English speaker like me, that would be nice.

  3. Felix @ 2012-10-17 10:49:13 +0800:

    @joyo
    Sorry for the late reply! I use English because I want to reach the people all around the globe, to be international is the next big thing I'm pursuing.

    @dide
    Thank you! English writing is indeed different than Chinese, I'm still learning.

  4. jojo @ 2012-11-14 16:13:53 +0800:

    It's not joyo(amazon.cn),but JoJo.

  5. Felix @ 2012-11-14 19:09:32 +0800:

    @jojo
    My fault! Apologize!