丁宇 | DING Yu

Notes of "Zen of Palm" - 3 Design Practice (I)

After talking about Palm’s design philosophy, now we look at how they design in practice. As always, let’s start from doing a quiz.

How do you fit a mountain in a teacup

As you can see, this quiz keeps up the same idea as the last one. They all describe the relationship between the focus and the features of an application. From the author’s point of view, product designers who believe “More is better” are not able to work out the quiz. In the opposite, “Less is better”, is the right way that helps you concentrate on the most important things. From this angle, “Zen of Palm” starts to talk about the methodologies for creating great products.

A balance of features

Palm thinks the balance of qualities is essential for successful products. This includes the pocket size of handhelds, fast response, easy to use, worry-free battery life and seamless connection with PCs.

Before Palm handhelds, there were some products that excel in one or two features listed above, but their other features were not good enough. Apple Newton, for example, became famous by its user friendliness, but failed to win the market because of its size, price and battery life. So the balance is very important.

User benefit

When selling PCs, merchants tend to list the specs that a PC has, but what is the benefit the spec brings? A PCs’ usefulness can not be directly told by its spec.

Palm believes the reason for its success comes from the benefits of the technologies brought to the users, and not the technologies themselves. As shown in the following picture:

User needs determine technical attributes

As of this writing, I begin to think about Apple, because Steve Jobs is a master of practicing this art. Let me cite a few examples:

Nirvana: The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot is the equilibrium of features and user experience. If your product is at the Sweet Spot, adding or removing any feature will result in a worse an overall user experience. Please note that it’s “overall user experience”, because although adding a specific feature may bring better user experience to the product from the specific point of view, it may also decrease the user experience from other features. If the decrease is bigger than the increase, the overall user experience will go down. As shown in the picture below:

Different views on new features

For example, Pocket Tunes was a very popular music player on PalmOS. With the iteration of new versions and as new functionalities were added, Pocket Tunes became more and more cumbersome. As a result, many users gave up using new versions, and went back to the old but simple versions.


  1. kuro @ 2012-10-14 04:08:53 +0800:

    Great post! I'm wondering though, do you still update 1Q84.fm? It seems down right now, and I love the site.

  2. Felix @ 2012-10-17 10:52:19 +0800:

    @kuro
    1Q84.fm had been shut down by my previous employer. I'm glad you love it though! I'm working on something even better, just keep coming back.