Standard Keyboards are Designed to Slow You Down
By Kyle Kurpinski
It’s no secret that you will probably spend a significant chunk of your lifetime prodding at a keyboard, but have you ever considered why keyboards are designed the way they are? Logic would dictate that the layout of the keys should increase typing efficiency and maximize your output. Reality, however, is not always logical, and the vast majority of modern keyboards are actually designed to make you type slower.
The basic QWERTY layout – the default keyboard layout you’re probably using right now – is a remnant of the very first typewriters. As a kid I used to play with my mother’s typewriter and I would frequently jam the machine by pressing too many keys at once. The same thing could happen if a proficient typist hit two or more keys in rapid succession. Due to the mechanical nature of the typebars, jams were increasingly likely with faster typing speeds. The QWERTY layout (named for the six letters at the left side of the top row) was specifically designed to space out the most common letter combinations, thereby reducing jams by stunting the user’s output. By the time newer devices made typebars obsolete, QWERTY had already cemented itself as the primary standard layout. So if you’re using this archaic configuration today (which I admit, I am), you’re actually making yourself less efficient and potentially increasing your risk of a repetitive strain injury like carpal tunnel. Fortunately, there are other options available.
In 1963, Dr. Augustus Dvorak and his brother-in-law patented the (you guessed it) “Dvorak Simplified Keyboard,” which is one of the more commonly used keyboard alternatives. And no, it’s not just for engineers or computer scientists (or at least, it shouldn’t be). Take a look at the Dvorak layout below and compare it to your QWERTY keys. Note how many of the most common letters in the English language – T, N, S, vowels, etc. – are located in the “home row” where your fingers normally rest. This allows you to type the majority of letters with minimal hand movement. Less common letters like Q, X, and Z reside in the bottom row where keys are the most difficult to reach. On a Dvorak keyboard, approximately 70% of the keystrokes will occur in the home row compared to only 32% on a QWERTY layout.
Other alternative configurations are also available, including one-handed keyboards for people who like to type and use a mouse (or other peripheral) simultaneously, but Dvorak is probably the place to start if you’re looking for a quick way to increase your word-processing efficiency. Yes, it will take some vigilance to re-learn how to type on a completely different layout, but the results could very well be worth it. Besides, doesn’t it feel a little funny to willingly use a device designed to handicap you?
If you do decide to make the switch, the software to run Dvorak is already included with all major operating systems and can typically be activated with a with a simple change of preferences. You won’t even need to buy a new keyboard – Dvorak decal sets are available online (usually for a couple bucks) or if you’re ready to scrap QWERTY altogether you can manually remove and rearrange the keys yourself.
Image: josue salazar