How-To Geek


Which Keyboard Layout Is Faster Than The QWERTY Configuration?

Answer: Dvorak

Although we live in a modern age of advanced electronics and lightening fast computers the most basic of interfaces, the humble keyboard, dates back to the 1860s. The first mechanical typewriter patent was filed in 1867 by Christopher Latham Sholes. The first type writer had two critical flaws. The first: if two keys in close physical proximity were struck rapidly by a quick typist the machine would jam up. Second: the current line of type was hidden by paper carriage so jams and errors could only be discovered by either raising the carriage or happening upon the error after an entire line of text had been typed. Sholes experimented with various letter combinations to resolve the jamming problem. By 1973 Sholes had refined the keyboard layout to something that would be recognizable, albeit slightly jumbled, to a modern typist. In 1878 he pitched his invention to the Remington and Sons. They accepted the design and made a few minor adjustments which included shuffling a few keys into what we now recognize as the modern QWERTY keyboard and introducing lower and uppercase letters accessible by a shift key. Although Sholes and Remington has solved the problem of jamming keys, a strictly mechanical problem, they did it in a most impractical of ways. They slowed down typists by arranging the keys in such a fashion as to keep them from typing too rapidly.

Some 60 years later, in the 1930s, another keyboard designer came along. Dr. August Dvorak and his brother-inlaw Dr. William Dealey were dismayed with the poor design of the QWERTY keyboard layout. They had studied the QWERTY keyboard and compiled a list of its shortcomings. They noted that many letter combinations required awkward motions, were typed with the same finger, required jumping over the home row, and often left one hand idle while one did all the work for the combinations. In addition 30% of the typing was done on the lower row and 52% was done on the upper row, which means a whopping 82% of key strokes involved moving away from the home row and unnecessarily stressing the hands while slowing the typist down.

To alleviate these problems the Dvorak keyboard adheres to a set of design principles that include: arrangement of letters to maximize alternating use of hands, the most common letters and diagraphs (letter pairs representing a phonetic unit) are the easiest to type–70% of the keystrokes on a DVORAK keyboard are on the home row as oppose to the 18% on a QWERTY keyboard–the least common letters are on the bottom row, and finally common typing patterns flow from the outer edge to the center of the keyboard. Why from the outer edge to the center? Tap your fingers on the closest surface. The super majority of people naturally tap their fingers from little finger to index finger, Dvorak and his brother were sticklers for maximizing efficiency and they tried to incorporate every strain-reducing and speed-increasing trick into their keyboard layout. The brothers filed a patent for the DVORAK keyboard in 1936.

Despite the increase in speed, the decrease in stress injuries, and the overall increase in efficiency the DVORAK keyboard failed to catch on for a variety of reasons. Dvorak and his brother introduced their keyboard layout during the Great Depression when businesses could ill afford to overhaul their type writer inventories, World War II was right around the corner and most factories were retooled for the war effort (including type writer factories), and an over all resistance to adoption by typists already fluent in the use of the QWERTY keyboard. At this point in the Dvorak’s history the layout is widely regarded as an all around better option but, sadly, few want to go through the effort of learning a new way of typing.

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