Dvorak Keyboard Layout

In high school, I had learned to touch-type, and as an avid computer user, I got pretty good at typing fast. Soon after I started my first job out of school, a co-worker described to me how the standard QWERTY layout was specifically designed to slow down the typist, while the Dvorak layout was optimized for speed. It became a challenge between us to learn the Dvorak layout.

Our workstations were XWindows-based, and I wrote a program to re-map the keyboard. (Soon, I discovered that a built-in program, with the right configuration file, achieved the same effect far more easily.)

It took me about a month to learn the new layout. Every morning, I would map the keyboard to Dvorak, and type by consciously thinking about the fingering for each letter. My typing was slow and error-prone. To keep myself from getting completely stuck, I actually put stickers on the keys for the Dvorak layout. After a period of time, I would grow frustrated and switch back to the QWERTY layout. But, that period of time grew longer as the weeks went by. Eventually, I could go the whole day in Dvorak layout. I also found myself typing significantly faster. Today, I can type with both layouts, but find Dvorak faster and more comfortable.

I was fortunate that the new operating systems continued to support alternative keyboard layouts, so I was never far from a Dvorak keyboard.

I later discovered two additional benefits of the Dvorak layout.

  • It reduces repetitive stress injury by requiring less motion from the typist
  • It has (slight) security and privacy benefits: people can't tell what I am typing by watching my fingers. I read an article in CIO magazine saying Berkeley researchers can piece together what you are typing from the sound of your keyboard, but I doubt their method will work on me.

While learning Dvorak, I might have benefited from the Optimus Maximus keyboard. Cool idea, but why is it completely flat? Even my old Commodore 64 keyboard was sculptured for easier typing:

Apple introduced the hinged Adjustable Keyboard allowing a more natural typing posture. Microsoft introduced its Natural Keyboard for the same reason.

Why are modern keyboards returning to the flat style? It is, I believe, the old mistake of allowing function to follow form.

Tags: Design

Updated at: 28 August 2007 12:08 AM

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