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Ergonomic Product Categories > Keyboards > Contoured Keyboards          
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Contoured (3-Dimensional) Keyboards

What are Contoured (3-Dimensional) Keyboards?

A Contoured or 3-Dimensional Keyboard is a visually distinct type of keyboard where the plane of the keys is contoured or curved.  This results in keys which are not only at different heights, but different angles to allow for variance in the key travel movement vectors during typing.  It also allows the user to avoid a position of full extension while typing, substantially increasing the number of keys that can be reached by simply extending and contracting the fingers.  These keyboards typically feature two distinct 'key bowls' or depressions which the fingers fall into, with some additional thumb keys on top of the housing. 

What are the Ergonomic Benefits of a Contoured (3-Dimensional) Keyboard?

The first ergonomic benefit is derived from the key bowls which by allowing the fingers to be curled (and not in full extension) reduce Wrist Extension.  Through the addition of separation to the keybowls and the 3-dimensional layout on the keycaps, this type of keyboard can be used according to the personal Anthropometrics of the individual.  Most users can find an appropriate position for the hands and forearms to avoid the requirement to twist the wrist when using the keyboard, eliminating any possibility of Ulnar Deviation.  Now a theoretical line formed by the elbow, forearm, through the wrist and the middle finger of the user can be perpendicular to the plane of the keyboard without any twisting at the wrist, movement at the elbow, or rotation at the shoulder joint.

The second ergonomic benefit arises from the 'thumbs up' posture which arises from the recessed key bowls which reduces Pronation of the hands while typing.

The third ergonomic benefit arises from the common design requirement that contoured, 3-dimensional keyboards are relatively symmetrical, and as such lack a discrete numeric keypad (typically opting for an embedded numeric keypad instead).  This helps to address the risk factor of Overextension for the mouse.

What are Potential Concerns when Considering a Contoured (3-Dimensional) Keyboard?

Some non-height adjustable Articulating Arms may not lower sufficiently to accommodate the vertical design of a Contoured (3-Dimensional) Keyboard. 

There is also a significant learning curve associated with learning to use a Contoured (3-Dimensional) Keyboard.  For most users, it can take a couple of days to get up to a reasonable level of proficiency with the new layout, as the 'reach' for keys from the home row is significant reduced (resulting in overshooting of keys during the adjustment period).  However, most users will get to close to their old performance level within 2-3 weeks of switching to this type of keyboard, and will experience a 10-20% increase in speed once fully acclimated.

Contoured (3-Dimensional) Keyboards are also not compatible with all other ergonomic devices.  For example, they do not work with Central Pointing Devices and can be a consideration for certain types of Writing Surfaces.

For What Types of Tasks / Users are Contoured (3-Dimensional) Keyboards Suitable? 

Typically this type of keyboard is only suitable for individuals who are touch typists, and spend at least an hour a day during primarily keyboard input.  Ideal candidates include (but are not limited to) medical/legal transcriptionists, programmers, writers/bloggers, and anyone who enters a significant amount of text while at the computer.  While touch typists will experience gains in their typing speed with this keyboard, hunt-and-peck typists who do not have at least some degree of touch typing will be unable to use these types of keyboards as it is difficult to see the keycap tops while keyboarding.

The increased tactile feedback afforded by differentiated vectors for each keyswitch will greatly speed the learning curve towards becoming a touch typist.

What Physical Injuries or Conditions Typically Benefit from Contoured (3-Dimensional) Keyboards?

Contoured (3-Dimensional) Keyboards can be of benefit to a wide variety of users including individuals with wrist conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Guyon's Canal Syndrome.  Due to their tented design, they also typically benefit individuals with Lateral Epicondylitis and Medial Epicondylitis.  As they also reduce the amount of movement to use the mouse, they are of potential benefit to individuals with Rotator Cuff, Bursitis and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome.



Last edited December 9th, 2013

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