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Ergonomic Product Categories > Keyboards > Dvorak Keyboards          
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Keyboards - Dvorak Layout

Dvorak Keyboard LayoutWhat is the Dvorak Layout?

Dvorak refers to an alternate keyboard layout patented by Dr. August Dvorak in 1932 which is generally regarded to be more efficient than the standard QWERTY layout for alpha input (i.e. A to Z). In this layout, the letters are rearranged on the keyboard in order to place the highest frequency keys on the home row, with lower frequency keys on the other rows.  Over twice as many of the most commonly used letters are on the home row on the Dvorak layout when compared to QWERTY.

The original QWERTY layout (also called Sholes layout) was first used on the Sholes and Glidden typewriter and was popularized when it hit the mass market after being adopted by Remington.  The layout had been designed to prevent jams when typing on the mechanical typewriters of the period.  While those considerations have long been removed, the layout remains due to the opportunity cost of training all touch typists on a new layout.

The Dvorak Layout is easily accessed as a setting through the software of most current operating systems (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.) or through hardwired keyboards which have a toggle on the keyboard itself which switches the layout from QWERTY to Dvorak.

What are the Ergonomic Benefits of a the Dvorak Layout?
The primary benefits of the Dvorak layout focus around placement of most common characters including all vowels on the home row (A O E U I D H T N S), and placing the least common letters on the bottom row which is the most difficult to reach (Q J K X B M W V Z).  This benefits typists by allowing them to stay located on the home row for a larger percentage of the keying time, and also makes common word patterns (which use the more common characters) easier to type.  A secondary benefit is Load Balancing by allowing both hands to be called upon more equally than on the QWERTY layout, where many common words are typed solely by the left or right hand i.e. (are, were, was, you, get, him, etc.). 

Ergonomic benefits of the layout should include reduction of incidence of overextension of the fingers caused by leaving and even regularly 'jumping' over the home row as is required on a QWERTY layout (a good example of a word like this is "microphone" or "minimum").  This reduction in required movement should also lead to productivity benefits and reduced muscle effort for users.

However, despite decades of research it is still unclear why the benefits have note been able to be scientifically proven in a unambiguous fashion.  Ergopedia does have some theories as to why this is the case....


Theories as to Why Dvorak Hasn't Been Unambiguously Scientifically Validated

1) Human beings are incredibly intelligent and versatile creatures, with adaptation and ingenuity having played a crucial role in our survival and evolution.  Humans when faced with a less than optimal tool will develop the dexterity to achieve the task surprisingly often.  An excellent example of this is the number of individuals when faced with chopsticks for the first time (after a lifetime of forks) who are able to develop a kinesthetic sense and strategy to achieve the goal in question (i.e. eating, in this case).  Studies can only compare Dvorak to QWERTY using metrics such as speed and accuracy, and humans have the ability to compensate for what may be poor design, which could impede the accurate collection of data for research.

2) Dvorak was designed in a different era, when symbols and specialty characters were not as commonly used as they are today.  In the 1930s, few individuals would have regular need to generate characters such as "/", "_", "#" or even "-".  However, in today's hashtag and increasingly abbreviated world, shortcuts and symbols represent an increasingly significant portion of daily text input.  

What are Potential Concerns when Considering using the Dvorak Layout?
The most significant concern is that nearly all keyboards in contemporary society use the QWERTY layout.  If an individual becomes accustomed to a Dvorak layout, they will undoubtedly lose some level of comfort with typing in QWERTY (if not lose all touch typing skills).  In most cases outside of the personal devices an individual regularly uses, there is no ability to change the layout to Dvorak, which can inconvenience and even hamper Dvorak typists in the world outside BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).  However, there are some people who can touch type in both layouts, just as some people can not only speak but actually can think in multiple languages (however, this is not the norm).

A further consideration is the investment of time.  Most individuals have a degree of touch typing skill already with QWERTY which they have acquired through osmosis.  This would not occur with Dvorak, unless an individual is raised in a "Dvorak household" where the parents have made the switch and presented it as the de facto input layout to their children.  As such the learning curve to develop the same degree of proficiency with Dvorak, given that it will not be reinforced in other activities, is more substantial than QWERTY.

Touchpads also have real limitations with respect to precision and typically are not suitable for intense graphical work or precise actions on large multi-monitor systems.

What Physical Injuries or Conditions Typically Benefit from the Dvorak Layout?

Individuals who have issues with their interphalangeal joints (i.e. the joints in their fingers) would likely benefit from the Dvorak layout due to reduced reach it affords when typing.



Last edited December 9th, 2013

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