Keyboards - Dvorak Layout
What 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....
What are Potential Concerns when Considering using the
|Theories as to Why
Dvorak Hasn't Been Unambiguously
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
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.
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
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
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.