You might have heard of the Dvorak keyboard layout a couple times. You may have heard someone prattle on about how much more efficent it is and bla bla bla- seriously, nobody cares about your keyboard layout, dude. And I sympathize. I warn you this post may begin to sound like that towards the end. Instead of prattling, however, I’ll try to just share my experience and let you come up with our own thoughts on the matter.
I originally learned to type with a Querty keyboard. Makes sense, since this is what they taught us in school, and when I eventually got my own computer it was inevitably already laid out in Qwerty. Eventually, I got pretty ok at it, an above average typer among my friends at around 120 wpm. Sure, not earth shatteringly fast, but quick enough. Only “issue” was I typed kind of weirdly—I’d use almost all my fingers on the left hand, and one finger on the right. Given the speed I was typing at, this was fine, it just didn’t feel optimal to me, nor could I type without looking at the keyboard.
Change to Dvorak
One summer internship, I noticed my colleague set up a different keyboard layout on one of the work computers. When I asked him about it, I got the usual spiel about how it’s more efficient as it keeps you on the home row and encourages alternation between hands. I also noticed his physical keyboard was still in the Qwerty layout. He mentioned that doing this forced him to learn to touch type, since he couldn’t rely on his eyes at all to type.
Acting on my annoyance at my sub-optimal usage of the keyboard space, as well as intrigued by the argument of efficiency, I decided learning a completely new keboard layout was a good way to finally learn to touch type.
The initial process was grueling work—wherever I went I carried a little print out of the Dvorak layout. This gave me a reference as I learned, without creating the visual/motor associations to an actual physical keyboard. After the summer was over, I felt relatively comfortable with the layout and could happily type without looking at my keyboard, using my fingers for the “right” keys1.
Things to consider
Right off the bat: I’m not a faster typer in Dvorak that I was at my peak with Querty. I’m at something like 100 wpm. Granted, it’s been almost two years, and I’ve seen steady improvement since I started. There’s still time to get better. What the switch did give me was more of a sense of comfort with the keyboard—I almost never look down at it these days (I’ll conquer you one day, number keys) and for the most part my fingers only move to comfortable positions without much travel. These things are not advantages of the Dvorak layout, but rather advantages of forcing myself to learn to type properly as a result of the switch.
I would like you to consider the following, however. These are keyboard heatmaps of the entire text of this post, first in Querty:
And then in Dvorak:
As you can see, the Dvorak heatmap does actually stay in the home row better, reducing finger travel. However, you don’t have to use Dvorak for this—here’s the same heatmap for Colemak:
Colemak is supposed to be a more Qwerty-familiar layout that achieves a similar purpose as Dvorak: minimal movement and alternation. I might even recommend Colemak over Dvorak to others familiar with Qwerty. The reason I went with Dvorak (well, partially after the fact, since I didn’t know about Colemak then) is that a more drastic change, meaning fewer similar key placements, necessitated my learning to touch type. And I’m pretty happy with that decision, to be honest.
- Despite my annoyance about my own finger placement/usage for the keyboard, I strongly believe that the “right” finger placement is still just some norm that doesn’t account for subjective experience - in other words, just type however the heck works for you. [return]