Dvorak vs. QWERTY

By Shamus Posted Monday Nov 24, 2008

Filed under: Rants 77 comments

Last week’s post on my arm ache (I’m not going to call it carpal tunnel, because I don’t actually know what it is, besides annoying and painful) spawned a side-conversation on the merits of the Dvorak keyboard layout. It turns out this is another Mac vs. PC or Xbox vs. PS3 issue:

  1. It’s totally better. Like, for sure.
  2. No way. Not better at all.

Great. Why are we still having this debate 72 years after the Dvorak layout was introduced? This disagreement over something easily quantified is kind of strange coming from the tech community. I can understand debates over acupuncture, herbal medicine, flavors of Linux, game consoles, and other things which have subjective quantities, differing user priorities, placebo effects, and multiple variables to be weighed. But when we’re talking about keyboard layouts we’re all comparing one quantity: Words Per Minute. It’s easily measured and not subject to user bias. Oh, this “feels” faster? You clock it on a stopwatch and look at the results. One study found no advantage, but it took existing professional typists and compared them after a couple of months. That’s not really reasonable or fair to take someone who’s been touch-typing QWERTY for a decade, give them a couple of months at Dvorak, and compare the speeds.

A real test would be to take two large groups of non-typists and teach one Qwerty and the other Dvorak. Every week we see little news tidbits about stupid studies (usually paid for by the government) that stun us with revelations like, “fat people eat more food than thin people” or “teenagers think about sex pretty often” or “unmarried men have more disposable income than same-age married couples with children”. We can find time to have scientists tell us the sky is blue, but in all these years nobody has ever sat down and really quantified the difference between Dvorak and QWERTY in a proper unbiased scientific study?

This wouldn’t, in and of itself, tell us if switching to Dvorak would be worth it for an individual or organization. That question is naturally going to be a fiendish one, but just having the WPM of QWERTY vs. Dvorak would go a long way to telling us if it was even worth thinking about.


From The Archives:

77 thoughts on “Dvorak vs. QWERTY

  1. Pederson says:

    I used QWERTY from high school through to near the end of college, and Dvorak ever since. That’s about 8-ish years each. I think it helps, but I don’t know if it’s as significant as all that. It’s probably more useful to raise your seat a little, or get a keyboard tray mounted under your desk to type from.

  2. Viktor says:

    I’d switch, because of testimonials I’ve heard, but I can’t always control which computer I’ll be using, so like with Windows, Qwerty wins for me simply because I can’t not use it. And yes, the government should do a study. I definitely trust the people who brought us the “tubes” meme to evaluate technology. The ones I’d expect to study it successfully are large programming companies who could save countless man-hours depending on which they go with.

  3. evilbob says:

    imho, the main advantage of Dvorà¡k is the reduced finger movement. I can’t say that I necessarily type any faster using it over when I was typing qwerty. Not that I’ve done any tests to quantify such things either though. Some people might notice a speed difference, but I can only type a properly composed and spelled sentence so fast. :) On a side note, it has improved my typing in the fact that I no longer look at the keyboard at all, as they’re usually labeled with qwerty layout and if I look at it, it only messes me up more.

  4. Seb says:

    I guess there is more to Dvorak than simply the WPM count. Dvorak is also designed to reduce the pain and muscular fatigue caused by typing.

    So even if you don’t type any faster, if it feels more comfortable and less tiring it can be better.

    So instead of counting the Words Per Minute, maybe count the words per day or something, so that you can take fatigue into account…

    Actually it could be a good base for an experiment ! Take 2 groups of kids (who never faced a keyboard before), give the first group a QWERTY, the second a Dvorak, and see after a couple of decade which group has less muscular problems, and which group types faster, etc …

  5. Kel'Thuzad says:

    I’ve used Qwerty since they forced me to do so in middle school. Since then, I’ve had a lot of practice typing quickly in video games, and it “feels” rather fast.

  6. QWERTY was designed to serve the machine rather than the typist. In the same way, Fortran was designed to serve the computer rather than the programmer.

    Today, human time is worth more than computer time, so we have higher level languages, like Python, that serve the programmer. When the Dvorak layout was invented, it was more important to have faster typing than avoiding typewriter jams, which were no longer a problem. The Dvorak layout was designed to serve the typist rather than the machine.

    QWERTY is like Fortran and Dvorak is like Python. But, unlike the language comparison, this doesn’t necessarily mean Dvorak is better for the typist. The same mechanisms in QWERTY that helped stop jams are also be beneficial to typists — in particular, separating frequently typed letters both helps prevent jams (adjacent arms don’t collide) and makes typing faster (alternating hands typing a word).

    You are right about complaining that no real studies have been done.

  7. Roxysteve says:

    WHy bother with either? Both are predicated on the need for a “conventional” array of keys, forcing the hands into an unnatural, cramped configuration.

    Back in 1978, when we still used punchkey operators in the computer world, I saw an ergonomic keypad that allowed each hand to nestle in a dished “ashtray” of keys, the keys being set in position according to the shape of the human hand rather than the linear array forced upon someone using mechanical linkages to a typewriter.

    In use the keys were all closer to the fingers than with a conventional keyboard requiring less movement, the elbows were oriented more outward for a more relaxed pose and the heels of the hand were used for certain funcions (well, they weren’t doing anything else with this design).

    The manufacturer claimed that if training was undertaken for an hour a day, a punch-key operator would be acheiving comparable levels of throughput with this keypad as with the conventional one with much less downtime for repetitive stress injuries (the keycaps on the keypunch operator’s machines frequently wore through with the sheer volume of work they did).

    The Dvorak keyboard amy of may not be “better” than a QWERTY layout, but it comes with it’s own baggage (it is “handed” for a start – a southpaw may have a much different experience of using one than a right-handed person).

    I don’t care anyway. I don’t touch type.

  8. LazerFX says:

    As a touch-typist who’s looked into this in the past, I think I can quite safely say that Dvorak is faster, in the long-term, once you’ve learned the layout and have become used to it.

    The worlds fastest touch-typist, with a peak speed of 212 wpm, uses Dvorak (http://web.syr.edu/~rcranger/blackburn.htm). On the other hand, the QWERTY record, when I last looked at it, was a 125wpm average, with a 180wpm peak. So on the whole, not a fantastic speed increase.

    I attempted to switch to Dvorak – I can safely say that, given the amount I need to type, the cost was prohibitive. To give up my current 80-100wpm average speed, and go back to a 25-30wpm ‘training’ speed while figuring out where things were and re-learning the muscle memory required would be just prohibitive. So I gave it up.

  9. Apathy Curve says:

    We’re still using QWERTY for the same reason the United States is still using imperial measurement units: it’s WAY more of a pain in the ass than it’s worth to change a core functionality of an established culture. Some changes, like going from drawing boards to CAD, were easily justifiable — despite an enormous amount of pain and initial upset among the engineering community at roll-out. I seriously doubt you’re going to see enough of a WPM change, however, to justify the huge upset in business culture caused by a switch to the Dvorak layout.

    Better ideas do not always produce better results in actual application, regardless of what the numbers might say.

  10. Visi says:


    Considered switching to Dvorak once, but I couldn’t be bothered to remap all my WoW keys, and I’d still need to use QWERTY anyway every time I went anywhere.

  11. Matt says:

    I’ve considered switching to Dvorak, but most keyboard shortcuts and game controls seem like they’d only work well on qwerty, so I’ve never actually tried it.

  12. Ben Orchard says:

    To the people who are suggesting specialty designed devices…just stop. The standard keyboard may suck for any number of reasons, but I can at least use it. Moving to certain alternatives would leave out people like me. I have a serious deformity on one hand that would mean that I could NOT use those specialty devices without levels of customization that beyond my financial means. A keyboard, I can use moderately well, but a lot of the specialty stuff that I’ve seen is just a non-starter.

    Dvorak–meh. I’ve been interested but never bothered. I want to, but never seem to have the time.

  13. Dev Null says:

    As a programmer, I find increasing my typing speed is almost always a bad thing. I want to have to think about things a bit before I get them into code.

    As someone who once taught programmers, I found that the fast typists often got a lot of text on the screen very quickly, but that much of it wasn’t very well thought out.

    Lets put it this way: you might hear a novelist complain about slow typing speed holding them back, or even a newspaper columnist; would you expect to hear a poet complain about it? Good programming is poetry, not 10,000-page Robert Jordan novels where you can skip every second chapter and still follow the story.

  14. FireNova says:

    You should definitely check this out.
    A brief history, a few myths dispelled, and a guide to remapping the keyboard.

  15. Greg says:

    I always feel the need to defened “obvious science”
    A study is only a waste of time is there was no concievable interesting outcome. That there wasn’t an interesting outcome doesn’t show that something was a waste of time.

    “fat people eat more food than thin people” might’ve been “fat people eat the same amount of food but some trick of biology makes it have a different effect”

    “teenagers think about sex pretty often” might’ve been “teenagers don’t think about sex much, it’s primarily unconciously driven behaviour coupled with preconceptions of the observers”

    “unmarried men have more disposable income than same-age married couples with children” might’ve found the opposite because couples with children are highly organised and more future-focused so typically in much higher pay brackets and have invested what money they had more effectively owing to their desire to look out for their futures.

    “We can find time to have scientists tell us the sky is blue” Maybe. Or maybe they’d come back and say that it’s some function of atmosphere and refraction and the angle between the Earth and the Sun. There’s just no way to know until someone decides to test “Is it really?”

  16. krellen says:

    I am ambidextrous, though I was raised right-handed. Dvorak doesn’t appeal to me at all, nor do any of the “ergonomic” keyboard models for one simple reason: I type mostly with my left hand. When typing, my left hand covers everything from about h over, and the right just the small batch of keys remaining. I suspect this stems from when I used to do a lot of data entry including 10-key; by using mostly my left hand, I’m able to have my right slip more easily over to the keypad to punch in numbers.

  17. Heph says:

    I use Azerty….Hmyeah. One of those few advantages the US has over Europe: a common keyboard lay-out. France has a different Azerty from Belgium, Germany uses Qwertz, the Netherlands uses Qwerty, but not quite the same as the US….gah.
    Anyway, part of the problem with Dvorak is that you can’t not use Qwerty (in the US) – when you’re in a library, at someone else’s desk, on vacation, on a laptop,…you’ll be faced with a Qwerty. Remapping it and typing from memory might be an option for some, but not most. Using a different keyset occassionally really messes up your habits. It’s like Mac vs IBM-compatible, really. It’s ok if you’re in an environment where you can be completely one or the other; insisting on being the opposite of everybody else in your office/company is annoying and not worth it.
    Another problem – already mentioned – is keymapping. I occasionally run into this with my Azerty as well. Especially older games, Flash games and bad console ports suffer from this. Imagine your W and Z are inversed, and you A and Q, but their functions aren’t. Now try walking forward on a WASD movement system. It’s pretty much impossible.

  18. Derek says:

    As has been noted, the benefit of Dvorak is not strictly the increased typing speed; it is also the decrease in distance traveled by your fingers and the more frequent use of you stronger fingers. This is why it’s often suggested to people complaining of repetitive stress injury. The nice thing about these characteristics is that they are pretty easily measured without having to do studies. Check out this site where you can type some text, and it will tell you all kinds of statistics about what the typing would be like in qwerty and dvorak.


  19. Dave says:

    I’ve used an old version of this ( http://i.testfreaks.com/images/products/600×400/159/microsoft-natural-ergonomic-keyboard-4000.205983.jpg ) keyboard… you don’t need a super fancy one.. just one that divides the keys and angles them a bit..

    When I use a “normal” keyboard I can almost feel my tendons and bones crunch up.. QWERTY seems more efficient to me.. and I know it..

    Anyway.. my suggestion is to find one of these ergonomic keyboards at a thrift store and hook it up…

  20. Magnus says:

    It certainly would have been interesting to have tried different layouts when I was younger and still learning to type. These days though, my typing has been honed by about 20 or so years of QWERTY use, so I feel the pain of having to get used to a different layout wouldn’t be worth any possible benefits.

    Have to admit I’d never heard of Dvorak though, (is it a US thing? you only find QWERTY in the UK as far as I know) just the QWERTZ/AZERTY variants.

  21. Tom says:

    Roxysteve, there’s a device similar in concept to what you describe that was developed expressly for gaming – it’s called the Nostromo N52. It’s not perfect, and not as mechanically adjustable as I’d like, but still an excellent design and much more powerful than a regular keyboard; not least because the bundled software is full of tricks like assigning a series of keystrokes to a single key in a macro, toggle modes, three reassignable shift keys and the ability to save different profiles for each game and load the appropriate one automatically. I swear by it for twitch games or ones with particularly baroque interfaces, but I’m sure it could be reprogrammed for rapid typing or controlling any other kind of program.

  22. Sam says:

    I’ve been curious about Dvorak for a few months, but I’ve never gotten around to actually trying it. I’m sure if I did, it would probably take me about as long as I’ve used QWERTY (which is about 15 years) to get a good feel for it and get up to the same typing speed I’m at now. So the question for me (it’s all about meeeee!) is do I switch to Dvorak and possibly take 15 years to get where I am now with QWERTY, or do I stay with what I have now and potentially never learn what the fuss is all about?

  23. Derek says:

    I had used QWERTY for many years (~10) before switching to Dvorak, and I was able to type reasonably quickly in QWERTY. When I decided to switch, the first couple weeks were miserable. However, I felt that my Dvorak was as good as my QWERTY typing had been within only a few months. So those who are afraid of it taking decades to learn the new layout, I don’t think you need to worry, at least based on my experience. Also, while I am not as fast on QWERTY anymore, I can still type in it when need be, so I am able to use other computers without changing the layout.


  24. DaveMc says:

    Heph (#17) wrote “I use Azerty….Hmyeah. One of those few advantages the US has over Europe: a common keyboard lay-out. France has a different Azerty from Belgium, Germany uses Qwertz …”

    Man, flashback to that time I visited France and suddenly found myself unable to type! The keyboard was this bizarre layout I’d never encountered before, and I was back to hunt and peck, one word per minute. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there long enough to adjust to the layout, so it never got any better.

    There’s just so much inertia associated with the (North American) QWERTY that I wouldn’t expect any challenger to make any significant headway any time soon, even if it’s demonstrably better. Say I myself am willing to invest the time to learn the Dvorak layout — now I have a keyboard that no coworker or family member can use, unless they are similarly willing. That comes up often enough to be a problem, for me.

  25. Cat Skyfire says:

    I’m curious to see what keyboard layout would be developed NOW. Some may praise Dvorak to high heaven, but, like Qwerty, it was designed in a different time. I mean, really, who would have expected the humble @ sign to become so important?

  26. Licaon_Kter says:

    i’ve switched to Dvorak a few years back, as a self control experiment mostly, now i’m using Dvorak at home and Qwerty at job ( policy and such :( )
    Windows/Linux it does not matter

    the funny thing: to my amazement, my girlfriend asked me to make her home keyboard Dvorak too, back when i switched, it was strange for her to type Dvorak when visiting me and Qwerty at her home, now she’s typing in both Dvorak and Qwerty with the same ease :D

    it could be strange at first as reflexes take over, i’m a hunt’n’pecker myself, not a touch typist

    i’m not typing for a living, so i can’t say anything about any kind of dis/advantage

    this site that got me interested: http://dvzine.org/

  27. pwiggi says:

    My job (Linux phone-based tech support) and most of my recreational activities (programming, planning D&D games [which I do on the PC], PC gaming, yelling about stuff on blogs) require typing. I type for a significant portion of each day, and my typing speed is pretty good (depending on what I’m typing, 80-110 wpm).

    I switched to Dvorà¡k between my Junior and Senior years of college. That was a little over 3 years ago. I’ve found that I type almost exactly the same speed as I did when I used qwerty, but the wrist pain that I was experiencing diminished. A lot. This was kind of a last ditch effort after making all of the “standard” ergonomic adjustments. But three years in, it is pretty rare that I experience pain bad enough to make it hard to type.

    Also, for those stuck in Windows, you can add the Dvorà¡k layout in the Regional & Language Settings. You can set it as the default or set it up so that you type Ctrl+Shift to switch to it.

    And in Linux, ‘setxkbmap dvorak’ in X or ‘loadkeys dvorak’ on the console.

    And you can do it in Mac OS X too… but I don’t remember how.

  28. Brandon says:


    The supposed advantages are, sans any empirical testing, supposed only. There is little evidence to suggest Dvorak is better than Querty in any way shy of testimonials, and testimonials are very poor evidence. That’s why Shamus calls for more testing. It’s why I agree. If Dvorak is supposedly better, testing needs to confirm that “advantage”, otherwise the advantage is as real as pixies.

    Let us also remember that most experts on RSI problems tied to computer input devices say the keyboard itself is usually not the problem. It’s the switching hand position to the mouse and back repeatedly and the mouse design that’s often the real culprit. Even a ho-hum keyboard is pretty ergonomically reasonable.

  29. droid says:

    That is exactly the reason I use dvorak. I read about das keyboard, a keyboard that had blank keys. I figured I would learn to type faster if I stopped looking at the keys, so I switched layout just so that I would break the habit.

    It is possible that even if dvorak is better at typing english that many users (those that don’t write much) would find the dvorak layout faster, as the ctrl [key] operations make more sense on the qwerty layout, and games often assume qwerty (It is a bit of a gamble whether the game looks at the keycode and thus labels the keys wrong, or looks up the characters and gives me a lame position for all keys).

    It is trivial to change the layout, usually you can have different layouts in the system and can cycle through them with a key combo. I call it an encrypted keyboard.

    One time my brother was at my computer and I was at his and we were in chat. I could type something that he could only read by retyping it on a dvorak and vise versa. 1337 crypto!!1

  30. Zukhramm says:

    I don’t use Dvorak, the Swedish Dvorak layout I found moves other keys than the keys for letters, and I don’t want that. If I could edit it somehow, I’d try it out.

    I need to find a way to edit my keyboard layout anyway, as my current one has a lot of special characters, most in places I do not find logical enough, and some in doubles. (For example ྠis on both alt-gr + p and alt-gr + t. Having it at alt-gr + t is enough really. And there’s a @ at alt-gr + q, though I already have one at alt-gr + 2.).

    Speaking of special characters, I’m surprised how hard some letters, like àˆ or à are to write, even on keyboard layouts from countries using a language containing them.

    Anyway, if anyone knows how I could create custom keyboard layouts, for Linux (Suse, if that matters), how? I’ve tried to google it, but I can’t seem to find anything.

  31. Derek says:


    My point is that things like typing speed are difficult to measure, but distance traveled by your fingers is not, and does not require a study. It can be measured with a ruler and frequency analysis. Now is having your fingers travel a significantly shorter distance as you type important or going to cure all your ills? I don’t know, but I can’t argue that they don’t.


  32. GregT_314 says:

    I am, amongst my background, a professional typist. I type 110 to 130 wpm on a Qwerty keyboard depending on what I’m typing from and how predictable the language is.

    I retrained on Dvorak in about three months and average 140 to 160 wpm on Dvorak. It’s clearly faster. A good typist can also hold both keyboard configurations in muscle memory and switch back and forth fairly easily.

    It might be worth adding that I use a quasi-shorthand made out of MS Word autocorrects; most of what I type is court work so a lot of common court phrases are contracted down to an abbreviation which Word “corrects” for me – ie “your Honour” = yh, “my learned friend” = mlf, “in my submission” = ims. That doesn’t save time so much as even out the work so that phrases that would otherwise slow me down with inconvenient keystroke sets get smoothed out.

    Executive summary: Dvorak clearly faster. Those who say otherwise clearly aren’t getting paid by the page.

  33. Blurr says:

    I read somewhere that your hands move about 70% less in Dvorak than in QWERTY, but I can’t remember where. It makes sense, too. All of the vowels are under your left hand and on the home row.

    I’m still only 16, typing for god knows how long on Qwerty, but I’ve been using Dvorak for about a year, and I love it so much more. By comparison, typing on a QWERTY keyboard feels uncomfortable and awkward, even if I don’t type any slower.

    As for gaming, a lot of games detect the fact that you’re using Dvorak and make corrections themselves. Portal, Tomb Raider: Underworld and others required no configuration on my part to run as they would have on a QWERTY keyboard. They automatically started using ,aoe instead of wasd, etc.

    I highly recommend switching. It’s worth a week or two of misery to make your hands happy for the rest of your life. :D

  34. Jeff says:

    Betamax was better, too.

  35. Rich says:

    Hi. My name is Rich and I can’t touch type. I’ve tried to learn several times. High school, college and a paid-for course. I’m not stupid, just incredibly uncoordinated I guess. This discussion just makes me sad. For the record, my son can type over 100 wpm with almost 0 errors so luckily it isn’t a genetic thing.

    Aren’t there any hunt and peckers here? ;)

    Which reminds me of a joke. Aw, nevermind.

  36. MaxOverdrive says:

    Studies? the navy did a study that found 30% less finger travel. here is a link that calculates your finger travel.
    that’s pretty convincing evidence to me.
    who cares about speed, it’s all about comfort to me. (i switched in 1998.

    I also like the metric system and 24 hour time. but those just seem like obvious choices.

    re: Ben Orchard:
    November 24th, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    > I have a serious deformity on one hand that would mean >that I could NOT use those specialty devices without >levels of customization that beyond my financial means.
    >Dvorak”“meh. I've been interested but never bothered. I >want to, but never seem to have the time.
    have you tried left/right handed dvorak?? this would surely work better than querty.

  37. Zaghadka says:

    @#26 Cat Skyfire

    Anyone who’s ever played Nethack knows how important the mighty “@” sign is. It has ascended to demigodhood. ;)

  38. McNutcase says:

    Zaghadka: not here it hasn’t.

    It’s been pooped out of a LOT of varying monsters’ alimentary tracts, though. In some of the most humiliating instances, newts have killed me.

  39. Aergoth says:

    Querty since day one. I’m something of a non-standard typer to begin with (the home row does not exist for me, I have a floating anchor point that’s based purely on the fact that I know the keyboard. And I correct myself based on what I just typed. (which I’ve done 4 times over the course of this post.) Self-taught? Yes. As for the discussion on Q VS D? It’s kind of like the difference between the versions of the gameboy advance. cutting the backlight and similar differences and just focusing on the control scheme there was no visible difference. That being said, I liked the SP better because it was easier to conceal in a pocket, and it fit more like a console controller than the standard advance, and you don’t have to move your arms or neck if you want to adjust the angle of the screen. Playing in the dark is useful too, since using an external light is (A) an annoyance because of glare, or (B)an annoyance because it get’s in the way of playing. Yes. Epic derails.

    Also, being able to quote people you know/experience is about the same as the saying: 75% of all surveys/studies are bullshit. It’s never really what most people could call authoritative, but then again, the “guy in the bar” as Terry Pratchett would say is a veritable font of information. He could be an idiot, but then again, the person at the front of the court in the wig and robe could just be a transvestite that wandered in out of the rain. Snap judgments are so harsh.

  40. Here’s some anecdotal evidence, studies be damned.
    My wife has written a novel on her cramped QWERTY laptop keyboard while already suffering from early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). By the end of the novel, things got so bad that even with the doctor-prescribed wrist braces, she was starting to lose sensation in her pinkies, and the loss was slowly moving inwards toward the thumbs.

    She decided to try DVORAK. She picked it up fairly quickly, returning to about 70-80% typing speed (from touch-typing around 60wpm on QWERTY) within a week and a half.

    I thought it was a neat idea when she started, and tried practising along with her. Within two days, and a sum total of an hour of typing practise, I’d had my first (and thus far only) bout of tendonitis. The doctor said this wasn’t entirely abnormal, as any deviation from one’s routine range of motion can cause this type of problem. End result, I’m exclusively QWERTY, she’s exclusively DVORAK, and CTS-free. And yes, we’re still together. :)

    @pwiggi: To enable DVORAK under OS X, go into control panel, and add the layout under “keyboard,” the same way you’d add support for a foreign language. You can make it a default, the only available layout, assign a hotkey to switching the layouts… Anything your heart desires.

  41. Blurr says:

    *removed of my own volition*

  42. Anaphyis says:

    @ Zukhramm

    This one worked for me. Just keep in mind that your paths will be different, for example the xkb files are in /usr/share/X11/xkb (that’s for gentoo, suse might be different) xfree86.lst is now xorg.lst and XF86Config is now xorg.conf

  43. Feb says:

    @Derek… I’m not sure what that site was telling me, really. It made a bunch of assumptions about which finger I was using for which key; several of the “characters typed with the same finger” combinations it cited were actually keys that I use different, adjacent fingers for. I’m with Aergoth, at least to an extent.

    I’m a self-taught former medical transcriptionist. Although I have no regard for or knowledge of “proper” typing technique, I have roughly 95 WPM, touch typing and self-correcting as I go. I also play some guitar, which honestly I think helps my brain set up the short sequences of finger motions that will be needed for the words my brain is trying to send down my arms.

    In short, it’s a really cool analysis — thank you for linking to it — but I’m afraid it’s making some assumptions that I can’t endorse, when it comes to the nuts and bolts. Sure, it’s less than perfectly efficient for me to type the way I do, but I’m not sure Dvorak would improve anything, even if it did save me some time and motion. I never cross hands, I never use the same finger for two characters in a row (on different keys), and I type quickly enough that I can keep up with my own thought process. Plus, the touch of randomness that comes from not having standardized finger-to-key relationships might help prevent RSI issues.

    I’d really like to see that study of Seamus’, though. And it should include computerized analysis of people’s hands as they type, to really get at this ‘horizontal traverse’ thing.

  44. Annon says:

    I always feel the need to defened “obvious science”
    A study is only a waste of time is there was no concievable interesting outcome. That there wasn't an interesting outcome doesn't show that something was a waste of time.

    “fat people eat more food than thin people” might've been “fat people eat the same amount of food but some trick of biology makes it have a different effect”

    “teenagers think about sex pretty often” might've been “teenagers don't think about sex much, it's primarily unconsciously driven behavior coupled with preconceptions of the observers”

    “unmarried men have more disposable income than same-age married couples with children” might've found the opposite because couples with children are highly organised and more future-focused so typically in much higher pay brackets and have invested what money they had more effectively owing to their desire to look out for their futures.

    “We can find time to have scientists tell us the sky is blue” Maybe. Or maybe they'd come back and say that it's some function of atmosphere and refraction and the angle between the Earth and the Sun. There's just no way to know until someone decides to test “Is it really?”

    The problem isn’t that the science being done, it’s that it’s hailed as some sort of ground-breaking discovery when the result is obvious, purely because the subject matter contains the words ‘weight,’, ‘sex,’ ‘crime,’ and/or ‘teenager.’ If I do a study about the light emissions from the constellation Leo and don’t find anything particularly important (or even incrementally important), my results won’t get published and I lose funding. Meanwhile, taxpayers spending millions on crap like “let’s look at the relationship between calorie intake and body fat yet again” and rewarding mediocre results while real problems like sustainability remain well outside the public consciousness until they become an emergency.

    In short, I only want to reward scientists who do something useful, and that isn’t how things are done.

  45. Tom says:

    A Different Dan, are you sure it wasn’t actually the change from one keyboard to the other, not an inherent superiority of one over the other, that improved things for your wife?

  46. K says:

    I also tried Dvorak and I quite liked it. Then I realized that I type in German, English and by now Japanese too. Which makes the “optimized Keyboard for one language” a bit pointless. And I am really not going to learn three layouts, I have trouble enought to remember all the (/*à§=)” which are different on qwertz (german swichtes z and y).

  47. B.J. says:

    The Dvorak keyboard layout is interesting to me as a technical curiosity mostly, I don’t think it’s really a worthwhile debate as to which is better. Typing with a keyboard is like doing anything; the more you do it the better you get at it. Besides, I wouldn’t use a Dvorak because the WSAD keys would be all over the place…

  48. Kevin says:

    Studies show that should the Dvorak arrangement show a clear improvement over Qwerty keyboards, only people who type are likely to report a benefit.

  49. Sec says:

    Dvorak sounds good in theory, but if you are a sysadmin or have other reasons to switch between different computers often, you won’t like it. It is a hassle to re-configure all these consoles, and sometimes you even can’t do it because it’s not your computer. And switching between different layouts a couple of times during the day is really not fun.

  50. John Callaghan says:

    Heph mentions that it’s an advantage that the US uses only one version of the keyboard layout, whereas Europe uses several. This is, of course, at least partly because different languages have different letter frequencies. The reason Germans have QWERTZ is that Y is much more rare in German than English. When typing in Germany I did adjust, just as I have to adjust to using a US Mac in the UK, which would have some of the symbols (such as ‘ @ ‘ and ‘ ” ‘) transposed. (It becomes more confusing when occasionally an international IM program assumes I’m chatting from the US, so a key labelled ‘ ” ‘ will diplay ‘ @ ‘.)

    This particular issue isn’t so much to do with keyboards as the advantage of having a continent-wide common language. The French would (rightly) go barmy if there was an attempted directive to make their keyboards follow the letter frequency of another language.

    I’m sure I’ve missed some crucial point and am about to get corrected many times over. I apologise in advance! I just wanted to feel involved!

  51. Insanodag says:

    Well…considering that 5-seconds of searching in Google Scholar turned up a quite a thorough literature review on studies comparing Dvorak vs Querty, it seems that research on the topic is not lacking at all, in fact desk and typing ergonomics is quite an active field.

    Obviously, it is not as often misrepresented in the tabloids, which means that people may not hear about it as often.


  52. KarmaDoor says:

    I’ve stuck with Qwerty because of one simple fact; it’s cheap. In the world of USB it’s even simpler since integrated hubs only exist on keyboards with standard layouts.

    I won’t praise it, though. Its widespread usage is a detriment, though. Nobody tries coming up with more efficient layouts when touch typing is no longer possible. Hunting and pecking at a thumbboard is pointless and slow. That becomes exacerbated by plethora of shapes and ancillary layouts for the non-alpha keys. It’s a non-standard standard.

    Perhaps it’s time to just come up with one true International layout? Well, maybe two; one for touch typing and another for thumb typing.

  53. Brandon says:


    OK, so finger distance is reduced. Did they follow up with a study that connects that change in finger distance to reduction in RSI or increase in comfort? They didn’t. Thus, reduced finger distance doesn’t do us much good save as a foil for conjecture.

  54. Roxysteve says:

    [Visi] Close to what I remember, but not the same. The keys were more radically displaced, and the whole keyboard was heavily cushioned and padded.

    [Ben Orchard:] Calm yourself. No-one has advocated forcing you to use anything against your will. I merely pointed out that if we were talking about ousting QWERTY for speed typing, that there were other options than the rectangular, injury-inducing slab-o-keys is all.

    Another option, possibly of more interest to you, is a speciality half-keyboard for one-handed speed typing. One was offered for the Visor PDA several years ago and people said it had a very easy learning curve.

  55. The President-Elect says:

    Dvorak sucks. Symphony 2 is THE worst song I’ve ever heard.

  56. Anaphyis says:

    I've stuck with Qwerty because of one simple fact; it's cheap. In the world of USB it's even simpler since integrated hubs only exist on keyboards with standard layouts.

    One word: Screwdriver. Put the layout on screen, pop up the keys from the keyboard with a screwdriver and put them back according to the new layout. 15 minutes later: A shiny new and cheap Dvorak keyboard.

  57. KarmaDoor says:

    If you think he’s bad, try playing a transcription of his work done by hand as a grad thesis. X-p

    Nah, Dvorak isn’t really bad, though sort of the opposite of Debussy involving keyboard versus symphonic works.

    (It’s too bad that one can’t just buy a semi-circular electronic keyboard. Then we’d be talking ergonomics. :-p )

  58. phraktyl says:

    I tried to switch years ago. Only one thing stopped me from adopting it:

    vi key mappings were crazy!

    I use vi for my coding and my email. The HJKL movement keys are nowhere near where they should be to move comfortably with Dvorak. And the keys at the same positions have other things assigned to them, etc.

    I just couldn’t make the switch after trying it.

  59. Talrogsmash says:

    concerning comment #41: I could here Yahtzee’s voice as i read that response…

  60. J Greely says:

    The real problem I have with keyboard-design research and anecdotes is the focus on the fingers and not on what’s actually being typed. The vi comment above is a good example: how many people spend a good part of their day using keyboard shortcuts like Ctrl-X, Ctrl-C, and Ctrl-V? Or perhaps Ctrl-C and Ctrl-Z, two of my best friends in the world. Studies comparing touch-typing speed are based on clerical work, and I don’t think most people use computer keyboards that way.

    Personally, I favor loud, clattery Qwerty keyboards (but never again from Matias) with the Control key restored to its position of glory, and Caps Lock banished to oblivion. The most annoying Qwerty variant I’ve run into recently was the Asus EEE and other netbooks, which put the right shift key to the right of the up-arrow. Now that’s an ergonomic problem.


  61. James says:

    I don’t care about which keyboard has the record for fastest typing. If I cared at all it would be what AVERAGE typers score on each. Even better – which type keyboard gives hunt and peck users an advantage?

    (Yes – it took me 3 minutes to type this.)

  62. beno says:

    I think asking whether Dvorak or Qwerty is better is like asking whether English or French is better. The answer is that the better one for you is the one you learned first.

    At a population level, the better one is the one that more people in a community use, because it works better if you do what everyone else does, whether you’re talking to them or borrowing their keyboard. You could come up with another theoretically ideal language like Esperanto, but people mostly wouldn’t get over the entry barrier of learning it, if indeed they cared enough to try.

  63. Duoae says:

    If I do a study about the light emissions from the constellation Leo and don't find anything particularly important (or even incrementally important), my results won't get published and I lose funding.

    I take it that you’re not in science because that’s not how research comes about or shakes down. That study ‘you did’ into the light emissions from the constellation Leo would have been published if it followed scientific rigour. Quite often, though the number of papers published is important sometimes, it’s more your networking skills and available facilities (or lack of) along with what’s popular in the media/government at the time that will get you the funding.

    As a scientist, a negative result is as good as a positive result (even though it doesn’t feel that way) – i.e. it confirms something either way. Importance is a relative term. For instance the person who originally discovered the first gunpowder explosive might have been trying to purify some other compound and consider that explosive a failure in that context. However in the context of fireworks it was great – though no one thought to use it extensively in weapons of war for centuries.

    Just because someone determines that the action of an enzyme doesn’t do anything important a proper study will have characterised its actual action thus ensuring that later on when an enzyme with that action is required there is some knowledge base out there in the published ether. Not all science is exciting but all expansion of knowledge is important.

    Also to address your comments on not doing ‘populist’ studies…. i’d like to point out that those studies generally aren’t money or personnel intensive like other parts of science such as sustainability – which has been researched constantly since the 1960s.

  64. Shamus says:

    In the interest of furthering scientific knowledge and such, I am setting up a four-year study on the long-term effects of exposing a test subject (myself) to large amounts of cheerleaders and beer. The control will be all of you, who will not be invited to my party laboratory while the study is in progress.

    I am currently seeking funding. Please do give generously. It’s for science!

  65. tussock says:


    Why change keyboard layout to something anyone else in the world uses? Technically, mine’s slightly better than Dvorac on all the measures I’ve found, the common keys are all nice and centered for English, and same-finger repetitions or same-hand row-jumps are wonderfully rare. I personally dislike pinky use, so I’ve hidden some moderately rare letters out there.

    ZXCV and Q all keep their place, with A not badly placed, but ctrl-s force saves are a bit off. Easy macrons come in handy for Māori too, but that’s just the benefit of customising.

    Oh, and it’s a single mouse click to flick back to QUERTY, if any program’s buggy about understanding (which none are that I use). Linux rocks (KDE on slackware, specifically).

  66. K says:

    @Anaphys: No, that does not work on most keyboard, because keys in different rows are rounded differently. It leaves you with a mess of a surface which is about as even as a bowl of cereals.

  67. Duoae says:

    In the interest of furthering scientific knowledge and such, I am setting up a four-year study on the long-term effects of exposing a test subject (myself) to large amounts of cheerleaders and beer. The control will be all of you, who will not be invited to my party laboratory while the study is in progress.

    I am currently seeking funding. Please do give generously. It's for science!

    Of course, i’ll get you funded – the title of the thesis can be “Interactions and bonding rituals between male cheerleaders on and off the field of play”

    The follow-up study should look at the difference between the players of a given sport and the cheerleaders and see how differences in societal standing affects their attitudes towards each other…


  68. A different Dan says:

    [email protected]: No keyboard change occurred. The wife exacerbated her CTS on the laptop keyboard, but the problem persisted through a series of ergonomic keyboards, both split-layout and otherwise. She didn’t switch keyboards when learning DVORAK, just layouts.

  69. MaxOverdrive says:

    [email protected]

    also, i hate most split ergo keyboards, since they re split AND staggered, which defeats the purpose, i’ve only found 1 reasonably priced one that’s split and not staggered http://www.datadesktech.com/desktop_sb.html and my fingers love me for it.

    @Brandon If you have to deliver news papers all day, you’d walk less by cutting across people’s lawns, your feet wouldn’t be as tired. i don’t see how typing is any different. If you don’t type all day, i can see how wasting effort wouldn’t matter as much. (Don’t ask the efficiency expert though, he’ll disagree)

  70. MaxOverdrive says:

    man this wavatar kicks ass

  71. Nathan says:

    I looked at that site which compares QWERTY to Dvorak, but it made too many false assumptions about my typing style. I use a very weird (and probably very inefficient) high-speed hunt and peck style in which what finger I use is based more on what key I just hit than what key I am going to hit, so none of the assumptions of that analysis even apply to me.

    It is not like it matters much anyways, since my WPM count is more limited by typos and thought processes than raw typing ability.

    Also, for the record, I am pretty sure that scientists have deeply investigated whether or not the sky is blue. As far as I am aware, they determined that the sky is purple. I am not kidding. However, the human eye sees light in the green/yellow spectrum better than purple or red light (the reason Tennis balls are that color), so we end up seeing the bluish light in the sky better than the violet light. You wouldn’t believe some of the other odd truths about human eyesight (like how context can make red light look blue).

    Edit: Ugh, I really don’t like this avatar… Is there any way I can change it?

  72. MaxOverdrive says:

    I also found that i /learned/ to touch type when i learned dvorak (as opposed to the hybrid method i used in qwerty) because it WORKS (whereas qwerty touch typing is a pain). Also if you use software to change your keyboard, you CAN’T look at your keyboard (#1 no no in touch typing class!) but you can have the key layout on screen when you need it. (I wrote a slick always-on-top app that displays the layout in a corner)

  73. DELETED FOR: Being a rude jerk. There are plenty of places to act like that on the internet. This isn’t one of them. – Shamus

  74. Delve says:

    Different keystrokes for different folks.
    It’s probably been said already but I can’t be arsed to read all the comments. It’s as subjective as /any/ HMI device. Some love a trackball, I could never get into them. I suspect some people to like Dvorak and others Qwerty. And since it is literally impossible to separate psychological effects from other effects in cases like this (there is no placebo effect as defined in medical science in circumstances like this) you simply can’t measure any objective reality effectively.

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