Dvorak's keyboard

Absurd or efficient? A visual comparison between the QWERTY and Dvorak keyboard layouts

my layout is QWERTY

i'm the Dvorak layout

The QWERTY keyboard was designed for the first commercial typewriter. The layout originally positioned common pairs of letters far apart so that their mechanical levers wouldn't jam.

The Dvorak keyboard was designed over the course of more than a decade of research on language and typing habits. It endeavors to place common keys in easy-to-reach positions to maximize speed and comfort.

Common letters should be placed on the home row and rare letters on the bottom row. This makes typing easier, quicker, and less awkward.

It's also important that a keyboard forces you to alternate hands. This allows each hand to prepare for the next keystroke, and lessens the strain on an individual hand.

So why does no one use the Dvorak layout? Precisely because no one uses the Dvorak layout.

In the following excerpt from Jared Diamond's "The Curse of QWERTY", the proportion of salmon colored characters roughly matches the estimated proportion of Dvorak users in English-speaking countries.

Dvorak typists began to sweep typing speed contests two years later, and they have held most typing records ever since. A large-scale comparative test of several thousand children, carried out in the Tacoma schools in the 1930s, showed that children learned Dvorak typing in one- third the time required to attain the same standard with QWERTY typing. When the U.S. Navy faced a shortage of trained typists in World War II, it experimented with retraining QWERTY typists to use Dvorak. The retraining quickly enabled the Navy’s test typists to increase their typing accuracy by 68 percent and their speed by 74 percent. Faced with these convincing results, the Navy ordered thousands of Dvorak typewriters.

They never got them. The Treasury Department vetoed the Navy purchase order, probably for the same reason that has blocked acceptance of all improved, non-QWERTY keyboards for the last 80 years: the commitment to QWERTY of tens of millions of typists, teachers, salespeople, office managers, and manufacturers. Even when daisy wheels and computer printers replaced type bars, forever banishing the jamming problem that had originally motivated QWERTY, manufacturers of the efficient new technologies carried on the inefficient old keyboard. August Dvorak died in 1975, a bitter man: I’m tired of trying to do something worthwhile for the human race, he complained. They simply don’t want to change!

Studies have shown that despite the claimed superiority of the Dvorak layout, economic momentum largely prevented the switch from happening. Economics classes frequently use the Dvorak layout as an argument that free markets do not always settle on the 'best' option.

Although, the choice to stick with QWERTY certainly seems more convenient.

RIP Dvorak. Perhaps one day the human race will deem it worthwhile to change how we lay out our keyboards... though that could very well be the day we stop using keyboards entirely.