The most common keyboard layout, often referred to as QWERTY, comes from one of the early typewriter models, over 140 years ago. From being part of a tool only used in certain professions it is now something almost everyone uses daily.
The QWERTY layout grew out of necessity and convenience during the early stages of the typewriter. The top row of the layout has all the letters of typewrite, so that the salesperson could easily demonstrate the new invention. The letters had to be arranged in a way that the mechanical hammers which the paper had the least chance of getting stuck to each other. You can read more about QWERTY on Wikipedia.
But today, on electronic devices, the reasons behind QWERTY’s layout does not make any sense. In my opinion it is a perfect example of systemic resistance, where short-term thinking and lack of awareness gets in the way of a positive change.
But even if QWERTY seems unavoidable, there are ways around it. I will describe one of them.
A few years ago I discovered Dvorak. It is a keyboard layout developed in the 1930’s, with the intention of replacing QWERTY. Dvorak takes account letter frequency and hand physiology into account.
In Dvorak the most common letters are placed in the middle row and all vowels are on the left side of the keyboard. This creates a very pleasant sense when typing. I can compare it to the satisfaction of performing a drum roll, allowing the body to move controlled yet relaxed, with regular symmetrical movements.
Dvorak is available on the common operating systems for many languages, but few people know about it. It takes a little work to set up.
First is configuration. If your keyboard is designed for a less common language, like Swedish in my case, a layout might not be available by default. In that case, you need to create it yourself. I did it using Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator
You can also use the design ideas of Dvorak to create a custom layout based on any unique typing patterns.
How to change the keyboard layout:
The second part is the keyboard. With a laptop, it might be difficult to rearrange the letters, but on most external keyboards, the key caps are removable. Making the rearrangement takes perhaps an hour. Another thing you can do while rearranging the keys is take the chance to clean it if it is dirty, thus prolonging its lifespan.
If you switch, be prepared for a significant relearning period. You will be typing like a toddler again!
If you can overcome this however, the rewards are
- an amazing sense of flow
- the possibility of pushing the typing speed limits without the strain on the fingers QWERTY is prone to
If you tried this, I would love to hear about your experience!