In December 2006, I discovered the Dvorak layout, literally. Somehow, I’d never heard of it before, and I found it by accident. I was typing on a staggered, QWERTY keyboard and couldn’t remember if C should be typed with the middle finger or index finger, so I did a web search for keyboard layout. The first image I clicked on was in fact the Dvorak layout, which led me to further research.
Of course, I found some conflicting information on the advantages of the Dvorak layout, but let’s face it: The internet is where stupid happens.™
Any sensible, unbiased person can easily see that Dr August Dvorak was onto something.
Common letters on the home row
The home row is your friend. The keys on the top row are more difficult to type, and the bottom row is even worse. In Scrabble, higher points are assigned to letters which are less common. Assigning Scrabble point values to QWERTY’s home row we get 28 points, excluding semicolon. For Dvorak, we get 14 points. With QWERTY, semicolons are easier to type than the common letters E, I, N, O, T and U, which are all one-point letters. Genius.
Dvorak placed all the vowels plus Y on the left hand, and the most common consonants on the right hand. This provides a high probability of alternating strokes between hands, which helps maintain a rhythm, a lot like a simple drum beat played with two sticks.
Inboard stroke flow
Try drumming with your fingers from the index finger to the pinky finger. It’s hard. Now go from pinky to index. So easy. Dvorak knew this, so he tried to optimise his layout to take advantage of this.
I was 26 when I started learning the Dvorak layout. I had been touch typing on QWERTY for close to 20 years. This is no exaggeration; my father bought an IBM XT PC before I started going to school in the mid 1980s. I could clock around 55 words per minute, which I thought was reasonably good. I jumped straight in the deep end with Dvorak, because I wanted to be proficient in as short a time as possible, particularly because I was a professional programmer. After four weeks I was pretty comfortable; after six I was close to my old QWERTY speed. In January 2009, I ordered a shipment of TypeMatrix 2030 Dvorak keyboards and my speed has steadily increased since then. For regular typing I can comfortably maintain around 80wpm, which is 45% faster than I was on QWERTY. On PowerTyping’s frequent words 1 test I have clocked 121wpm with zero mistakes (57 words).
But, it’s not just about speed. RSI is a real problem, and I have suffered from it, particularly in my right pinky finger. Dvorak, TypeMatrix and my HandShoe mouse have all helped to dramatically reduce the pain in my hands.
In a future post, we’ll explore the benefits of the Dvorak layout for programmers.