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Benefits of the Dvorak Keyboard -- Better Than QWERTY?

written by: Steve McFarlane•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 5/16/2011

It is said that Dvorak keyboards increase overall typing speeds. We look at this and other reported benefits of this keyboard.

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    Even though the QWERTY keyboard is the most popular keyboard and indeed the only one that most consumers know about, by no means is it the best keyboard by default. In fact the Dvorak keyboard has several advantages over the popular QWERTY keyboard. So what is the advantage of the Dvorak keyboard? Let's take a look.

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    The Advantages

    According to Martin Helander and Prasad V. Prabhu, in their book “Handbook of human-computer interaction," the principle upon which the Dvorak keyboard was “designed included assumptions such as: simple motions are easier to learn and perform… and that rhythmic motions are less fatiguing than erratic ones." So, the Dvorak layout puts the most often used keys on the home row and organizes keys to provide a more rhythmic typing experience.

    As a result of being designed on these assumptions, the DKL (Dvorak keyboard layout) is said to provide a more comfortable and natural typing experience, which tends to reduce incidence of repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

    What is the advantage of the dvorak keyboard? 

    Some staunch supporters also argue that the Dvorak layout actually increase the overall typing rate of the average user while reducing finger motion and error rates far below what is possible on QWERTY keyboards. While that may or may not be the case for everyone, one thing is sure, Dvorak keyboard users generally report on experiencing greater levels of efficiency while using this keyboard.

    The layout provides the following advantages:

    • A more rhythmic typing experience.
    • Less reaching for often used keys in adjacent rows.
    • Reduced incidence of repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
    • Faster typing rates.
    • Less mistakes due to reduce finger stretches from the home row.
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    A Bit About Early Keyboard Design

    When keyboards were being developed there wasn’t so much of an interest in crafting a solution that would lend itself to better typing speeds and overall good ergonomics. Instead, there was a simple need to get the manual keyboards to stop jamming and simply work. Early typewriter designs require that the previously pressed key be allowed to exit the paper strike area before the next key was pressed. This technical limitation also meant that greater spacing had to be made between each key so that the keyboard mechanisms wouldn’t jam.

    However, those design priorities ensured that the character placing didn’t allow for the best typing rate or ergonomic design. Some of those disadvantages that were identified and addressed by the Dvorak designers (Dr. August Dvorak and his brother-in-law, Dr. William Dealey) are as follows:

    • Many common letter combinations require awkward finger motions.
    • Many common letter combinations are typed with the same finger instead of a rhythmic alternation.
    • Many common letter combinations require a finger stretch from the home row.
    • Many common letter combinations are typed with the weaker left hand while the right hand sits idle.
    • Approximately 30% of typing is done on the lower row, which is the slowest and most difficult row to reach.
    • Approximately 52% of keyboard strokes are done in the top row, requiring the fingers to travel away from the home row.

    While the Dvorak keyboard was designed to increase typing speed and reduce injury, it is important to remember that the design was specifically optimized for the English language. Even though the performance may not be as high if used for typing Spanish, and French text, in many cases the Dvorak keyboard still has an advantage over QWERTY. In any case, there are Dvorak keyboards that are optimized for foreign languages.

    So, what is the advantage of the Dvorak layout keyboard over the QWERTY, we say they are quite a few. Not least of which is its ability to increase typing speeds and reduce repetitive strain injuries.

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    References

    • Helander, Martin, Prabhu, Prasad V. Handbook of human-computer interaction 2, illustrated. Elsevier, 1997: p.1286
    • Image “what is the advantage of the dvorak keyboard," Wiki Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:KB_United_States_Dvorak.svg