Dvorak Typing | The What, Why and How of the Dvorak Keyboard
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August Dvorak (1894 - 1975) of the University of Washington in Seattle invented
what he called a "simplified keyboard". The invention of the Dvorak keyboard
layout addressed the deficiencies of the QWERTY keyboard.
Before we cover the intricacies of the Dvorak keyboard, it's important to
understand some background of QWERTY. QWERTY is the keyboard most people
(especially in the U.S.) use on a daily basis. The name QWERTY comes from the
first 6 keys of the top row of letters on the keyboard. When analyzing the
QWERTY keyboard layout, it turns out that in terms of comfort, efficiency and
speed, the QWERTY layout is no better than random. The basis of the QWERTY
layout has nothing to do with thoughtful design. It is actually the result of
the arranging of keys on old-fashioned typewriters to prevent the fewest
mechanical lock-ups as possible. In the old days, typewriters would strike the
paper with arms that extended from the machine. If 2 arms tried to strike the
paper too close to each other, they could cross and jam. The keyboard layout
found on most of our modern computers, which has become a de-facto standard, is
the result of a layout designed to accomodate a typewriter!
The Dvorak keyboard is specifically designed with humans in mind instead of
typewriters. Dvorak understood the importance of typing ergonomics long before
the term was commonplace. The Dvorak keyboard is designed with many beneficial
characteristics. Typing speed and typing efficiency are addressed with the
Dvorak layout be placing the most commonly typed letters directly on the home
row. The fewer times your fingers have to leave the home row, the faster you
will type with the least amount of finger strain. When your fingers must leave
the home row in Dvorak, they more-often-than-not will only have to travel either
one row up or one row down. The number of times a finger must travel over a row
is minimized by the Dvorak keyboard. Dvorak recognized that there were certain
letter sequences that are typed frequently over and over again (di-graphs,
tri-graphs, short words). By optimizing for these letter sequences, the Dvorak
keyboard makes typing these sequences as easy as possible.
Dvorak also recognized the need for more typing comfort. He realized that it's
more comfortable for fingers to type with an "in-board" motion rather than an
"out-board" one. To demonstrate this, tap each finger on a surface starting with
the pinky finger and working toward the thumb in order. This would be an
"in-board" motion. Now perform the taps in the opposite order. Start with your
thumb and work in order toward your pinky. This is an "out-board" motion. You
will most likely find that the in-board motion is more comfortable. When you
type with a Dvorak keyboard, your hands will move in-board more often than with
QWERTY. This reduces typing fatigue and increases overall typing comfort.
Dvorak was very thorough in testing his designs. He performed experiments which
involved video taping the hands of workers and measuring the finger distance
traveled over a full work shift. Dvorak was able to demonstrate the ease of
recovering Dvorak typing re-training costs by showing huge productivity
increases with professional typists in a relatively short period of time. In a
experiment in 1944, Dvorak was able to balance the cost of training with
increased typing productivity in a little over 10 days. The Dvorak group was
typing at a rate of 70 WPM while the QWERTY group was at just 40 WPM.