The QWERTY keyboard was designed to slow you down. Created for manual typewriters in the 1870s, it stopped the keys from becoming entangled as you typed. My mother’s ancient Remington had keys you had to hit so hard it sounded like someone hammering nails into a wall.
Then touch typing was invented, but the QWERTY layout stayed. Let’s let Dvorak fan Randy Cassingham take up the story;
‘The new layout took about 12 years to perfect, and included extensive study of languages using the Roman alphabet, the physiology of the hand and practical studies. Dr. Dvorak (Univ. of Washington, Seattle; b.1894, d.1975) used his research to design two other keyboards specifically for people with only one hand (one each for the right and left), which allow people with the use of just one hand to type very easily and efficiently – at speeds up to 50 wpm.
The Dvorak has the most-used consonants on the right side of the home row, and the vowels on the left side of the home row. Among other design features, it is set up to facilitate keying in a back-and-forth motion. When the same hand has to be used for more than one letter in a row it is designed not only to use different fingers when possible to make keying quicker and easier, but also to progress from the outer fingers to the inner fingers – it’s easier to drum your fingers this way. The back-and-forth flow makes typing quicker and easier: try typing the word “minimum” on the Qwerty keyboard, then look how you’d type it on Dvorak. The design puts fully 70 percent of all English keystrokes on the home row (only 32 percent of Qwerty’s are on the home row), making Dvorak much easier, faster, and probably (no formal studies have been done as yet) less likely to result in carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries.’
It’s also easy to learn, and apparently you can master it in two to three weeks. I’ve been writing for thirty years and still use the ‘hunt and peck’ style of typing. So why hasn’t it been taken up for the computer age?
Of course, we know that new ideas are almost impossible to sell in if there’s an existing model that has already been heavily invested in. I can see that the Dvorak system is probably much, much more suited to the touch keyboards of the present, but now there’s a new reason why it isn’t likely to catch on.
We move between devices. I write on my phone, my home computer, my laptop and my partner’s iPad. All those would have to be switched over because it would be disastrous trying to switch between two memorised layouts. The QWERTY layout is burned deep into my subconscious. If you asked me to draw the keyboard I wouldn’t be able to, but I could find all the keys without thinking.
And there’s anything question; do I prefer the slower mode anyway because it allows me thinking time? Trying it out, I wish it had caught on say forty years ago. We’d probably all be fast typists now. There’s a good article on switching here.