QWERTY by design, quirky by nature

The QWERTY design was originally patented by Christopher Sholes in 1868, and until today remains the only keyboard layout design to have any kind of market penetration.

QWERTY’s was originally designed for typewriters. It seperated the most commonly found pairs of letters in an attempt to stop the typebars from becoming intertwined and stuck. Because of this layout, it means that the typists had to hunt around as much of the keyboard as possible to type most words in, which slowed them down and kept the machinery running.

That was the nineteenth century. Now, there is absolutely no reason to be using QWERTY as the design of keyboards in modern electronic keyboards, as they don’t get stuck (unless you spill something on them). The average typist on a QWERTY keyboard gets around 30 wpm, topping out at around 50 wpm for a good typist. If you’re exceptional, you can achieve upto 90 wpm bursts.

Now lets roll forward a few years to Dvorak’s Simplified Keyboard1 design, which was patented by Dr. August Dvorak in 1936. Dvorak’s layout was design to reduce the inefficiency and fatigue problems associated with QWERTY.

The speed and efficiency of this design is demostrated by Barbara Blackburn, who holds the world record as fastest typist. With a maintained 150 wpm over fifty minutes of typing, and over 200 wpm in bursts. All of this with a Dvorak layout, which would not have been possible with QWERTY.

So why are we still using QWERTY? Because of the amount of investment by companies and typists in the QWERTY layout, they are reluctant to change, so new typists and computers still use the QWERTY standard. Essentially, they’re locked into QWERTY.

Another reason, is that most typists don’t aspire to the level of speed that the Dvorak layout allows. They’re comfortable with their current speed. It’s ironic that the’re in an industry thats constantly changing, some things never change.

While I’d love to change to something more efficient than QWERTY, I’d probably be in the minority. The reduction in efficiency in the transition process would put off most, and if that doesn’t the yet unsolved compatability problems with keyboard shortcuts on computers probably would.

  1. Dvorak’s design is by no means the only competitor to QWERTY, but it is widely regarded as the best.
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