Even though it’s over 100 years old, the QWERTY keyboard layout is still around and used everywhere. It’s on our phones, our laptops. Even our Smart TVs use a QWERTY layout.
The QWERTY keyboard – is it the best keyboard layout for productivity?
Despite decades of technological development, we haven’t really migrated away from using a QWERTY keyboard layout.
In fact, there are faster keyboard layouts available, which very few people know about, let alone use. If the current QWERTY keyboard layout is so inefficient, why are we still using it?
Unfortunately, the QWERTY keyboard layout seems here to stay just because it’s what we are used to. We haven’t really been introduced to alternative options and with the PC manufacturers still producing QWERTY products, we really don’t have that much of a choice – or do we?
What is the problem with the QWERTY layout?
The QWERTY layout is not very efficient for typists. It was originally designed back in the 1800’s (or so the rumour goes), to avoid the keys jamming on the original early manual typewriters. The common keys were designed far apart enough so that the arms of the typewriter didn’t clash into each other. Of course, with modern computers, we don’t have that problem anymore, yet we are still using it!
The QWERTY layout has plenty of other disadvantages. Many common letter combinations require awkward finger movements as well as being typed with the same finger (whilst other fingers are idle). Many common letter combinations require a finger to jump over the home row and most typing is done with the left hand (where the most common letters are). However, for most people, this is not their dominant hand. So it just isn’t very efficient for typists.
- Did you know that on the QWERTY keyboard about 16% of typing is done on the lower row, 52% on the top row and only 32% on the easiest home row keys?
What would be a better alternative keyboard layout?
In an ideal world, we would have all of the common letter keys together on the home row. For touch typists, it would avoid the fingers having to move too much around the keyboard, which would result in faster speeds and reduce problems with sore fingers and wrists.
With a QWERTY keyboard, to type the majority of the vowels, you have to reach your fingers up to the top row. It would make much more sense to position these keys next to each other on the home row. And back in the 1930’s, someone actually did this!
The DVORAK keyboard layout – it was the solution to faster and easier typing!
Back in 1936 August Dvorak invented a keyboard for faster typing.The DVORAK layout is very different to the QWERTY keyboard. Dvorak positioned the vowels to the left hand side of the keyboard, keeping them together on the home row and the symbol and punctuation signs were moved to the top left end of the keyboard. As a touch typist, I can certainly see the benefits of using the DVORAK layout. It would speed up typing considerably.
Why was the DVORAK layout so well designed?
According the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the most top ten most common letters in the English language are E, A, R, I, O, T, N, S.
The Dvorak layout positions 9 out 10 of these common letter keys on the home row, which makes total sense. The E key is the most common letter, so by having it on the home row and typed with the longest middle finger, it’s much quicker to type rather than having to reach the middle finger up to the top row, as we have to do at the moment using the QWERTY layout.
However much of a great invention the DVORAK keyboard was, very few people use this layout today. Unfortunately, because DVORAK keyboards are not mass produced, to use it, you have to change your keyboard settings on your PC and purchase a keycap puller and reconfigure the keycaps. You can only do this if you have a mechanical keyboard. It won’t work on a membrane keyboard. All a bit of a faff and not very helpful if you have to switch devices at work or at home.
The Colemak Layout – The Perfect Keyboard Layout for Touch Typists.
This is a layout that you may not have heard of – the Colemak layout.
It was designed by Shai Coleman in 2006, and is a hybrid between the Dvorak and QWERTY layouts. Similar to the DVORAK layout, the common letter keys are on the home row apart from the R key. The other advantage over the DVORAK layout is that the punctuation keys and the Z X C V B keys haven’t moved from their current QWERTY location so it makes it a lot easier for users to adapt to.
As the fingers are more anchored to the home row, it reduces finger and wrist pain. Fingers don’t have to travel too far around the keyboard because the stronger fingers (index and middle fingers), are used more than the ring fingers and pinky fingers.
The biggest advantage of the Colemak layout compared to the QWERTY and DVORAK layouts, is the repositioning of the backspace key to the left of the A key. So much easier to correct errors when you just have to move your little finger to the left of the A key rather than having to stretching your little finger all the way up to the top right of the keyboard. This is always such a tricky move to make for our students.
The Colemak layout is so well designed and it’s a shame it hasn’t been adopted by the tech manufacturers. If it had been used globally, it would have allowed touch typists to type with speeds of over 150 – 200 words per minute, compared to around 100 words per minute speeds for QWERTY.
If you do want to switch to a Colemak configuration, there’s one drawback. Although it’s pretty easy to adapt to it on an Apple device, it’s very difficult to configure a Windows PC. Another reason it will never be popular.
It’s a shame that we are stuck with the QWERTY layout as it’s so inefficient. The keyboard isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so it’s about time there was a change and we need the big tech giants to make the first move. But it would take a lot of re-learning. Is anyone brave enough to make the first move?
Which keyboard is the best one to use when you are learning to touch type?
There are two types of keyboard you can buy these days – a mechanical or a membrane keyboard.
The main difference between them is the feel of the keys. A mechanical keyboard has ‘clunky’ keys, similar to the keyboards used in schools and popular with gamers and coders. A membrane keyboard has flat keys, also known as chicklet keys. These are the keyboards commonly found on a laptop computer.
Mechanical keyboard – how does it work?
Mechanical keyboards have individual spring-loaded switches underneath each key which provide a tactile bump and audible click when pressed.
It has a nice crisp feel where the keystroke usually registers at about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through when you get a physical click and the key starts to move more easily. As you don’t need to press all the way down to register the keystroke, it can help users to type faster than on a membrane keyboard.
The tactile feeling that this keyboard offers is a great advantage for people who are learning to touch type.
- More resistance and feedback – less likely to press keys by mistake.
- An audible sound when typing which can be satisfying for some users.
- More durable keyboard and resistant to wear and tear.
- More likely to register multiple key presses at once as each key has its own individual switch (faster typing).
- Can be customised.
- They come in some cool colours!
- Can be noisier than a membrane keyboard
- Can be more expensive
Membrane Keyboard – How does it work?
Membrane keyboards have all the keys connected by pressure pads that provide minimal tactile feedback. A thin membrane pushes on a circuit layer to register a keypress. The feel of these keys is often described as ‘mushy’ and there is not really a change in feel when the keystroke registers.
Pushing all the way down (and not registering a keystroke) feels the same as pushing all the way down (and registering a keystroke). So it can be a little bit tricky for beginners learning to touch type.
- More resistant to dirt and dust
- Better for accidental spills
- Only have to press lightly to register a keystroke (good for those with mobility problems)
Quieter to use
- Reasonably priced
- Lighter to carry and compact, therefore more portable.
- Keys are very sensitive, so easier to make errors when learning to touch type.
- Doesn’t give a satisfying ‘click’ sound like a mechanical keyboard.
- Key presses may be missed when pressing two keys simultaneously.
- Less precision and accuracy compared to a mechanical keyboard.
- The ‘feel’ of the keys can wear down after a few months and can feel a bit ‘sticky’.
Type IT’s Opinion – Which is best? Membrane or Mechanical?
We have noticed in our touch typing classes that membrane keyboards, with their softer feel, can cause users to hit the keys with uneven amounts of pressure. Sometimes it doesn’t register the key when typing, and this can sometimes cause unintentional errors to happen.
For this reason, we recommend beginners use of a mechanical keyboard. It allows the user to type with a sense of security, because you have to press firmly on the keys. It gives the user instant tactile feedback.
However, it’s very much a personal choice and so it’s worth trying a membrane keyboard first if that is what you currently have at home or at work. If you find that you are making mistakes when you begin learning to touch type, it may well be worth having a look at your keyboard to see if that is causing the problem. When our students first start learning with us, we are very happy to suggest which keyboard
The best typing courses
Check out our range of touch typing courses to see which would suit your needs and enable you to learn how to type faster and enroll online. Alternatively, give us a call on 020 3962 2059 to have a friendly chat about how we can help you!