Dvorak

That’s right. Not Dvořák. Dvorak. If, like me, you grew up a philistine, you’ll probably share with me the experience of discovering that there was a Czech composer called Antonín Dvořák having already seen the option in Windows 3.1 to switch to a Dvorak keyboard layout. Curious, thought I, that he was named after a keyboard layout that I assumed was named, like qwerty, by taking at random a line on the keyboard and heading right.

I turns out that the keyboard layout was named after a distant relative, one August Dvorak, a professor of education and an educational psychologist at the University of Washington, Seattle. The original qwerty keyboard layout was designed in the 1860s having been decided upon by the maker of the first commercially sucessful typewriter. The layout was designed to try, as far as possible, to eliminate typewriter jams rather than for ergonomic purposes. To do this, the keyboard layout tries as far as possible to alternate between the left and right hand, although typing this sentence, I wonder how successfull it was.

The advent of the electric typewriter in the 1930s completely eliminated the need for a layout that eliminated jamming. Moreover, the increased speeds that were now possible started to reveal the inefficiency of the QWERTY layout as typists became fatigued faster. To the rescue August Dvorak who, through careful analysis of letter frequencies in the English language and the application of various a priori principles designed the right-handed Dvorak layout. Apparently of prime importance were

  • Letters should be typed by alternating between hands.
  • For maximum speed and efficiency, the most common letters and digraphs should be the easiest to type. This means that they should be on the home row, which is where the fingers rest, and under the strongest fingers.
  • The least common letters should be on the bottom row, which is the hardest row to reach.
  • The right hand should do more of the typing, because most people are right-handed.
  • Digraphs should not be typed with adjacent fingers.
  • Stroking should generally move from the edges of the board to the middle. An observation of this principle is that, for many people, when tapping fingers on a table, it is easier going from little finger to index than vice versa. This motion on a keyboard is called inboard stroke flow.

As far as I know, Dvorak keyboards hold the speed record at the moment (which I think is Barabara Blackburn 212wpm). It seems rather hard to actually find references to this though.

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