Learn about the history, benefits, and drawbacks of this long-running QWERTY alternative
For everyone who has ever looked at a standard QWERTY keyboard layout and wondered “why?”, typists in the know have long had one answer: “Have you tried Dvorak?” The Dvorak keyboard layout is one of the best-known alternatives to QWERTY, with its creators positioning it as a faster and more comfortable typing experience that’s easy for new typists as well as the staunchest students of QWERTY to learn.
Whether you’re trying to find the perfect new keyboard layout to pair with your favorite mechanical keyboard, or just want to learn more about the surprisingly broad world of typing, here’s what you need to know about the Dvorak keyboard format.
Power users don’t stick with the default settings — read our ultimate guide to keyboard layouts and find out about the wide world of efficient typing that lies beyond vanilla QWERTY.
US Dvorak keyboard layout is a user-research-driven method for arranging the keys of a keyboard to promote efficiency and comfort. It features all the same keys found on a QWERTY keyboard but in a different arrangement; notably, it places the most commonly used keys on the “Home Row,” where touch typists’ fingers naturally rest. It also attempts to reduce the need to “hurdle” or skip over keys to type common digraphs, which are pairings of two letters.
The layout’s co-creator, Dr. August Dvorak, claimed that his keyboard layout meant the fingers of an average typist would only need to travel a total of about one mile in the average day, compared to 12 to 20 miles on a QWERTY keyboard. This reduction in distance traveled theoretically contributes to faster and more accurate typing that also places less strain on the fingers of the typist, potentially cutting down on fatigue and the possibility of repetitive stress injuries (RSI).
Did You Know?:Different keyboard sizes can make a big difference for ergonomics too — check out our guide to 60% keyboards to learn more.
When was the Dvorak keyboard invented?
The Dvorak keyboard layout was invented in the 1930s, with a U.S. patent being granted to co-creators Dr. August Dvorak and William L. Dealey in 1936. The Dvorak keyboard layout included with most US-based computer operating systems today, which features a revised placement for the “Z” key and a standard number row that runs sequentially from left to right, was codified by the American National Standards Institute in the early ‘80s.
Where is the Dvorak keyboard used?
The Dvorak keyboard layout was initially created for use on typewriters, which needed to be manually configured for one layout or another due to their mechanical action. This meant Dvorak typists needed to seek out typewriters manufactured with their preferences in mind — and since QWERTY had already become established as the norm for this purpose as of the late 19th century, Dvorak’s spread was limited by concerns for supply and demand.
However, the advent of computers with configurable keyboard settings meant end users could swap out their preferred keyboard layout as easily as picking a new desktop background. This contributed to renewed interest in Dvorak, and new sub-variants intended for use in specific contexts, such as Programmer Dvorak. The same pursuit of speed and comfort also led to new QWERTY layouts such as HHKB,, which repositions surrounding keys to allow more function straight from the home row.
Did You Know?:Topre switches are a favorite among many keyboard enthusiasts for their satisfying sound and feel.
Dvorak keyboard layout vs QWERTY: Which is right for you?
There is a certain amount of controversy associated with studies that have attempted to conclusively establish the relative efficacy of Dvorak versus QWERTY, specifically how quick it is to learn and how fast typists trained in each can eventually perform. Given the uncertainty surrounding the statistics, we’re left with anecdotal evidence comparing the two.
Here are some of the most commonly cited benefits of the Dvorak keyboard format from typists who have made the switch, including the real-life user impressions cited above:
- Improved comfort: The reduced need to move your fingers away from the home row to type common words means your fingers will remain in their natural positions for more of the time. That translates to less strain on your fingers and wrists in the course of a standard typing session.
- Modest speed increase: Once they’ve become accustomed to the layout, many Dvorak typists report a small but noticeable increase in their typing speed. If you type a lot in your daily life, even a minor speed boost could add up to substantial efficiency gains.
And here are some of the potential drawbacks of using Dvorak instead of QWERTY:
- Long transition time: Touch typing is an exercise in muscle memory, and muscle memory can be a difficult thing to change. Not only will you need to commit time upfront to learn the Dvorak layout, but you should also expect to spend at least several months of consistently typing in Dvorak before you can meet or exceed your old words-per-minute.
- Inconsistent support: Though Dvorak is one of the most common QWERTY alternatives for English language typists, it’s not available everywhere. This is an especially big concern for PC gamers, who may need to rebind their keys in every game or simply get used to swapping back and forth between layouts depending on what they’re doing.
Don’t let your search for a better typing experience end at QWERTY alternatives. Much like Dvorak, the HHKB keyboard layout was similarly designed to maximize the usage of the home row — but instead of new letter key placements that may require months for experienced touch typists to learn, it focuses on intelligently revised function key placements to increase ergonomics and speed for those who type to live.
If you do wish to experiment with all-new layouts, the Keymap Customization Function on HHKB Professional HYBRID models makes it easy to set up and use your own (including Dvorak), offering seasoned typists the best of both worlds. Whatever layout you use, HHKB boards feel better with each keystroke thanks to game-changing electrostatic capacitive Topre switches that offer unparalleled typing comfort. Find your next daily driver in the full range of high-end keyboards from HHKB.
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