In Praise of the Dvorak Keyboard Layout

002

Hi, I’m Kirk, and I use the Dvorak keyboard layout. This has nothing to do with composer Antonín Dvořák, best known for his New World Symphony (and less well known for his string quartets, a wonderful collection of which is this one by the Emerson String Quartet). No, the Dvorak keyboard layout was created and patented in 1936 by Dr. August Dvorak and his brother-in-law, Dr. William Dealey, in order to make typing easier.

The Dvorak keyboard layout was originally designed to correct anomalies present in the QWERTY layout. For example, on a QWERTY keyboard, the E key, the one you type the most in English, requires that you stretch a finger. (This, and other differences, assume that you touch type.) Also, certain letter combinations can be hard to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Look where the letters THE are found. You type this word often, and the three letters are in very different locations. And with four vowels on the top row, you have to stretch your fingers much more often.

The Dvorak keyboard layout, as you can see in the image above, groups all the vowels and most common consonants on the middle row, where your fingers don’t need to stretch. 70% of letters you type are on this row, compared to only 32% on a QWERTY keyboard. The Dvorak layout also has all the vowels on the left, so you can often alternate typing, right-left-right-left, as you type consonant-vowel.

I started using the Dvorak layout in 1996, when I became a freelance translator. Realizing that touch-typing would be an asset, I proceeded to no longer look at my keyboard, but look at a printout of the Dvorak layout pasted on the bottom of my monitor. Since my keyboard has never had keys in the Dvorak layout, even looking at the keys wouldn’t help. It took a few months to be able to touch type, and it’s now second nature. I can type about 80 words per minute, and sometimes I can go faster than that.

While the Dvorak layout is available by default on OS X, and on Windows, this wasn’t always the case. In the early days, I had to add a keyboard layout to my Macs, and in some cases, this wasn’t easy. And now, the real difficulty I have is using an iOS device, where the Dvorak keyboard is not available. (Yes, I could jailbreak my iPhone and iPad, but I don’t want to do that.) Having fat thumbs, and using an unfamiliar keyboard layout makes it difficult to type on an iPhone, but I compensate by dictating as much as I can.


Photo

I’d very much like to see the Dvorak keyboard layout as on option on iOS devices. (You can use it with an external keyboard; this has been possible since iOS 4.) While it may not be obvious, I think that the ability to alternate from side to side, consonant to vowel, might lead to more efficient typing. I would at least like to be able to try to find out if that’s the case.