Loving the Dvorak keyboard.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Feb. 5 2002 1:45 PM

Make Mine Dvorak

One writer's love affair with the other keyboard layout.

August Dvorak (1894-1975) dedicated his life to destroying the keyboard that you are almost certainly using right now. He hated the design that put the letters "QWERTY" in the upper left, scattered the vowels, and put obscure letters like J and K in prominent locations. He called it "a primitive torture board" and declaimed against humanity for spurning his alternative known as the Dvorak keyboard.

Six weeks ago, worrying about my aching wrists and furious at my own keyboard, I decided to give the dead man's dream a try. I tweaked a preference in Microsoft Windows and used a black felt pen to convert my Qwerty keys into Dvorak keys. A week later, I permanently Dvorakized my keyboard, erasing the markings, popping all the keys off, and sticking them back on August's preferred way.

Dvorak keyboard

How well does it work? Rapturously.

As the oft-told story goes, the Qwerty keyboard's design has virtually nothing to do with modern efficiency. Christopher Sholes, the inventor, chose the layout mainly to keep frequently used letter pairs—E and D or T and H for example—relatively far apart so that typists wouldn't hit them in quick succession, jamming primitive machines. Innovative at the time of the Franco-Prussian War, that feature fetters typists today.


Dvorak used his extensive knowledge of linguistics and body mechanics to create the keyboard, which he patented in 1936. As Dvorak knew, people type fastest when able to alternate hands, typing one letter with their left hand and the next with their right. They also type fastest when depressing keys on that middle, or home, row, second-fastest on the top row, and slowest on the bottom. Dvorak took advantage of this by placing all the vowels together in the middle on the left and putting the most common consonants on the right in the middle and top rows. He then put the period, comma, and quotation mark on the top left and dumped rarely used consonants in the bottom corners.

(To see his beautiful creation, click here. To see the same principles in starker form, look at his keyboards for those who type with one hand.)

By rejiggering the keyboard, Dvorak also solved the Qwerty board's most irritating feature: having the letter J stuck smack-dab in the middle, in perhaps the primest real estate around—where one's right index finger hits the board. How often do we use that wretched letter? Almost never. For example, George Orwell uses it a mere 29 times in his "Politics and the English Language." He uses the letter K, given maybe Qwerty's second-best piece of real estate (right hand, middle finger) a mere 170 times. By contrast, Orwell uses H and T, given the same prime spots on the Dvorak board, 1,180 and 2,258 times, respectively.

Orwell uses E more than 3,000 times, but Sholes popped that poor letter on top of the Qwerty board—perhaps merely because it allows one to pound out the word "typewriter" on the highest row.

Not surprisingly, by many standards, Dvorak keyboards work better. On the Qwerty, one uses the home row about 30 percent of the time. With the Dvorak, it's more than twice that. Dvorak users also move their fingers about 35 percent less than Qwerty users, and according to one neat little study, Dvorak can cut the finger movement to type our dozen most common words by 75 percent. Dvorak enthusiasts claim that from the home row on a Dvorak board, you can type 3,000 words; from the home row of a Qwerty board, only 300.

Overall, once someone learns the new layout, he types about 4 percent to 20 percent faster on the Dvorak, and beginners learn Dvorak much faster than Qwerty, according to Keytime, a typing school that teaches both methods. Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft's former chief technological officer and a Dvorak user, e-mails, "I type VERY fast with Dvorak—and that has been important to my career at Microsoft. During my time there, I never knew anybody at Microsoft who could type faster." For years, before Guinness abandoned the category, the world record holder used a Dvorak board.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

Even by Russian Standards, Moscow’s Anti-War March Was Surprisingly Grim

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

The Best Thing About the People’s Climate March in NYC

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 22 2014 12:30 PM Turkey Just Got Forty-Six Hostages Back From ISIS. How Did That Happen?
Sept. 22 2014 12:44 PM The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy
The Shortcut
Sept. 22 2014 12:31 PM Down With Loose Laces A simple trick to tighten your running shoes for good.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM Escaping the Extreme Christian Fundamentalism of "Quiverfull"
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 12:22 PM The Age of the Streaming TV Auteur
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.