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I'm stuck with QWERTY, but have been tempted to try Dvorak. Dvorak advocates claim it's faster.

Are there any studies that compare these two (main) keyboard layouts? Are there other layouts out there that are more productive than these?

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Obviously a rather major variable in answering the question is going to be whether the user has learnt to touch type properly - or not. –  PhillipW Sep 24 '11 at 20:52
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

If you are already used to a QWERTY keyboard and you feel that the benefit of changing (which doesn't include speed) will be worth the time taken, as well as not easily being able to use someone else's keyboard, then you should take a look at the Colemak layout.

It has fewer changes from QWERTY than Dvorak, and keeps the position of many of the shortcut keys in particular (cut, copy, paste). In tests, it is as good as Dvorak in terms of finger distance travelled (in English) and moves high frequency keys from your small fingers (which is a weakness of Dvorak).

Overall though, there is little evidence that Dvorak or Colemak is faster than QWERTY (see http://hi-games.net/typing-test/ as an example), but there is evidence that it helps with fatigue, RSI and carpel tunnel syndrome.


Fun fact: It's a common misconception that QWERTY was designed to slow down speed - one held to almost as doctrine by many people. It was designed by Christopher Latham Sholes based on a letter frequency study (by Amos Densmore) and some general trial and error to prevent key sticking. It did this by alternating left and right hands (which is what helped with keys not sticking). As it turns out, his also happens to help with faster typing, and is exactly what most other layouts also do. (For a speed comparison between different layouts, see http://hi-games.net/typing-test/)

In fact, a major study in 1956 conducted by the U.S. General Service Administration found Dvorak to be no faster than QWERTY. This was followed up by other studies into the 1970's all confirming the 1956 study.

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Those 1956 and 1970's studies sounds interesting. Do you have a link to any of those papers? –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Sep 26 '11 at 12:31
    
I think you are wrong on the (fun fact) speed issue. Yes, Sholes' main goal was to speed up the writing, but he had the overall writing in mind! Ie. he had to avoid those key clashes that resulted i a big drop on the "words per minute" measurements. So, his solution to increase the overall writing speed was mainly avoid clashes, so he needed to get the typist into a steady rhythm with alternate the left and right key pressing. Yes, his goal was to speed up the writing, but no it was not done by optimizing the typing itself. –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Sep 26 '11 at 12:32
    
That said. It is a big difference between the speed of the everyday writing and the optimal typing potential. I don't believe that the speed of everyday writing (or other common keyboard tasks for that sake) will incrise by swithcing from QWERTY to Dvorak. But I doubt that QWERTY is the optimal layout for hi-speed typing. –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Sep 26 '11 at 12:37
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Yes, there are studies that claims that Dvorak is faster than QWERTY.
(But you'll also find other studies that claims otherwise.)


Dvorak

It's based on total finger movement that is needed to write common English words. So the Dvorak layout has the most frequently used characters on the middle row, and the rarely used ones on the top and bottom row. Ergo, you don't need to move your finger between the three rows, but you can keep hour hands on the middle row most of the time...

According to this video, you can write 120 words on the QWERTY home row and 5000 words on the Dvorak home row. On QWERTY you are off the home row more than 70% of the time, and on Dvorak you're on the home row 70% of the time.

You'll find some documentation on Wikipedia:
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dvorak_Simplified_Keyboard

You'll find some test here (including other keyboards):
- http://www.codesharp.co.uk/dvorak/

And some scientific research here:
- http://pds.twi.tudelft.nl/~buzing/Articles/keyboards.pdf

When it comes to other alternatives, you should take a look at the Maltron:
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JK4MPILEqM - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maltron


Fun facts: (Read: "the QWERTY Legend")

The QWERTY layout was actually designed to slow down the writers speed. The reason for this is found in the design of the old typewriters, where you wanted to avoid entangled typebars as a result of several keys being pressed simultaneously (or to rapid). So the the keys were layed out in a way that forced to alternate the key pressing between the left hand and right hand.

It should be added that Sholes' main goal was to speed up the overall writing, but to increase the overall "words-per-minute" measurements, he had to avoid those key clashes that resulted i a total stop for the typist. So, his solution to increase the overall writing speed was to avoid key clashes and thereby get the typist into a steady rhythm with alternate left and right hand pressing.

(It is also said that the keys you need to write "typewriter" were put together on the top row, so that you could demonstrate how fast you could write "typewriter" to a potential customer. Funny? - Yes. A fact - I doubt it:-)

enter image description here


Update:

When I get a downvote with no further explanation, I usually re-read the question and my answer to figure out where I was wrong. I'm not sure about the downvote in this case, but I guess my answer could be read as an ardent advocate of Dvorak. That is not the case, so let me clarify a few points...

Re-reading your question, it is kinda vague. It's quite a difference between "does any research exist" and "is Dvorak better". So, let's just take them one by one:

Q: What are the benefits of non-qwerty keyboards:
A: It depends in the input. Numeric keyboards are best for numeric input. If you are a cashier at some supermarket, some custom cashier keyboards might be better.

Statement: Dvorak advocates claim it's faster.
Comment: Yes of course they do. Other people claims that other keyboards are faster. But remember, it all depends on what your task is. Besides, there are several other physical things that influences the typing speed, such as key size, gap and resistance - maybe even the sound of the key. These factors also influences the comfort - which is just as important (if not more important) to most people.

Q: Are there any studies that compare these two (main) keyboard layouts?
A: Yes. There is a lot of both serious and unserious studies. But none of them are conclusive! Many of them are also biased, btw. So I don't think you'll get any smarter by by reading those.

Q: Are there other layouts out there that are more productive than these?
A: Again - it depends on the task. A keyboard is an input device, and there are several kinds of input devices. If you're a 3d designer, then the qwerty is probably not the best input device. You would probably be more happy with some 3d mouse. If you're designing software for a cashier at some supermarket, then ... ahh, I've already been there :), but if you're designing a system for a cashier at some warehouse of spare parts for cars, then the staff would get really annoyed if they couldn't do some searching and filtering trough an ordinary qwerty-keyboard.


OK, some subjective conclusion, then:

My understating of your question is that: You want to find out if another keyboard-layout can do some improvements on your everyday effectiveness.

My subjective answer (without any supporting research) is: Yes, another layout could improve your effectiveness - but you're on the wrong track!

IF your main task is to write loads of text AND you don't mind to spend at least a month of training AND you don't mind to exclusively use the chosen keyboards layout, then you might consider to try something else. Otherwise stick to QWERTY!

But you should definitely try different QWERTY keyboards!
There are tons of qwerty-keyboards out there. Additional shortcut keys, various system key layouts and different ergonomics to mentions some important differences. Within these qwerty keyboards you'll probably find something that'll fit your needs even better that the one you use today.

  • Try the keyboard to feel the typing comfort.

  • Use it in real tasks to find out if the system keys feel natural. (Oh my, I have deleted a lot of text on smart laptop keyboards...)

  • Find "the little extra".

So, take a look at these:

Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000
Standard ergonomic keyboard. Used by a lot of programmers and "all-day" users.
Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

Das Keyboard
Das Keyboard has a series of keyboards with the same look and feel as the old IBM keyboard. A rock solid keyboard that clicks. (You can also get one without the noise, and one without the key captions!)
enter image description here

Logitech Gaming Keyboard G510
This is a gaming keyboard, but the fact that you get 18 programmable keys (on the left side) is very interesting for programmers and designers.
enter image description here

Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard
...and why not add 25 more custom keys as well?
enter image description here

United Keys
United keys has another keyboard with some customizable key. But these keys are not only programmable, the keys have small displays on the tops of them, so you can configure different icons for each custom key.
enter image description here

Optimus Maximus
Hey. Why not put a little screen on all the keys. That way you can press CTRL and actually see the shortcut icon on the keyboard instead of remembering which key to use.
enter image description here
enter image description here

For the programmer
If you're a programmer, like me, you only need one simple keyboard:
enter image description here

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Please can you give reference to these studies. See itotd.com/articles/651/the-dvorak-keyboard-controversy for a good analysis. –  JohnGB Sep 24 '11 at 10:31
    
@John: Didn't you see this link: pds.twi.tudelft.nl/~buzing/Articles/keyboards.pdf? This article provides several references to various studies. Or did I misunderstand your question? –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Sep 24 '11 at 13:00
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Yes, I did miss it :). That doesn't itself give much in an analysis of the studies and concludes only a 4-5% increase when changing from QWERTY to Dvork. This happens to be the same increase seen by anyone changing from Dvorak to QWERTY. Changing for some reason helps with speed (strange but true). –  JohnGB Sep 24 '11 at 14:14
    
@John: It's actually not so strange at all... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Sep 26 '11 at 12:39
    
very thorough :) –  JohnGB Sep 26 '11 at 12:43
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I use Coffee++ since 4 years. It is a keyboardlayout for typing with just your left hand. Optional you can use the right hand in addition to speed up typing. But mainly the benefit is, that you can have your right hand free to use the mouse, telephone or drink some coffee ;)

Coffee++ is optimized for programmers so all important characters are accessible directly without shift. And they are also accessible with just your left hand, where the CAPSLOCK-key is used as a second AltGr-Key

If you are already used to type 10-finger QWERTY really fast, then typing speed builds up quite slow, but I thought it is an effort, that I will benefit from the rest of my life.

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