I've been using the Dvorak keyboard layout for a few years, and something that's always bothered me is keyboard shortcuts. On a QWERTY keyboard copy and paste are conveniently positioned as Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V, but on Dvorak they are pretty inconvenient (equivalent to Ctrl+I and Ctrl+. on QWERTY).

I would have figured the 'right' thing to do would be to have the keyboard shortcuts based on position, rather than value. So switching to Dvorak would change copy and paste to Ctrl+J and Ctrl+K (which are in the same position as C and V on QWERTY), but very few applications do this. In fact, the only one that comes to mind is Inkscape. I get that implementing it that way is harder, but not even Windows does it, so I figure there must be some further reasoning behind it?

I'm also interested in how certain international keyboards are handled, such as Arabic and Russian keyboards, which don't have any Latin characters.

  • 1
    Sidenote - about half the characters in Russian are the same as latin characters :). Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 5:50

4 Answers 4


The UX answer is that people tend to think of which key they are pressing rather than the position of the key. So it makes more sense to keep the shortcut linked to the key than the position of the key - even if that position is awkward.

While it could be beneficial to add profiles for different applications, you would have the situation where one program uses Ctrl-C and another Ctrl-I. This would hurt overall UX even more.

You can remap the system shortcuts on many Operating Systems, which should change the shortcuts for every application. So if someone needs them to change, this would be the best solution.

Out of interest, the Colemak layout takes common shortcut positions into account and retains most of the Qwerty shortcut positions. It's also more efficient than Dvorak.

Technically and historically:

There is an intentional separation between what is pressed on a keyboard and where it is pressed. The only thing that every OS that I have seen cares about is the keycode that the input should be - and that is as it should be. There are many different physical keyboard designs, not to mention other devices (such as presenter pointers) which act as input devices. This all results in it being extremely difficult to make the shortcuts based on a physical position.

  • Many keyboard commands are thought of more naturally in terms of what a key is rather than its location, but there are some notable major exceptions. Historally, many DOS-based text editors assigned the meanings of control plus any of "wer asdf zxc" based upon their locations on the keyboard; the "vi" usage of "hjkl" also probably derives from their consecutive placement. Back before Win7 killed my favorite text editor, I would have liked to try a layout which used Dvorak for non-control keys but qwerty for control keys, but the way keyboard mapping is handled wouldn't support that.
    – supercat
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 21:52
  • "It's also more efficient than Dvorak." <citation needed> It is really up to debate which is better If you type in other languages besides English, Dvorak(or a programmer) is debatable better do to hand alternating and symbol placement(which dvorak did much much better IMO).
    – William
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 22:10
  • @William I should have added a qualification there. Colemak is more efficient than Dvorak in the task that both of them were specifically designed for. That is typical English prose. Of course there are specialist areas or languages where they aren't as good. For example, I type a lot of Dutch, and some of the more common letters in Dutch are rarely used in English, so for that task Colemak isn't ideal. It's still better than QWERTY by a mile though, just not as optimal as when typing English prose.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 20:31

I'm not sure what would be most appropriate for a Dvorak keyboard. If one would want to keep the mapping of C to Copy, then G and R could work for Cut and Paste.

I don't believe that there is any particular UX reason for having the cut, copy and past exactly at the X, C an V position. In fact, even among qwerty keyboard these keyboard combinations would differ. The combination of + Z on an Apple keyboard is very different from CTRL+Z on a IBM PC keyboard.

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From a UX point of view, shortcuts s*ck.
I was young and dumb when I wrote the statement above, but I'm much older and much wiser now... :-)
From a UX point of view, shortcuts can be useful. The research is not conclusive, but there's no doubt that the shortcuts must be memorized and practiced to achieve their potential.

The memorization part is two-folded. The actual key-sequence is one aspect, the spatial position is another aspect. Our spatial memory is pretty strong (you might know proximately where things are, but you don't necessarily remember the name of the thing you're looking for (just like this guy has has arranged his desktop icons: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=rVC7I5VcTiw#t=479s), but I can't claim that position is more important than the key-name.

I would claim, however, that grouping the shortcuts would make it easier to memorize them. (And perhaps easier to use them).

Thus, the appropriate solution would be either CTRL + |F|G|C|R| (where C=Copy), or CTRL + |:|Q|J|K| if the "spatial memories" from a qwerty-layout is still there. It could also be advocated that the ergonomics would be better at the |:|Q|J|K| position.

  • 3
    From a UX point of view shortcuts suck? Where do you get that from? The fact that they are not intuitive doesn't mean that they are not useful. Shortcuts are one of the more useful tools in the arsenal when designing systems optimized for speed and efficiency rather than intuitiveness. Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 5:46
  • @VitalyMijiritsky: +1, I couldn't live without short cuts... Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 8:46
  • I guess my POV got heavy influenced by Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini a looong time ago :-). "Since users do experience the illusion that keyboarding is faster [...] Even when using "shortcuts" will actually slow them down." From one of his letters. I know this is heavily debated, but I honestly can't remember that I have seen any study that proves that shortcuts actually do improve speed and efficiency. Only subjective opinions... Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 9:13
  • @Marjan: Me neither! :-) But still, I honestly believe that todays shortcut regime is a mess. I have four different shortcuts for the "Find" and "Replace" commands in four different applications (from the same vendor!). Using CTRL+B in Notepad gives me the "Find dialog", but in Wordpad it will makes my text bold. To search in Wordpad I need to use CTRL+F - which would make my text bold in MS Word. Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 9:27
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    @Vitaly :-) Oh, no hard feelings. I was just a bit unsure if I had offended you somehow. Pure text and a few smiles can come to short sometimes. (I'm not sure if I agree with myself or the research here, me neither ;-) Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 14:51

Let me add an international perspective. Users across the world who don't use a QWERTY keyborad are already used to using keyboard shortcuts like ctrl-Z for undo according to the position of those keys on their keyboard. For example, take this AZERTY keyborad layout, generally used by French speakers:

Photo of AZERTY keyboard

To launch the undo action, the user would press ctrl-Z, with the Z being in the top row, not the bottom row as it would be in a QWERTY keyboard. This applies even to keyboard shortcuts which are placed in convenient locations in a QWERTY keyboard, like ctrl-X, ctrl-C and ctrl-V for cut, copy and paste, or H, J, K and L for left, down, up, and right respectively in Vim. We're just used to it.

What about keyboard layouts that don't have letters like X, C and V, such as an Arabic keyboard layout? How would you launch the keyboard shortcut for undo ctrl-Z?

Photo of Arabic keyboard

Generally, the user does not need to manually switch to a QWERTY, AZERTY or other Latin keyboard layout in order to use keyboard shortcuts that use a modifier like ctrl or alt. Once you hold down the modifier like ctrl, you can press the Z as it would be found in a Latin keyboard layout. I've noticed this difference in operating systems, though:

  • On Windows, with an Arabic keyboard layout enabled, once you hold down a modifier like ctrl, you need to press the subsequent letter key (like Z) where it would be found on a QWERTY keyboard, even if no QWERTY keyboard layout is configured. (This is annoying if you are switching between Dvorak and Arabic, as the keyboard shortcuts change)
  • On Linux, with an Arabic keyboard layout enabled, once you hold down a modifier like ctrl, you need to press the subsequent letter key (like Z) where it would be found in the alternative keyboard layout. So if your alternative keyboard layout is Dvorak, it switches to that, if it is QWERTY, it switches to QWERTY.

The important point is consistency. When you're using Dvorak, you're probably being used to the position of ctrl-x, ctrl-c, ctrl-v, even when they are not that convenient. When now one application tries to make it easier, it actually makes you think as it behaves different from the other applications.

As others said, operation systems allow to remap some keys. Try to use the OS APIs as much as possible, so users can configure the keys themselves and your program just does what the toolkit does on the standard shortcut without knowing about the user's keyboard layout.

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