Some of the keys on a keyboard are rectangular in shape, and the Enter key is often a strange shape, but the majority of keys are square. But there could be other possible shapes for those keys.

For example hexagonal keys could fit well with the staggered layout of keys, and reduce the distance between adjacent keys in a diagonal direction.

Hexagonal keyboard layout

(This could be skewed to provide the same positions we are used to.)

I see some manufacturers have also created some keyboards with round keys, but I have never seen these in use, except on very old typewriters.

So is there are good reason why keys on a keyboard are square, and why a hexagonal layout has never caught on?

  • 2
    You should try: Print it and try putting your fingers on it like if you were typing. You will understand why it's not optimal. Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 6:47
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    Such keyboard would be loved by football fans
    – Mikhail V
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 23:29
  • 9
    ... and bees...
    – devios1
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 0:19
  • Because the keys on a typewriter were originally round.
    – user67695
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 13:48
  • ... and Northern Irishman... Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 1:09

6 Answers 6


Keyboard design is largely governed by convention for many reasons:

  • The QWERTY layout is what consumers want and expect
  • Typing is so ubiquitous and so driven by muscle memory that the staggered layout is easiest to use for most users

The hexagonal layout isn't a bad idea. But there are some real drawbacks:

  • Flesh out your design more. What would the space bar and number keys look like? What about the numeric keypad, which is non staggered? Now you have a choice between mixing square and hexagonal keys, or having a very awkward slanted keypad. What would the tab, backspace and shift keys look like?
    • You will find that the hexagonal shape creates a lot of layout problems with a full keyboard
  • Not all keys in a standard format QWERTY keyboard are exactly staggered, and hexagonal keys only allow for a specific, centered, stagger.
  • Square keys are nicely aligned in rows so there is cognitive benefit to having the keys laid out with a horizontal baseline between the keys....they eye can distinguish the rows better.
  • Regarding the "specific, centres stagger", the OP explained that the hexagons could be skewed, solving this prob.
    – aaaidan
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 7:44
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    @aaaidan I'd encourage you to try the skewed hexagon layout on top of an actual reference keyboard....such as an IBM PS2. I think you will find that you end up with some very irregular hexagons, and the resulting lack of symmetry and grid alignment creates a lot of cognitive load for users because of the camouflage effect.
    – tohster
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 7:50
  • Oh of course, I totally agree that it would add a lot of cognitive load, and probably look like a dog's breakfast. I was just pointing out that a hexagonal design isn't stuck in that centres stagger you mention in your answer. Sounds like you knew that...
    – aaaidan
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 7:53
  • Ahhhhh. Agreed!
    – tohster
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 8:11
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    This picture helps to visualise why hexagonal keys would affect more than just the alphanumerics. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 11:27

First, the question can be why the keyboard layout is staggered. The reason is typewriter construction. And for a typewriter, it did not make much sense to stagger it by half of the key width, as this would not allow more than two rows.

Why is it staggered today? People are conservative. The traditional staggering is kind of good for the right hand, but wrong for the left hand if you move your hands by columns.

Of course, there are other approaches and non-conservative people can buy non-conservative keyboards, for example:

  • matrix keyboards (no staggering)
  • columnar keyboards (vertical staggering that respects different finger lengths) – this is not much compatible with hexagons, as you don't want the columns to stagger by half of the keycap size
  • split keyboards (often mixed with columnar or matrix approachs)

They are IMHO superior, but they are rare. Probably just few people do care about it, people are conservative and the low-volume production of those keyboards is also expensive.

But people having a columnar or matrix keyboard are likely touch-typists and I don't see any advantage of hexagons there. When touch-typing:

  1. You move your middle fingers and ring fingers only vertically, not horizontally.
  2. You move your pinkies (left pinky for tab key etc., right pinky for symbols and keys like enter) and more noticably index fingers (left index finger for 5, T, G, B, right index finger for 6, Y, H, N) also horizontally a bit. How would hexagonal keys help there? Your fingers would move non-orthogonally, that's all.

So, what would the buyers of such keyboard be like? I see some conditions that would likely need to be satistied at the same time:

  1. Non-conservative people willing to use non-conventional keyboard.
  2. People that don't want vertically-staggered keyboards (like ErgoDox), which is incompatible with hexagonal layout (unless you stagger quite a much).
  3. People who don't touch-type and do more horizontal finger movement.
  4. Until widely adopted: People willing to spend some extra money for that keyboard. For non-mainstream keyboards, you are going to spend about $300 rather than $30.

I don't see much intersection of those groups, so I don't think there is much of demand…

P.S.: I use ErgoDox keyboard, because I don't like the traditional typewriter-inspired ones.

  • A number of early home-computer keyboards were non-staggered. This revealed a major problem with the non-staggered design: natural finger motion is a better match to a staggered keyboard.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 3:20

I see, this is actually a good idea. I would honestly love just a few keyboards like this, so that some people can get what they want (I can adapt very quickly between types of keyboards, being a computer scientist), and this type of keyboard would help me a lot more.

The space key could be the same as usual, but instead of only two vertexes on each side, it would have 3. Same goes for the backspace, shift, and tab buttons. The staggering could still exist, but the keys would be divided into 3 types of rows, which would likely help the typist associate letters with others and increase organization. In fact, the buttons could be placed with alternating exterior sides parallel to each other, which provides staggering and organization at once, and decreases cognitive load. Also, the keys could be compacted far more than the keyboard on, say, a laptop, which would mean more space to put similar shortcut keys and other aids. Additionally, if this keyboard comes into effect, it wouldn't be nearly as different as, say, a 3-Dimension Keyboard (holographic), but could be similarly compact.

The shape of these keys also appear far more natural and pleasing on the eye than square, misplaced keys. Finally, even if these keyboards weren't mass-produced, they could still be very helpful to scientific facilities for their compactness and the fact that they're a lot less difficult to type on. The reason I give the last reason is because although it may seem that out current QWERTY keyboards seem easy enough to type on, it would likely be far easier to type on a Hex keyboard due to the 3 levels of organization, or even 4. We are already adjusted to the QWERTY keyboards because we are taught that way, and indeed, I am currently using one. However, it may be a lot easier to use, say, an ABCDEF keyboard because you know where the letters are, for you likely know the alphabet. That on a Hex keyboard would provide the fourth level of organization.

In conclusion, a keyboard with hexagonal keys may be difficult to accept at first, but if the world attempts typing with one, it is possible that this type of keyboard could overthrow the current QWERTY, AZERTY, etc keyboards.

Note: English is not my first language, so pardon if I misuse or misspell words. Also, I apologize if my wording wasn't as good as it could be.

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    This doesn't answer the question, "Why are keyboard keys square?" Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 4:46
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    We could just have a flat membrane with the letters printed on it, and so no gaps or separation of the 'keys' at all. Hey, wait a minute...
    – user67695
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 13:51

Why not use square keys? Square keys seem ostensibly simpler; each row does not need to be perfectly staggered by 1/2 of the key width (or, if you don't need perfectly hexagonal keys, you don't need to go through much trouble figuring out how to skew your hexagons), and it's easier to deal with keys that are extra wide (or extra tall).

While I think your hexagonal layout is cute, what problem do hexagonal keys actually solve? You claim that a hexagonal keyboard would "reduce the distance between adjacent keys in a diagonal direction", but:

  • The distance from the center of one key to the center of another key would be the same regardless of whether the keys are square/rectangular or hexagonal.
  • The gap between keys is similarly independent of whether the keys are square/rectangular or hexagonal.

That is, a keyboard with square-ish keys looks pretty much the same:

The same keyboard with square-ish keys

The key borders are moved around a bit when using hexagonal keys, but does that matter?

The hexagonal arrangement does give you keys that more closely approximate circles, and therefore the edge of each key is closer to being equidistant from its center. However, it is not at all clear that that property is important; as long as the key face is sufficiently big to easily press, the distance between key centers seems more important.


A Hexagonal keyboard, or any shape key keyboard using the hex template is perfect for the reasons of, being new & different, it breaks up the boring, boring, boring square & shaped to fit & dated keyboard layout. I'm not suggesting this to become a new standard to replace what is standard now, but the hex layout is better from an ergonomic stand point. Also it has nothing to do with qwerty or non qwerty because the Hex layout is still qwerty.

Qwerty means the position of the letters in relation to each other, not the position of the keys, & they don't move enough to make a difference in use. The current layout of a keyboard isn't what people want because many people don't even think about it & they only expect it because the layout is over a hundred years old. It is copied from typewriters & continues as 'tradition' simply because nobody has been bothered to change it.

Also, to make various options of keys in any shape makes buying one more individual to you s a 'key' to user happiness. Everybody likes to be different because we are individual. It's what we like to show in our outward appearance & then accessorize with aesthetic extras. I personally have always had a thing for Hexagons, it's mathematics in Nature, I adorn my house with hexagon stuff & computer accessories so I would definitely buy one as I have always wanted exactly this.


I dont know, What if the keyboard were something like thisenter image description here

Sorry, I thought you are sharing ideas. This Keyboard is based on 75%, the right-shift botton and ctrl botton are the green no-named after alt botton, so u decide which one u would like to mark as shif which as ctrl

why it is better? hmm, it is different,

the starting point was the cross (w,s,a,d) thinking about gaming first.,also to reach the next key the movement is diagonal "from D to E"(traditionally it is up down, left right movemente) so in the keyboard from key D you can reach to E,R,F,C> 4 keys., from this one you can reach also 4 keys> 4,E,F,C. in case of A, in the keyboard u can reach to Q, Z> in this keyboard you can reach to Q,Z,X,2 with the natural movement of the finger.

it is not worse than the traditional, it is different and being different it becomes an option, having options it is good, so better having options than dont have.

(sorry for my english)(this is not any final version for a keyboard so feel free to add changes)

  • A mixture of triangles, squares, a rectangle, a pentagon and a heptagon? +1 for thinking out of your (apparently weirdly shaped) box! -1 for the missing '|', Scroll Lock, Ins and the small Right-Shift, which could be bottom left to Enter and then take the bottom quarter of that, such making it a hexagon! The LEDs should be octagons. +1 for creativity. Sums up to: Upvote. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 1:38

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