The Dvorak keyboard is a computer input device that was designed in the 1930s to increase typing ergonomics and efficiency and reduce typing errors. This keyboard has all vowels and punctuation marks on the left side and consonants on the right side. The layout places the most commonly used letters in the middle row, also known as the home row, where they’re easier to reach, and the less commonly used letters on the bottom row. This layout is intended for the English language—for other European languages, letter frequencies, sequences, and bigrams ( a sequence of two elements, in this case, words, create a bigram) differ.
In this definition...
What does the Dvorak keyboard look like?
The Dvorak keyboard appears as shown:
Credit: HowToGeek.com, Alternative Keyboard Layouts Explained: Should You Switch to Dvorak or Colemak?
The intention behind the Dvorak keyboard was to increase typing speed in relation to the QWERTY keyboard. The creators of the Dvorak keyboard believed the QWERTY keyboard had the following imperfections:
- Common letter combinations require awkward finder motions
- Common letter combinations such as ed and de are typed with the same finger.
- Common letter combinations require a finger to jump over the home row
- Common letter combinations such as was and were are typed with one hand, rendering the other hand idle.
- Most typing is done with the left hand, which is not the dominant hand for the majority of people.
The creators of the Dvorak keyboard studied letter frequencies and the physiology of the hand. They used this information to create a new layout that reduced the QWERTY keyboard problems mentioned above. The principles that stemmed from the research are as follows:
- Letters should be typed by alternating between hands.
- For maximum speed and efficiency, the most common letters and bigrams should be present on the home row.
- The least common letters should be on the bottom row, which is the hardest row to reach.
- The right hand should do more of the typing, since the majority of people are right-handed.
- A digraph, or a combination of two letters representing one sound, such as ph and ey, should not be typed with adjacent fingers.
- Stroking should move from the edges of the keyboard to the middle. An example of this is that when you are tapping fingers on a table, it is easier going from the ring finger to the index finger than vice versa. We recommend giving it a try.
While the Dvorak keyboard never replaced the QWERTY keyboard, all major operating systems (Windows, macOS, Linux, UNIX, Chrome OS, etc.) support the Dvorak layout, even if the physical keyboard device is labeled with QWERTY keys. For this reason, touch typing—or using muscle memory to type as opposed to a hunt-and-peck method—is an integral part of the Dvorak approach.
History of the Dvorak keyboard
The keyboard was developed by two education professors: August Dvorak from the University of Washington and his brother-in-law, William Dealy, from the North Texas State Teachers College. They saw deficiencies with the traditional QWERTY keyboard, so they studied letter frequencies in the English language as well as physiology of the human hand to determine the optimal layout of characters, as mentioned above.
In 1933, Dvorak entered typists trained on the Dvorak keyboard into international typing contests. QWERTY typists were unsettled by the rapid typing of the Dvorak typists and asked for separate seating. In that same decade, a school district in Washington ran experimental classes to determine whether to hold Dvorak typing classes. After 2,700 high school students were put through a Dvorak class, it was found that students learned the Dvorak keyboard in one-third of the time it took to learn the QWERTY keyboard. However, when a new school board was elected, Dvorak layout classes ended.
By the early 1950s, the popularity of the Dvorak keyboard increased. Many businesses and government organizations considered retraining their typists on the keyboard. However, a study was conducted by the General Services Administration that failed to show any benefit of the Dvorak keyboard layout in typing or training speed. After this study was made public, interest in the keyboard waned.
Many variations of the Dvorak keyboard surfaced in the first 50 years of its use, including left-handed and right-handed versions for users with only one hand, but its current layout was standardized by the American National Standards Institute in 1982. This brought the Dvorak layout to the center of attention for professional typists and keyboard manufacturers alike. Perhaps most notably, the Apple IIc was sold in 1984 with a keyboard that had a manual switch to alternate between the Dvorak and QWERTY input methods.
QWERTY vs. Dvorak vs. Colemak
The QWERTY keyboard layout became popular after it was released as a part of the Remington No. 2 typewriter in 1878. This layout was created by Christopher Sholes, but many myths surround the reason for its creation. Some say that he created the QWERTY keyboard to separate common letter combinations and keep typewriter keys from jamming. Researchers say there is no proof of this claim, especially since E and R are neighbors and are the fourth most common letter combination in the English language.
Unlike the traditional QWERTY keyboard, the Dvorak keyboard is designed so that the middle row of keys includes the most frequently used letters of the Latin alphabet. However, the research behind the Dvorak’s efficiency and ergonomics compared to the QWERTY have been widely disputed. Barbara Blackburn, the record-holder for fastest typist in the Guinness Book of World Records, is said to have clocked her top speed on a Dvorak keyboard, but subsequent record holders have beaten her speed using QWERTY.
Similarly, some estimates show that a typist’s finger movement on a Dvorak keyboard is about two-thirds of that for a QWERTY keyboard. Some reports have also shown that the frequency of “hurdling” over other keys while typing is less common with the Dvorak, which signifies less wrist and finger strain than with the QWERTY. Most users, though, have reported only slight ergonomic benefits for the Dvorak in real-world settings. In the long term, the Dvorak layout is great for those looking to type with less effort overall and are willing to overcome the challenge of learning something new.
The Colemak keyboard
In addition to QWERTY and Dvorak keyboards is the Colemak keyboard, a keyboard layout created by Shai Coleman in 2006 that is the third most popular English layout. This layout was designed with the QWERTY layout as a base, changing position of 17 total keys while retaining the QWERTY positions of the non-alphabetic keys and keyboard shortcuts. The intention behind the Colemak layout is to make it easier to learn than the Dvorak layout for people who are already familiar with the QWERTY layout.
How to switch to the Dvorak keyboard
If you’ve decided to switch to a Dvorak keyboard, there are a couple ways to change the physical layout of your current keyboard:
- Manually rearranging the keys by prying them off and giving them new locations. This may cause issues if the keys are designed to specifically fit in their default location. This also makes it difficult to easily switch back to a QWERTY keyboard layout.
- Buying a Dvorak keyboard. These can be expensive.
- Using keyboard stickers or buying a Dvorak keyboard overlay.
Switching the physical layout, however, will not switch the layout in the operating system of your computer. Here is how to change the keyboard layout in Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS operating systems:
Windows 8 & 10
- Open the Control Panel
- Open the Clock, Language, and Region section. Click Change input methods.
- Click Options
- Click Add an input method
- Select Dvorak layout.
Windows 7 and earlier
- Open the control panel
- Open the Clock, Language, and Region section. Click Change keyboards or other input methods.
- Click Change keyboard
- Click Add and select Dvorak keyboard.
- Open System Preferences
- Click Keyboard
- Click Input Sources and then select the plus sign in the bottom left corner.
- From the list of English sources, choose the Dvorak keyboard.
- Once the alternative layouts are installed, they can be quickly accessed from the menu bar at the top of the screen.
- The keyboard for Android is changed using the official Google Keyboard. Open Settings.
- Click Language & input
- Ensure the Google Keyboard is assigned under the Current Keyboard. If not, click Current Keyboard.
- Once the Google Keyboard is chosen, go back to Language & input and click Google Keyboard.
- Click Preferences
- Click the plus sign in the upper right corner.
- Select the English language and the Dvorak language from the dropdown menus.
- Back at the Google Keyboard page, click Languages.
- Activate the Dvorak keyboard by switching the toggle from left to right.
Dvorak keyboard variations
Aside from the version of the Dvorak layout standardized in 1982, there are a couple other variants:
Dvorak developed both a left-handed and right-handed layout for touch-typing with one hand. These layouts were designed in response to Col. Robert Allen losing an arm in battle. Dvorak’s aim was to minimize movement of the hand from side to side and also minimize overall finger movement. Each layout (both left and right) allows the hand to rest in the center of the keyboard, as opposed to one side. These layouts allow more accessibility to single-handed users, but they’re also used by people who prefer having one hand free while the other is typing.
The left-handed and right-handed layouts are near mirror images, save some punctuation keys, letters that aren’t commonly used, and wide keys such as the enter and shift key. Pictured below are the left and right hand versions of the Dvorak one-handed layout.