Practical Solutions Communication History of Qwerty Keyboard Part 2

About the history of keyboard layouts Qwerty and Dvorak or DSK.



The Tyranny of Qwerty

On this keyboard you could type more than 3,000 words on the familiar home row, compared with perhaps only 50 on qwerty's home row. Dvorak put all the vowels in his home row, under the fingers of the left hand. The right hand rested atop H, T, N, and S, with D just to the left of the right index finger. Qwerty's J and K, occupying the most prominent place, were banished to just about the least prominent on Dvorak's keyboard. And so on.

Dvorak rearranged things so that 70% of the work could be done in the home row, 22% in the row above, and 8% below.

Dvorak also made the right hand work harder, giving it 56% of the load, the left hand 44%. On qwerty, the left hand has to handle 57% of the work, the right hand 43%. Dvorak also straightened out the work load of the separate fingers and greatly reduced the clumsy stroking that almost guaranteed fatigue and errors.

In his 538-page book, Typewriter Behavior, Dvorak, then professor of education and director of research at the University of Washington in Seattle, described his work. He had studied thousands of words to discover the frequency of letters and letter combinations. He scrutinized finger movements with slow-motion films of typists. And he tested more than 250 possible keyboards.

One of his early conclusions was that you could come up with a better keyboard simply by arranging the letters at random--a pretty strong condemnation of qwerty.

Dvorak, of course, was not the first, or the last, to try to improve the old Sholes keyboard. As far back as 1893, for example, J. G. Hammond came up with what he believed was a better arrangement. And in the 1940s Roy T. Griffith of Pittsburgh introduced his mini-motion keyboard, which also allowed more words to be typed on the home row. But Dvorak's arrangement seems to have been the best researched and, in the opinion of many, by far the best.

True, there was a certain flurry of interest when Dvorak came out with his keyboard, but no one could figure out how to change. Everybody--typists, industries, schools--was committed to another system.

Dvorak persisted. One of his most impressive demonstrations took place during W.W.II, when he retrained 14 navy women to use his keyboard. After a month the women were turning out 74% more work and were 68% more accurate. After only 10 days, in fact, the change had paid for itself.

Using the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, or DSK, as it came to be called, the women's fingertips were moving little more than 1 mi. on an average day, compared with 12 to 20 mi. a day for typists using the standard keyboard.

Test after test was conducted--so many, in fact, that by 1965 the U.S. Bureau of Standards felt compelled to say that "there is little need to demonstrate further the superiority of the Dvorak keyboard in experimental tests. Plenty of well-documented evidence exists."

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