Practical Solutions Communication History of Qwerty Keyboard Part 4

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



The Tyranny of Qwerty

According to Davis, "Present-day typing classes fail to bring 70% of the students up to a 40-word-a-minute competence. The Dvorak record, on the other hand, is virtually 100% successful in imparting 60-word-a-minute excellence in about the same training time that would have led to 30 words a minute on old qwerty."

But couldn't computers come up with something even better than Dvorak, which was, after all, developed some 40 years ago?

Davis doesn't think so. "Every newcomer thinks he'll get different and better answers if he rounds up new data and runs it through a computer," he says. "Dvorak took the utmost pains to get the ultimate keyboard. Of course, there are thousands of ways to arrange a typewriter keyboard. But few of these are even plausible, and all the plausible ones were analyzed down to the last detail. Dvorak is the outcome."

And how about the equipment problem?

Davis says: "For every alphanumerically keyboarded device, except most of the old models of linotype and intertype, there is some conversion method well within the range of economic practicability. An attachment to convert a rather wide variety of machines could be provided at about the cost of a good office-model typewriter. For the flexible, more expensive electronic devices, not even this is required.

"You can make the change by attrition," he adds. "It takes about the same time to train an operator as it does to get equipment. The life of a typewriter in a big bank is eight years. Most office careers last longer than that. When the time comes to get a new machine, the time to retrain the operator has come, too"

Davis cites a two-year experiment (1966-1968) when DSK was tested in the composing room of the Western Publishing Company printing plant in Cambridge, Md. A woman employee was retrained for two full weeks on a DSK keyboard. Then she was put to work on a perforator.

The woman, previously the slowest operator in the plant, rose from 12,000 strokes an hour to 16,000, the plant record being 18,000. But then Western had a change in management, and that was about as far as it all went.

More recently Blaine Hiscock, head machinist at the Toronto Globe and Mail, trained two composing room operators on DSK. Hiscock reports: "We found we were able to move the two people involved to the perforating machines after about a month of practicing one to three hours a day on a DSK typewriter."

Hiscock emphasizes that the Globe and Mail doesn't have a concentrated training program for DSK perforation, but he says, "We would consider the results of our experimentation quite encouraging if we decided to expand with DSK."

He adds that he converted two of his own typewriters to DSK, one manual and one electric portable, by resoldering the type slugs to the type bars.

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