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How effective is the Dvorak keyboard layout (or other alternative layouts) at improving efficiency/productivity at the computer? Has any research been done on improved typing speed or productivity?

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There is a quite similar question about it in StackExchange Skeptics Site : Does the Dvorak keyboard increase typing speed ? The summary would be: > So there is a speed improvement to the Dvorak keyboard over the QWERTY keyboard. It's just not a very big one. –  Josep Ma. Serra Jul 1 '11 at 16:45
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Colemak has been developed now, specifically for computers (shortcuts like Ctrl+C, V, X don't change). It's easier and faster to learn than Dvorak, only one letter changes between hands, and carpalx shows that it's better than Dvorak. –  Jonta Jul 29 '11 at 10:41
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From all I've ever read about Dvorak, the speed improvement is questionable and highly disputed between the camps, but nobody disputes that Dvorak is more comfortable! You might want to use typing comfort as your measurement or decision factor instead. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 2 '11 at 7:15
    
Using a good contoured keyboard like the kinesis advantage probably helps your speed more. There is one with switchable qwerty / dvorak layout. kinesis-ergo.com/Merchant2/… –  hstoerr Dec 2 '11 at 18:27
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If you think about trying Dvorak out, take care to find out how your password for your screensaver and login are typed with the Dvorak keyboard. If you have only the password line you cannot see which button you really press, so you might need the Dvorak keyboard layout on another device to access your computer again. Yup, personal xp and somewhat productivity related. ;-) –  Daniel Wessel Mar 7 '12 at 22:47
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10 Answers 10

up vote 40 down vote accepted

Putting a group of QWERTY typists against a group of Dvorak typists is not proper research.

Dvorak research is usually biased, as to get a perfect measurement, you would have to compare a person typing QWERTY for X years against the same person typing Dvorak for Y years. And even then, the setting he will be in will most likely differ.

You should base yourself on pure analysis rather than actual typist research, as these are way better at showing the differences between various keyboard lay-out.

Let me show you some statistics for your post...

QWERTY lets your fingers travel 5.7880 meters, Dvorak lets your fingers travel 3.4009 meters.

The home row is used about three times more and the bottom row is reduced a lot, rather than going from top to bottom over and over again.

is turned into

Let me show you some statistics for Josep's post...

QWERTY lets his fingers travel 7.6083 meters, Dvorak lets his fingers travel 4.5237 meters.

Again, we see that Dvorak let's the home row used a lot more than any other row.

is turned into


Just by this non-biased, you can tell that it's just 4%.

Check out the second bulletin list on Wikipedia and feel free to play with the analyzer yourself.

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@Lri - Try pasting a whole code file into the analyser. Of course, this won't factor in auto-completion from your IDE... Perhaps capture some input with a keylogger and pass that through the analyser? –  Tullo Aug 8 '11 at 4:53
    
There's a variable not considered in your analysis, and that's the effect of same-hand sequences versus alternate hand typing sequences. Many, if not most English-language words result in long same-hand sequences on a qwerty keyboard, and alternating hand patterns on Dvorak. –  Stephanie Jun 13 '12 at 14:06
    
Thanks for mentioning @Stephanie, I know of that (as it is listed on Wikipedia and I literally feel this while typing) but it indeed is missing from above post. :) –  Tom Wijsman Jun 13 '12 at 14:47
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Two notes I'd like to add to what's been said already:

  1. You might also consider smaller tweaks instead of changing your whole keyboard layout. Switching the CapsLock key (which is rarely used) to something more useful (like Control, which is in an awful position by default) can make a big difference. Same with the right Alt (I have it as an extra Shift, since my laptop keyboard makes the normal Shift key a bit awkward to reach; another Backspace that wasn't all the way in the back corner of the keyboard could be very useful too...). These two changes definitely let me type faster, with fewer slow hand-contorting movements and less strain, and were much easier to get used to than a whole new layout!

  2. One important factor to consider here is how often you find yourself working on other people's computers. Being used to a non-standard keyboard will, unfortunately, make that a rather frustrating experience. I notice even my slightly modified keyboard habits make a significant difference when I'm trying to show someone something, accidentally press the wrong key, and spend the next few minutes trying to figure out what just happened. If your job involves a lot of that, you may want to stick to the standard layout.

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+1 for your second point. You obviously can't count on other people having their keyboards setup in Dvorak (or any other customized format) and switching it--even temporarily--would often be a breech of social etiquette. Unless you literally never use a common computer or setup your time would be better spent learning keyboard shortcuts or other time-savers that are standard across the applications you use frequently. –  Adam Wuerl Jul 2 '11 at 16:53
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+1 on the second point from here also. I do a fair bit of pair programming, where I program with other people. My dvorak use has made things annoying when we switch typists. –  RyanWilcox Jul 3 '11 at 22:37
    
+1 I used AutoHotKey to rebind the caps lock key a couple months ago and I program a lot faster with it. CapsLOCK + i = up, CapsLOCK + k = down, CapsLOCK + ; = right, CapsLOCK + j = left, CapsLOCK + h = home, CapsLOCK + ' = end. You can get it here: pastebin.com/MaEYTqts. I'll probably add some for capslock and delete –  mowwwalker Jun 23 '13 at 0:18
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Depends on what you're doing. I find that it makes typing general papers (reports, memos)—"formal" documents much easier. It just feels better and there is less fatigue. Oddly enough, less formal documents (chat, for example), might feel a bit weirder; there may not be any improvement. For coding, it is sometimes slower, especially as many symbols are at the nether regions of the keyboard and accuracy suffers there. YMMV.

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I also find that Dvorak "just feels better". Over time it even became natural to switch back and forth due to using other people's Qwerty-only computers. But how can we measure any of this? You may just have to try it and see. –  krubo Jul 3 '11 at 3:13
    
Hehe…I've actually found it very difficult to switch back to Qwerty, even though I've been using that for much longer. One week, after months of trying to learn Dvorak I just changed it to the latter, put on the on-screen keyboard for a few days and learned it. Now my muscle memory isn't letting me go back to Qwerty, and my typing rate is low even when looking at the keys…I've had to change the layout on other computers :D –  FeifanZ Jul 3 '11 at 13:34
    
I should be specific about how long it took. It took me a few months to get really used to Dvorak, including a 1-month no-Qwerty moratorium which helped a lot. After that, it took me a few years to get really used to occasionally switching to Qwerty when necessary. This was all 10 years ago, so it all feels totally natural now. –  krubo Jul 4 '11 at 2:53
    
I use Programmer Dvorak and it's great for coding. Not sure I'd suggest it for most users because it does add some level of hassle (installing it on each machine, is there one for e.g. Mac, etc etc) but otherwise I love it. kaufmann.no/roland/dvorak –  Richard Watson Aug 15 '11 at 7:29
    
Ah, they didn't have a simple installer for OS X back when I checked. Does it work in Lion by any chance? –  FeifanZ Aug 15 '11 at 12:17
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I learned typing in QWERTY in high school but never had much need to type a lot. I broke my arm and lost some movement in my right arm. After I went to college I could not stand typing papers for more than an hour at a time because my wrist would hurt to much. I then started typing DVORAK to see if it would help with comfort and it completely has. I will have a little soreness if I am at the computer all day, but generally I'm fine.

That being said, I agree with the other people who said DVORAK is more for comfort than efficiency. You actually may lose some productivity because of shortcut keys moving around etc. I still type with QWERTY and DVORAK because I support other people's computers for a living but I am about 60 wpm in DVORAK and 45 wpm in QWERTY. My recommendation is if you are planning on making a living by sitting at a computer, switch to DVORAK for comfort but know that you will take a hit in productivity for at least 4-6 months.

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Thanks, and welcome to the site! –  jrdioko Sep 12 '11 at 19:14
    
You might want to try out the kinesis contoured keyboard. Thats much better on the hands than a normal keyboard, and you can switch it between querty and dvorak. I like it a lot, though i haven't tried dvorak so far. kinesis-ergo.com/Merchant2/… –  hstoerr Dec 2 '11 at 18:24
    
+1 Amazing to hear such a story of what a keyboard lay-out switch can do, I'm sorry to hear about the broken army though... I hope you somewhat improve on that. –  Tom Wijsman Dec 17 '11 at 2:54
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Dvorak is a great security bonus too. When someone finds my computer unlocked, they can't update my Facebook to something nasty our send out a company-wide embarrassing email :) ..plus I use the Das Keyboard which has unmarked keys :)

I type on Dvorak and have for the last 6 years. I have to switch back when at someone else's keyboard. I'm slower on qwerty, but that's changing. Dvorak is way more comfortable and I never get tired from typing.

In windows, I map ctrl-shft-1 to set keyboard to Dvorak and ctrl-shft-2 to set it to Querty. I disable the toggle shortcut as that causes more inadvertent switches.

For my phone's keyboard I use Swype. Much faster than any other keyboard on a phone. AS a side effect, it's teaching me querty

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For considering effectiveness of Dvorak layout, I think you should also consider the learning curve to "master" it.

We are so used with QWERTY that it feels natural for me. While that might make me type 4%, 10% slower than on Dvorak, my productivity bottlenecks are others, such as external distractions, not focusing on the right things (my own distractions), non-effective meetings, etc.

So, say I'm willing to master it. It will take a long time and a lot of effort (while having lot less productivity typing slow) and the gains would be very low. So, is this efficient? Is it really worth it?

I guess I would only learn that just if I typed a lot, to avoid wrist pains. Even though I think that ergonomics would matter more than that, in this case.

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I personally type in both. I prefer Dvorak, although that may be for status and preference reasons rather than actual efficiency. I believe that having learned Dvorak two or three years ago I may have put more effort into it. I know I'm quicker and more accurate, but it may simply be because I learned later.

Switching back and forth isn't much of an issue for me, because I typed in qwerty for so long. I generally have an minute or two of confusion and then it clears.

Most Windows 7 machines can be set to use Dvorak by using the Language bar. The only portability issues I run into are in other people trying to use my left handed mouse and weird unmarked keyboard. Generally, though, I convert really well now that I'm comfortable in both, but I consider it more a preference than an efficiency thing.

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Qwerty touch typer for 10 years, Dvorak touch typer for 8 years.

Comparing myself to my peak speed at Qwerty and peak at Dvorak I would say it's about the same. The difference is negligible.

Dvorak vs Qwerty

Pros Dvorak

  • Dvorak is much more comfortable for me. I like how it feels.
  • It's possible it's better for you in terms of RSI (repetitive stress injury)

The benefits really stop there

  • I look like I can't type when I use someone elses computer because it takes awhile for me to mentally shift, and I'm just not very good at Qwerty anymore.
  • When other people use my computer they are like WTF mate!
  • When I remote desktop to servers and other computers if I get disconnected the next person logs in and the keyboard is all effed up.
  • Few mobile devices support Dvorak, however I can still tear it up Qwerty while texting. Guess thumb muscle memory is different.

I usually don't recommend changing. I changed because of tendentious / RSI, slowed me down for 2 weeks while i learned it. Gave me a chance to heal some... but overall I usually do not recommend it.

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You kidding me, the "WTF mate!" is about the greatest benefit. It makes you look alien and they often take interest in figuring out the letters, it's amusing. –  Vic Goldfeld Nov 19 '11 at 14:37
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Well on occasion you get to drop some knowledge on someone about how Qwerty was designed to be as inefficient as possible. But - overall I don't tend to recommend Dvorak to others. I'm not going to switch back, but if you share a computer or do any pair programming with people it can be a PITA –  Ryan Doom Nov 20 '11 at 0:47
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I switched as part of a formal research study when I worked at Tektronix Computer Research Lab on human factors engineering in the 80's.

I don't have a copy of my final report, but to summarize:

  • my speed improved about 10%
  • I had remarkably less discomfort at the end of the day
  • it took two 40-hour weeks for me to "break even" with my former Shoals typing speed
  • my typing accuracy improved by about 15%
  • however, more typos tended to be valid words, that were not caught by spelling correction: "cot" for "cat", "bin" for "bun", etc., almost all involving the centre vowel of three-letter words

Nearly 30 years later, I still use Dvorak, and won't go back.

As a security plus, I use Dvorak proximal patterns for passwords that are simple to remember and quick to type, but which are completely meaningless to Shoals typists. For example, "4puk7ghm" is the first-finger column of right and left hands in Dvorak but are all over the place on Shoals. It also tends to meet security systems' password constraints.

To those worrying about "two on a tube" pair programming, I actually found it to be an advantage, as long as you can quickly change with a hot key or physical switch.

I worked with someone who was constantly grabbing the keyboard or mouse, and having to switch layouts both tempered that person's "grabbiness," and also allowed for a "context switch" period in which to gather thoughts.

This is similar to requesting others first ask, "May I interrupt?" rather than just launching into asking something. I also switched to left-mousing for the same reason. In pair-programming, good fences make good neighbours… :-)

One other thing worth noting that I haven't seen mentioned here: the Dvorak layout was designed for English prose, not computer programming, which generally contains a lot of non-alphabetical characters. Other languages or a specialized vocabulary also may temper some of Dvorak's advantages.

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More anecdotal evidence pro Dvorak: I have a programmer friend who switched to Dvorak from Qwerty a summer ago when he started having shooting pains in his wrists. Now his speed is about 20 wpm slower (85+ instead of 115) but is he going to go back? (Ans: Dvorak has completely eliminated his wrist pains.)

I was also at the same point: completely comfortable in Dvorak, but my typing speed was about 60-70 WPM compared to a former 80-90(?) in Qwerty. Even if I have to toggle it before others can use my computer, Dvorak is supremely more comfortable. (Then I found Typeracer and Typing.io and broke a barrier I didn't think I could.)

I don't buy the whole "Dvorak is better because alternating fingers." Would you rather type "asdfjkl;" or "ajskdlf;" ? To me, much of Dvorak's comfort comes from more sequences being of the first runny kind than in Qwerty. (I also don't buy the "more-used letters on home row" because what's more-used for me is different (cough Vim) and it's more natural to splay my hand than curl 8 fingers on the middle row.)

For what it's worth, Dvorak is a pain for programming, but an addiction to Typing.io fixed that. I just count my blessings I don't have to program on a German keyboard anymore.

Another marginal benefit to knowing Dvorak: I went to type something on my friend's computer (I was in my back-to-Qwerty phase at the time):

['gaepaycj p.jclprjcyf]

Me: "Oh, it's in dvorak."

[type in dvorak]

Friend: "You know dvorak?"

Finally, it's not how fast you type; it's all about your cognitive load.

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