J. R. Swab

Experience Switching To The Dvorak Keyboard


Categories: [Technology]
Tags: keyboard, hardware, health keyboard hardware health

Back in October of 2017, I chose to drop QWERTY cold turkey and force myself to learn how to type on the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. I tried to accomplish this about a year prior but fell off when I could not type well in either style. I also was not typing a lot back then, so my practice was seldom and a hassle when I needed to type Dvorak.

This is no fault of the keyboard, the failure was in my inability to discipline myself enough to learn the new layout at that time.

Fast forward to October 2017 when I did all my daily blogging on STEEM. At this time the pain that QWERTY caused me during any extended typing session was getting out of control, and I chose to make the switch for good.

What Is The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard

The simplified keyboard is an alternate keyboard layout introduced in 1936 by Dr. August Dvorak and Dr. William Dealey, who happened to be Dr. Dvorak's brother-in-law. This keyboard is now known as the Dvorak Keyboard and is available to use today on all major platforms.

On this keyboard, the home row differs significantly from what you see on QWERTY. On the left side, you will find nothing but vowels and the right holds the most used consonants. On the top row are the letters used most often only to those on the home row, with the bottom row left for the rarely used keys. This works well since reaching our fingers to the bottom row puts the most strain on our joints.

For comparison, thirty-two percent of all keystrokes on QWERTY happen on the home row, whereas on Dvorak, the number is seventy percent!

This limits the amount of distance traveled by our fingers considerably. On QWERTY, the average office worker will move their fingers an average of sixteen miles! While using the Dvorak keyboard, it is only one mile of distance.

Or so I've read.

While the mileage measure is debatable, what is not is the fact the fingers move less on the Dvorak Keyboard and, in turn, reduces strain. Less pain is what I have experienced since making the switch from QWERTY. The only time I find I have pain is when using an awful keyboard like those found on MacBooks. Using my mechanical keyboard mapped to Dvorak gives me no pain at all no matter how much I type.

It's pretty awesome.

Benefits Over QWERTY

There are many claimed benefits of this old but new keyboard floating around on the internet. Everything from efficiency to comfort to speed increases. While your fingers are only ever going to go so fast, you may still see a slight uptick in your words per minute without as many errors. Even the world record holder for typing speed, Barbara Blackburn, uses the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard!

As of 2005, writer Barbara Blackburn was the fastest alphanumerical English language typist in the world, according to The Guinness Book of World Records. Using the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, she maintained 150 wpm for 50 minutes, and 170 wpm for shorter periods. Her top speed was 212 wpm. - Wikipedia

Efficient

Since we are not moving our fingers as much on this keyboard, the efficiency can increase far past that of QWERTY. It's quite logical, and I really like this benefit. One of the most difficult movements for my hand is hitting the backspace, and I do that a lot. Not just because my spelling is trash but because I end up hitting the wrong keys or in the wrong order all the time on QWERTY. (but yes, my spelling is still trash)

Comfortable

This keyboard aims to reduce finger strain while typing or at least that is what the biggest supporters claim. This makes sense since the letters were arranged by Dr. Dvorak to achieve minimal finger movement. So in theory that should reduce finger strain.

In the past when I first learned the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, I noticed this was true for me. I should have never went back to QWERTY. As I type this my fingers are getting sore and stiff from all the movement. This does not happen when I use Dvorak because my fingers don't have to travel as far as often.

If you use Dvorak and then go back to QWERTY, you find it feels like your fingers are never on the keyboard but flying above it compared to the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard.

Fast

As we mentioned above the world's fasted typer as defined by the Guinness Book Of World Records uses the Dvorak keyboard. So that must mean something right? Yes, it does but switching to Dvorak just for the speed is not a good option. Since you must re-train your muscle memory, your speed will be zero and seem that way for a long time.

Think about it. You have been typing on a QWERTY keyboard for many years, decades even! There is no way you can increase your speed a ton by moving to Dvorak's keyboard. However, people do get faster over time. One student posted in the subreddit that after two hundred days of using only the Dvorak keyboard, he is now past his QWERTY speeds. Still impressive since they probably started typing on QWERTY many years ago.

The Switch

After choosing to move to the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, I soon found out how much of my typing was muscle memory ingrained into my fingers. After typing QWERTY for seventeen years, I was not typing letters and words, but instead expecting a series of muscle memories. Having this deep memory made moving a frustrating experience. The only reason I stuck with it this time was due to the pain in my fingers.

The first two weeks of only typing in Dvorak were mentally painful. My mind became frustrated, knowing that if I just moved back to QWERTY, I would type so much faster. Layer that on top of all the mistakes and typos I made due to my mind wanting one thing and my fingers wanting another.

During those first two weeks, I did a lot of typing tutors online meant to teach the user how to type. Keybr.com was the most effective at showing me where the letters were. After I had the location down and formed some level of muscle memory, I moved to learn.dvorak.nl to type words that I would most likely use in my average day.

The Aftermath

After the initial two weeks, I was proficient enough to use Dvorak daily with minimal suffering. I was still slow on the keyboard, but, if I took my time, I made a few mistakes, and my hands had no pain. After about a month of forcing myself to use Dvorak, I was at a point where I had no desire to use QWERTY. My speed was still not matched to my old QWERTY speed, but it was bearable.

At this point, (over a year using only Dvorak) my speed is back to where it was on QWERTY before the switch. I no longer type QWERTY except on my mobile device where it is entirely different muscle memory. There is also no need no move to Dvorak there since the letter spacing allows my thumbs to steer clear of each other. Sometimes I do switch to Dvorak on my mobile device but have yet to do so again after buying the OnePlus 6T.

I tend to be lazy in odd ways.

The only downside to going all in on Dvorak and leaving QWERTY in the dust is now I am unable to touch type QWERTY at old speed. That said, I never made it a point to keep my QWERTY speeds up or even care to save that ability. With today's technology, every device I will ever use can map any keyboard to Dvorak.

A quick search online will bring up many testimonials of Dvorak users and how long it took them to match their old QWERTY speeds and even surpass them. Like this example on /r/dvorak where the user hit their QWERTY speeds in about 200 days and continues to increase from there. To me, the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard is a keyboard for a lifetime much like Vim is an editor for a lifetime; we will always improve as we use these tools more and more.

The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. More Efficient. More Comfortable. Faster.


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