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The Dvorak Keyboard: Should I learn it?

December 27, 2010

The Dvorak keyboard layout is an alternative to the most common computer keyboard design, the QWERTY keyboard. You know that you are using the qwerty keyboard if the first six letters on the upper row of your keyboard spells Q-W-E-R-T-Y.

The QWERTY KeyboardThe QWERTY Keyboard
The Dvorak KeyboardThe Dvorak Keyboard

Why the different layouts? The QWERTY layout was designed first for the early typewriters. The Dvorak layout was designed to increase typing speed, decrease finger strain, and simplify typing. It is called the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard after Dr. August Dvorak, its inventor. While the Dvorak layout seems better suited to the needs of today, QWERTY remains most common. I won't go into depth because several other great articles cover the history:

  • The Dvorak Zine – a fun and short read that tells the story of both keyboards using illustrations and graphics like a comic book.
  • Wired.com Summary - A short and sweet summary from wired.com on the invention and use of the Dvorak keyboard.
  • Dvorak Wikipedia Article – The full scoop

What bugged me the most about the Dvorak story was that it was a better keyboard design but we were too steeped in tradition to accept it. We were too lazy to learn a better way. After my research, I wanted to learn it but I needed to know how long it would take. I was afraid it would slow me down and hurt my performance at school or work. When I couldn’t find any info, I decided to record my own data by and tracking my speeds from day to day. Here is the data I got (see below for my methodology).

Dvorak vs Qwerty typing speedsBasically, it took me about 3 months to go from nothing up to speeds comparable with QWERTY.  My average speed with QWERTY has dropped a bit (you can see the drop in the data but I didn’t notice it as I typed). Now I can type both kinds equally and I am able to easily switch back and forth between them (it takes me a minute or less to reorient myself after switching). I imagine that my speeds will continue to improve as I continue to use them. Learning was challenging at first but became fun as I started to make progress. I know I would have learned it much faster had I not worked to stay sharp in both QWERTY and Dvorak. That was what slowed me down. Ultimately it was worth it though, because knowing them both seems to work best for me.

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. I'd recommend it to anyone. It also feels good to cast my vote. It is a vote for research based design, for making our lives more efficient, and most of all… for mankind to learn better technologies instead of being too stubborn to change. The world is accelerating, and those who are unwilling to embrace change will soon be left in the dust.

Methodology: I ordered transparent keyboard stickers for the Dvorak layout to put on the keys of my laptop. After applying the stickers, I enabled keyboard layout switching on my laptop. I started going through the typing lessons at this website, spending maybe an hour each day until the lessons were done. Once the typing lessons were done, I chose to use Dvorak at home and QWERTY at work in order to practice them both each day. Each day I would go to typingtest.com to test my speed. I would randomly select three tests from their selection for both Dvorak and QWERTY. I would take the three tests, switch my keyboard layout, practice for a minute or two (to get used to the switch) and take the other three tests. I averaged the three test scores and plotted the values each day. I spent no other time practicing beyond the time I spent typing in my normal daily activities.

Comments

Glad to hear you liked it! I've continued using Dvorak at home and QWERTY at work... it seems like that system helps me not mix the two. As for WPM, I just did a test (for the first time in 8 months) and it looks like I'm still sitting around the mid 50s. Not too bad, considering I haven't done a lot of typing recently.

Good luck on your attempt, Simon!

nice and concise report here. i agree with your dvorak learning philosophy, i'll give it a try myself! Have you continued using dvorak? Did your WPM still improve? Of course the biggest advantage of dvorak is not speed, but ergonomics.

very interesting, thanks

Nice post. It's especially refreshing to see someone actually take a systematic approach and document progress.

I would recommend windows users to try the on screen keyboard (Start -> All programs -> Accessories -> Ease of access on Win 7). No need to get stickers, and I find its easier than looking at the keyboard itself (no need to move your hands around to see the keys). Plus, if you switch back and forth, it'll tell you if you're in QWERTY or Dvorak.

I'm giving it a try, it does seem a lot easier to learn than I remember from learning QWERTY.

I'm at 50-60 with Qwerty and want to continue to go up. It is now 2012 (duh, I know), but has your speed gone past 60 WPM with Dvorak?

Good question... and I think that the answer is you'll get faster at what you practice the most. Unfortunatley for me, shortly after I recorded the speed tests I began at a place where we shared computer stations. Using Dvorak at work was an inconvenience, so I used Qwerty at work and Dvorak at home. As my schoolwork died down and I began working full time, it meant much more time on Qwerty than Dvorak. I haven't typed using Dvorak at length for nearly six months, so my Qwerty speed is mid 60's and Dvorak is mid 50's. I'd be interested to hear how others fare at using it consistantly for an extended period of time.

Wow this was very interesting! I am also thinking of switching my keyboard to Dvorak after my aunt told me about it. However I am rather fast at QWERTY and type a LOT at my college. (just finished 1st semester, yay!) So I am nervous that I might just mess up my typing abilities altogether. Did anyone else have problems with this? Or is it pretty easy to transition?

From my experience, I can say that the best way to avoid getting mixed up is to be consistent in which environments you use which keyboard. For example, I would use QWERTY at campus computer labs, and Dvorak on my own computer, kind of like a bilingual kid might use Spanish at home and English at school. After a while, my brain seemed to recognize which machine I was on and switching formats was simply muscle memory.

well done!!! i will tray the same!

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