Ergonomic Keyboard Layouts

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

There are a lot of keyboard layouts today. There's your standard QWERTY, and there's the more efficient Dvorak. That's good enough, right? No. Apparently, a lot people are making a lot layouts. Some are specialized on a particular language (For example, German, Spanish), some aim for easier transition from QWERTY, some are designed for programers. This page is a list of them.

Keyboard Layout Heatmap

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a n i h d y u j g c v p m l s r x o ; k f . , b t / w e q \ [ ] ' - = z `

Bigger circle means more frequently used.

QWERTY (1870)

The good old QWERTY, familiar to everyone. The QWERTY layout came from typewriters, around 1870s. See Keyboard Design Flaws.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a n i h d y u j g c v p m l s r x o ; k f . , b t / w e q \ [ ] ' - = z ` QWERTY Layout
QWERTY layout heatmap

Dvorak (1936)

The Dvorak layout, the first layout designed for efficiency, in year 1936. Microsoft Windows bundled Dvorak in year 1995. Mac did in Mac OS 8 in year 1998. For more info, see Dvorak Keyboard Layout

! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z , . ' \ | / + = _ - { } [ ] ; ` ~ Dvorak Layout
Dvorak layout heatmap. Vowels are on the left hand home row, and most frequently used consonants are on the right hand home row.

Programmer Dvorak (~2001)

& [ { } ( = * ) + ] % 7 5 3 1 9 0 2 4 6 ~ $ 8 ` ! # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z < , > . : ; \ | ? / ^ @ _ - " ' Programer's Dvorak Layout
Programer Dvorak keyboard layout

[see Dvorak vs Programer's Dvorak]

Colemak (2005)

Colemak layout (home page https://colemak.com/) appeared in 2005, designed by Shai Coleman. It is the one that popularized keyboard layout design craze, with its website hosting a discussion forum. Colemak is designed for easy transition from QWERTY. 17 keys are different from QWERTY. Colemak is aggressively marketed. Colemak layout is now in Linux and also in Mac OS X 10.7 (released on 2011-07-20).

Before Colemak, people who want QWERTY alternative simply points to Dvorak, without question. But with Colemak, it shows that a layout equally efficient to Dvorak is still possible. Colemak's rise to fame is its claim of easy to switch from QWERTY, and keeping QWERTY's undo cut copy paste key shortcuts, and claims to be more efficient than Dvorak. [see Dvorak vs Colemak]

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a k u h s j l n d c v ; m i r p x y o e t . , b g / w f q \ [ ] ' - = z ` Colemak layout
Colemak layout heatmap

Colemak DH (2014)

Colemak DH (https://colemakmods.github.io/mod-dh/ ) appeared in 2014. It is a improvement on Colemak, fixing the problem of right hand index finger moving to much to the center to press H.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a m u k s j l n g c d ; h i r p x y o e t . , v b / w f q \ [ ] ' - = z ` Colemak DH Layout
Colemak DH layout

Workman (2010)

Workman layout [https://workmanlayout.org/ ] is a improvement of Colemak. It appeared in 2010. Created by OJ Bucao. He didn't like Dvorak, and complaints that there are too much index finger moving to center of home row in Colemak. See: Workman Keyboard Layout .

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a k u y h j f n g m c ; l o s w x p i e t . , v b / d r q \ [ ] ' - = z ` Workman Layout
Workman layout heatmap

QFMLWY (2011)

Carpalx is website that studies efficiency of keyboard layouts. The site began in 2007. By its algorithm, it comes up with the Carpalx QFMLWY layout ( http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/?full_optimization ) , presumed to be the most efficient, according to how he calculates the score. See also Carpalx flaws: What's the Most Efficient Keyboard Layout?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 d p o i t y u a r g c j k h s l v b ; e n . , x w / f m q \ [ ] ' - = z ` QFMLWY Layout
Carpalx's QFMLWY layout heatmap.

Engram (2021)

Engram Layout is new around 2021-03, designed by Arno Klein. The layout is designed based ergonomic science, for typing English language, using Google's ngram (bigram, trigram) text data as part of the design basis.

engram layout 2021-03-13 6qwDJ
engram layout 2021-03-13

Abstract

Most computer keyboard layouts (mappings of characters to keys) do not reflect the ergonomics of the human hand, resulting in preventable repetitive strain injuries. We present a set of ergonomics principles relevant to touch typing, introduce a scoring model that encodes these principles, and outline a systematic approach for developing optimized keyboard layouts in any language based on this scoring model coupled with character-pair frequencies. We then create a keyboard layout optimized for touch typing in English by constraining key assignments to reduce lateral finger movements and enforce easy access to high-frequency letters and letter pairs, applying open source software to generate millions of layouts, and evaluating them based on Google’s N-gram data. We use two independent scoring methods to compare the resulting Engram layout against 10 other prominent keyboard layouts based on a variety of publicly available text sources. The Engram layout scores consistently higher than other keyboard layouts.

Asset (2006)

Asset is designed for easy transition from QWERTY. Designed by David Piepgrass in 2006. Home page at http://millikeys.sourceforge.net/asset/

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a k u h e y p n d c v ; m o s f x l r i t . , b g / w j q \ [ ] ' - = z ` Asset Layout
Asset layout heatmap. 15 keys are different from QWERTY.

Norman Layout (2013)

Norman layout is very new, published in 2013. Norman layout is created by David Norman. It has a well designed homepage, at http://normanlayout.info/about

Norman layout is very similar to Asset Layout. Norman layout is published in 2013, and is the result of study of all existing layouts. Its main claim is that it “keeps 22/26 letters in the normal use pattern of their QWERTY finger”, and claims to be just as efficient as Dvorak, Colemak, Workman, etc.

Also, Norman layout, like many others, has a critical misconception, believing that the { X C V } keys are optimal for cut copy paste. In fact, these shortcuts get you Repetitive Strain Injury. [see Why Undo Cut Shortcut Keys Are Bad?]

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a p r y e j u n g c v ; m o s f x l h i t . , b k / w d q \ [ ] ' - = z ` Norman Layout
Norman layout. 15 keys are different from QWERTY.

Capewell (2005)

The Capewell layout is designed using a evolutionary algorithm to evolve the best possible layout. Capewell is designed by Michael Capewell. Released ~2005. Home page at http://www.michaelcapewell.com/projects/keyboard/

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a k l b r j p t g c v q w i e d x u o n s , h ; f ' y m . \ / ] - [ = z ` Capewell Layout
Capewell layout

Minimak (2012)

Minimak layout ( http://www.minimak.org/ ) is created by Ted Lilley around 2012. Minimak is designed to be fastest to learn for QWERTY touch-typers. It only changes 4 keys, so that 2 of the most frequently used letters in English (e → 13%, t → 9%) are now on the home row, typed by the strong middle fingers. Minimak has other versions, with 8 keys change, then 12 keys change. The idea is that one can progressively adopt more efficient layout.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a n i h t y u j g c v p m l s r x o ; e f . , b k / w d q \ [ ] ' - = z ` Minimak Layout
«The Minimak layout gives 60% of the benefit of Dvorak while changing just 4 keys from QWERTY.»

qwpr (2013)

qwpr is another one similar to {Colemak, Workman}, but it changes even less keys, and lets you type many European language characters and Unicode symbols.

qwpr is designed by Jameson Quinn. It appeared in 2013. Home page at http://sourceforge.net/p/qwpr/wiki/Home/

qwpr keyboard layout by Jameson Quinn
qwpr layout. 11 keys are different from QWERTY. (red for keys that change fingers and purple for those which move but say on the same fingers)

Arensito (2001)

The Arensito Keyboard Layout, by Håkon Hallingstad, year 2001. http://www.pvv.org/~hakonhal/main.cgi/keyboard

Arensito layout yqpxx
Arensito layout

Major points according to the author:

The Error of Keeping Z X C V

Many Layouts try keep many QWERTY keys in same position, so it's supposedly easier to learn it if you already touch-type QWERTY. Also, they keep the {Z, X, C, V} keys in the same position as QWERTY, so that the {undo, cut, copy, paste} keys don't change, which actually induces Repetitive Strain Injury. See: Why Undo Cut Shortcut Keys Are Bad?.

Thumb Keyboard Layouts

These are layouts designed for physical keyboard that has 4 or more thumb keys.

Thumb Keyboard Layouts

Misc Other Layouts

There are also a Dvorak layout for single left hand, and one for single right hand. And there are also various ergonomic-oriented layouts (inspired from the Dvorak layout) for several other European languages. For example, Turkish-F, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and more. Except the Turkish-F, most seem to be designed by a single programer. For some languages, there are competing layouts.

What is the Most Efficient Keyboard Layout?

A question we all want to know:

What's the Most Efficient Keyboard Layout?

A Ergonomic Layout Standard for All Languages

Another common problem is for non-English languages. For example, German, Spanish, French, and even Chinese and Japanese can benefit because many of their input methods use English alphabet.

[see Pinyin Letter Frequency 拼音字母頻率]

In these languages, usually there are few extra characters such as é that need to be typed. There are many standardized layouts for them (For example, QWERTZ, AZERTY), but often they still requires you to type the special chars by a combination of key press using AltGraph or Compose key, and these layout usually do not consider ergonomics of letter frequency.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to the following people who have made useful comments.

Keyboard Layouts

Dvorak

International

Layout Efficiency