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.


The good old QWERTY, familiar to everyone.

qwerty heatmap  to build a fire
QWERTY layout heatmap. [image source ]


The Dvorak layout, designed for efficiency.

dvorak heatmap  to build a fire
Dvorak layout heatmap [image source ]

Note that vowels are on the left hand home row, and most frequently used consonants are on the right hand home row.

Microsoft Windows bundled Dvorak out of the box, in 1995. Mac did in Mac OS 8, in 1998.

For more about Dvorak, see: Dvorak Keyboard Layout, My Experience.

Programmer Dvorak

programmers Dvorak keyboard layout
“Programer's Dvorak” keyboard layout

Programmer Dvorak (by Roland Kaufmann at is Dvorak with the following changes:

  1. The row for number keys “12345…” and symbols “!@#$%…” are reversed. To type numbers, you have to hold Shift.
  2. The number keys are re-arranged to follow the more ergonomic, original Dvorak layout: 75319 02468. It's that way because the digits 0 1 2 are used more frequently than the rest of digits combined, thus they are pressed by your index finger and pointing finger. [see Computer Languages Characters Frequency]
  3. Position for punctuation (For example, { } ( )) and math symbols (For example, +) is also re-arranged, independent of the digit symbols arrangement. Frequently used symbols now have easier positions.
  4. Swap the keys ' and ;.

Overall, the Programer's Dvorak is marginally better than Dvorak. The 2 advantages it has over Dvorak are: ① Using the Dvorak's original arrangement for the number keys. ② rearranging the symbols. The other two changes made by Programer's Dvorak, the inverting number now, and swapping semicolon and apostrophe, may be worse, depending on what language you code. For detail, see:

see also Best Way to Type/Insert Parenthesis, Brackets

Minimak, qwpr, Asset, Norman, Colemak

Layouts {Minimak, qwpr, Asset, Norman, Colemak} have one thing in common. They all 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?.


Colemak layout is designed for easy transition 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).

Colemak layout
Colemak layout. 17 keys are different from QWERTY.
colemak heatmap  to build a fire
Colemak layout heatmap.

Colemak appeared in 2005. It is designed by Shai Coleman. It is the one that popularized keyboard layout design craze, with its website hosting a discussion forum.

Colemak is the second most popular alternative layout, after Dvorak.

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 Keyboard Layout: Dvorak vs Colemak]

Colemak home page

Colemak MOD DH

Colemak Mod DH appeared in 2014.

Colemak Mod DH, is a improvement on Colemak, fixing the often critized right hand index finger lateral movement problem. (that is the position of key H)

colemak mod dh
Colemak Mod DH. Showing changes made to Colemak.

Colemak Mod-DH home page.


Workman 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 lateral movements in Colemak.

keyboard layout workman  to build a fire
Workman layout heatmap.

Workman layout home page at

See also: Workman Keyboard Layout.


Asset is designed for easy transition from QWERTY.

keyboard layout asset  to build a fire
Asset layout heatmap.
qwjfg ypul; []\
asetd hnior '
zxcvb km,./

The colored keys are different from QWERTY. 14 keys are different from QWERTY.

Asset layout is designed by David Piepgrass in 2006. Home page at

Norman Layout

keyboard layout norman  to build a fire
Norman layout. 15 keys are different from QWERTY.

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?]

Norman layout is very new, published in 2013. Norman layout is created by David Norman. It has a well designed homepage, at


The Capewell layout is designed using a evolutionary algorithm to evolve the best possible layout.

.ymdf jpluq
aersg btnio
xzcv; kwh,'

Capewell is designed by Michael Capewell. Released ~2005. Home page at

Minimak Layout

The Minimak layout 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 4 key keyboard layout
«The Minimak layout gives 60% of the benefit of Dvorak while changing just 4 keys from QWERTY.»

Minimak has other versions, with 8 keys change, then 12 keys change. The idea is that one can progressively adopt more efficient layout.

Minimak is created by Ted Lilley. Its home page is at The site appeared in 2012.


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

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)

qwpr is designed by Jameson Quinn. It appeared in 2013. Home page at

Carpalx QFMLWY layout

keyboard layout carpalx qfmlwy  to build a fire
Carpalx's QFMLWY layout heatmap.

Carpalx is a website that studies efficiency of keyboard layouts. By its algorithm, it comes up with the Carpalx QFMLWY layout, presumed to be the most efficient, according to how he calculates the score.

See description of carpalx QFMLWY layout at

See also Carpalx flaws: What's the Most Efficient Keyboard Layout?

Arensito Keyboard Layout

The Arensito Keyboard Layout, by Håkon Hallingstad, year 2001.

Arensito layout yqpxx
Arensito layout

Major points according to the author:

Maltron Layout

The Maltron Layout is specially designed for the Maltron Keyboard, a design copied by the more well-known Kinesis Contoured Keyboard.

Maltron keyboard layout US 2624f
Maltron keyboard layout US

The distinguishing feature of Maltron layout is that the key e is positioned for the thumb. You will need a keyboard with a thumb key to use the Maltron layout.

Also, the Maltron layout is more efficient than Dvorak or any other, simply because it places the mostly frequently used key e on the thumb.

[see Maltron vs Dvorak keyboard Layout]

[see Maltron Keyboard]

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?

What About a Reasonable Efficient Standard Layout for All Languages?

Another common problem is for international users, of non-English languages. For example, German, Spanish, French, and even Chinese and Japanese can benefit because many of their input methods are pronunciation based and 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 any ergonomics in the sense of Dvorak.


Thanks to the following people who have made useful comments.

Keyboard Layouts



Layout Efficiency

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