Ergonomic Keyboard Layouts

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

There are a lot of keyboard layouts today. There's standard QWERTY, and there's the more efficient Dvorak. But a lot people are making a lot layouts still. Some are specialized on a particular language (e.g. 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.

qwerty layout heatmap 2024-04-28
qwerty layout heatmap 2024-04-28

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.

dvorak layout heatmap 2024-04-28
dvorak layout heatmap 2024-04-28

Maltron Layout (1977)

Programer's Dvorak (1997)

Arensito (2001)

The Arensito Keyboard Layout, by HÃ¥kon Hallingstad, year 2001.

Arensito layout on kinesis 2gx
Arensito layout on kinesis 2gx
Arensito layout yqpxx
Arensito layout

Major points according to the author:

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.

Capwell is very confusing. On their site they have several versions, and the site changes over the years, without clear indication of version and name.

capewell layout heatmap y4pqZ
Capewell layout, year 2005.

Colemak (2005)

Colemak layout is the second most popular ergonomic layout after Dvorak Keyboard Layout.

Colemak layout popularized keyboard layout design craze, since 2005.

colemak layout 2024-04-22 kmC
colemak layout 2024-04-22 kmC

Asset (2006)

Asset layout is designed for easy transition from QWERTY. Designed by David Piepgrass in 2006.

15 keys are different from QWERTY.

Asset layout heatmap
Asset layout heatmap

Workman (2010)

Workman layout began the idea that lateral movement for index finger is bad. (that is, index finger should not move to the middle much.) It is inspired by this problem from Colemak Layout (2005)

workman layout 2024-04-20
workman layout 2024-04-20

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, presumed to be the most efficient, according to how he calculates the score.

qfmlwy layout heatmap xNz
qfmlwy layout heatmap xNz

Minimak (2012)

Minimak layout 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.

minimak layout heatmap Kq2
minimak layout heatmap Kq2

Norman Layout (2013)

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

Norman layout is similar to Asset Layout. Norman layout 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.

In Norman layout, 15 keys are different from QWERTY.

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 ZXCV Undo Cut Copy Paste Keys Are Bad?]

Norman layout heatmap GZM
Norman layout heatmap GZM

qwpr (2013)

qwpr is designed by Jameson Quinn. It appeared in 2013.

qwpr changes just 11 keys from QWERTY, and lets you type many European language characters and Unicode symbols.

qwpr layout 2024-04-20
qwpr layout 2024-04-20

Colemak DH (2014)

Colemak DH appeared in 2014. It is a improvement on Colemak, fixing the problem of right hand index finger moving too much to the center to press H.

colemak dh layout heatmap nNF
colemak dh layout heatmap nNF

Halmak (2016)

Halmak layout is designed by Nikolay Nemshilov, year 2016. It's created by using an evolution algorithm.

their site claims:

These claims are not particularly meaningful. Every layout design since 2010 would claim the same.

halmak layout 2024-04-20
halmak layout 2024-04-20

Beakl Layout

Beakl Layout began the idea that pinky keys should be avoided, even on the homerow.

beakl 15 layout 2024-04-20
beakl 15 layout 2024-04-20

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 v2 2023-04-21
engram layout v2 2023-04-21

Note that in engram layout, positions are optimized not just for letters, but also for numbers, symbols, and all punctuations, including the shifted character. For example, traditionally, shifted 2 is @, but on engram it is =.

Most other ergo layouts do not make such a change, except Programer's Dvorak. However, in Programer's Dvorak, they also optimized position for numbers, but engram does not.

Engrammer (Engram with Traditional Shift) (2023)

Engrammer layout is Engram with traditional shift. there are two advantage of this. (1) More compatibility when using traditional keyboards. (2) Avoid the problem of shortcuts that involve punctuations stop working, example: Ctrl+= or Ctrl++

Engrammer layout is created by Suraj N. Kurapati, on ~2023.

Engrammer layout 2024-04-20
Engrammer layout 2024-04-20

Canary Layout (2022)

Designed by the keyboard layout community. It emphasize finger rolling motion, e.g. like typing asdf in QWERTY.

canary layout 2024-04-29
canary layout 2024-04-29

More Layouts

ineffectualness of nerding on letter layouts

The keyboard letter layout guys, are mostly ineffectual nerds.

each's story is pretty much like this:

I tried dvorak colemak colemak-dh workman asset norman capewell qfmlwy etc but they all have problems. Therefore, here is my creation, and it's the best of them all.

Innovations in Keyboard Letter Layout Design

some of them, are actual innovations.

Keeping Z X C V is Inefficient

Many layouts keep the {Z, X, C, V} keys in the same position as QWERTY, so that the {undo, cut, copy, paste} keys don't change. This is bad. This induces Repetitive Strain Injury. See: Why ZXCV Undo Cut Copy Paste Keys Are Bad?.

Thumb Keyboard Layouts

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

One-handed Dvorak Layouts

There are also a Dvorak layout for single left hand, and one for single right hand. see Dvorak keyboard layout

Ergonomic Layouts for Other Language

There are many ergonomic layouts for other languages.

there is also Turkish-F layout, which is ergonomic.

What is 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 (e.g. 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.

xah talk show, on keyboard layouts

on keyboard layouts Xah Talk Show 2024-04-07 Ep543 Wolfram Mathematica, fsharp go vs rust, keyboard layouts, dvorak, colemak, beakl


Thanks to the following people who have made useful comments.

Keyboard Layout Design 🔠

Layout Efficiency

International Layouts

Western Layouts