Kinesis and ErgoDox Optimal Thumb Cluster Layouts

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page shows a collection of layout ideas for Kinesis and ergodox keyboards.

Kinesis default layout is well designed, optimal for normal users who type a lot, but not for people with smaller hands and need to press Ctrl and Alt key frequently. (Such as in photoshop or emacs.)

Kinesis left thumb keys cluster.

First of all, it's important to know which keys are easier to press. Because you need to map the most used modifier key to the most easy-to-press physical keys.

The ordering depends on your hand size.

i'm average sized Asian male.

Here's the order of the ease of reach of the keys, for me:

  1. The ⌫ Backspace is where my thumb rests on. This is the most easy key to hit.
  2. Next easy key is the ⌦ Delete.
  3. Next is Ctrl. To hit Ctrl, i kinda move my whole hand up a bit.
  4. Next, is End. I stretch my thumb to press it.
  5. Next, that Home position is next easy key.
  6. The most hard-to-reach position is the Alt. I need to stretch and move my palm about 2 cm to reach it.

now, let's talk about key mapping.

here's the complete layout, for reference.

Kinesis advantage 2 keyboard layout 53127
Kinesis Advantage2 US default layout. The default is optimal for data entry, heavy writers. The default is not optimal if you have small hands and need to press Ctrl and Alt often (For example, using emacs, photoshop.)

for normal computer users, the ⌫ Backspace is most often used. Nice placement. but Ctrl requires some reach. Also, Alt is difficult to reach. One problem is that Alt+Tab is very frequently used, but is very akward on the default layout. You have to expand your whole hand to press that key combination.

the other problem is that, Ctrl+⌫ Backspace is hard to do with just left hand, and Ctrl+ and Ctrl+ are also hard to do with just left hand.

You can't press Ctrl+⌫ Backspace easily with just left hand because they are in the same cluster and the two keys are not adjacent. For example, suppose you want to hold Ctrl and press ⌫ Backspace multiple times. This key combo is also very frequently used. So, to do this combo easily, you have to use the right hand side's Ctrl.

The above summarize the major problems of the default layout.

To recapitulate, the main problem is Ctrl+⌫ Backspace and Alt+Tab.

In addition, if you frequently need to press Ctrl or Alt, such as with emacs or photoshop, then, it's a problem, because the Alt is hard to reach.

Also, having 2 Ctrl seems a waste, because with thumb keys, it should be possible to live with just one Ctrl comfortably.

the above is my issue with the default thumb cluster layout.

now, let me sketch what alternatives might be, and how it might solve the problem.

move the Ctrl and Alt to the 2 big keys.

This should solve all the problem mentioned. But we also need to make sure we don't introduce problems. For example, now we need to place ⌫ Backspace in a spot that's as easy to use as before. (because ⌫ Backspace is very frequently used.)

also, we have seen that the problem with Ctrl+⌫ Backspace is that they are in the same cluster. So, any key used together with Ctrl and Alt should not be in the same cluster. (else you need the modifier duplicated at the other hand's keys)

Layout A34

Kinesis keyboard layout 34814

The idea of this layout is that Ctrl and Alt are on 2 big thumb keys.

This layout is good if you have biggish hands and pressing the 2 big thumb keys does not require any stretch.

With this layout:

Kinesis and Ergodox Layouts Collection

Here's a collection of layouts, usable for Kinesis keyboard and ergodox keyboard.

Thumb Control Alt and Everything Nice

I noticed that the keys below K and M are actually very easy keys that can be pressed by thumb (for small hands). So, i made this layout.

Kinesis keyboard layout q13940

The ideas are:

Small Hand Defaultish Variation

If you have small hands, you'll find that thumb keys are placed too far and too high. Pressing them frequently will cause problems.

I have average sized Asian hands. I wasn't comfortable kept holding the thumb keys as Ctrl or Alt. It means my thumb will be constantly in stretched position.

So, rethink, now the thumb cluster keys are considered as hunt-n-peck keys, instead of touch-type keys for thumb. To press Control or Alt, move hand, don't just move thumb.

Kinesis keyboard layout q13940

main ideas of this layout:


Kinesis keyboard layout q13940

The design of this one is to be close to the IBM PC keyboard:

Kinesis Keyboard Key Remap/Macro/Layout How-To

Kinesis Keyboard Key Remap/Macro/Layout How-To

Kinesis Keyboard Review

back to Kinesis Advantage2 Keyboard Review

Kinesis Advantage2 Keyboard

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