Dvorak Keyboard Layout

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

I type on QWERTY since 1987, and type Dvorak since 1994. I've read just about everything there is about typing, and have read most Dvorak typist and Colemak and other's experiences.

I tell you my experiences on this page.

QWERTY vs Dvorak Layout Comparison

qwerty heatmap  to build a fire
QWERTY heat map.
dvorak heatmap  to build a fire
Dvorak heat map. 〔image source https://www.patrick-wied.at/projects/heatmap-keyboard/

The text used for the heat map image is To Build a Fire by Jack London. The English used there is fairly simple.

Key stroke distribution

The Dvorak Layout

The Dvorak layout is designed for efficient typing.

The Dvorak Layout is invented in 1936, by Dr August Dvorak and Dr William Dealey.

Dvorak keyboard layout
The Dvorak keyboard layout.

Here's the major features of Dvorak:

The QWERTY Layout

The keyboard layout on our keyboard is called QWERTY, because that's the letters showing on the top row. This layout was designed around the time typewriter is invented, by Christopher Latham Sholes, in 1874. (detailed history of typewriter is more complicated.)

Originally, the letters are arranged alphabetically. However, it's discovered that the keys would jam when people type too fast.

see also Myth of QWERTY vs Dvorak Layout

Typewriter Hermes-s
A Hermes typewriter, showing key jam. Probably dated in around 1910. 3264×2448

My Experience of QWERTY and Dvorak

Learned to type QWERTY since 1987 on a electric typewriter.

Brother GX-6750 daisy wheel electronic typewriter 88377
Brother GX-6750 daisy wheel electronic typewriter.

Worked as a secretary and data-entry clerk around 1991 to 1993. (using Apple Macintosh Classic and also mechanical typewriter)

My QWERTY speed was 90 wpm, as certified on a mechanical typewriter by Temp Agencies.

I type Dvorak since 1994. I went cold turkey. It took 2 full months to learn. It was VERY painful to learn. After 2 months, my speed is maybe 60 wpm.

My speed for Dvorak is about 70 wpm for many years after that. It's slower than my QWERTY speed. I haven't typed as heavily as before, because i am no longer doing secretary work, i became a programer.

Now i type 90 wpm on Dvorak. I've typed on Dvorak for over 20 years now.

By the way, word per minute tests heavily depend on the type of text used. Or, it depends on the website. It can vary by as much as 20 wpm. [see Best Typing Tutorial, Speed Test, Typing Games]

Will Dvorak Make You Type Faster?

No, unless you are compete in typist speed contests.

Your speed won't increase, unless you practice a lot. Even if you practice a lot, it might increase no more than 5% of your QWERTY speed.

Ask other Dvorak typists and they'll tell you the same.

Will Dvorak Reduce Typing Error?

A little bit, not significantly.

Will Dvorak Prevent Repetitive Strain Injury?

Maybe a little bit, but there's no scientific evidence.

There's little empirical evidence that it does neither. Many layout enthusiasts say that Dvorak helps. Dvorak does increase comfort in typing.

Switching to an ergonomics keyboard will make a much bigger difference. There are scientific evidence for this. And also lots empirical evidance from people with Repetitive Strain Injury posting online. (e.g. 20 years reading online blogs and forums. Look at slashdot, hackernews, reddit, geekhack, deskthority sites, etc.)

[see Scientific Research on Keyboard Ergonomics]

What's the Benefit of Dvorak?

The major benefit is that you feel much comfortable when typing.

After I learned Dvorak, sometimes i have to type QWERTY in other people's computer, and the thing that jumps at you is that you immediately felt the acrobats your fingers have to do.

Most Dvorak typists can agree on this.

What's the Disadvantage of Dvorak?

When you need to type on other people's computer, it'll be slow as crawl. Back to hunt and peck.

For example, in public library, or co-worker's computer.

Will You be Able to Still Type QWERTY?

No, unless you regularly practice typing on QWERTY.

If you start to learn Dvorak cold turkey, and never used QWERTY again, you will forget QWERTY.

Some people try to learn Dvorak while trying to still touch-type on QWERTY. This will make the learning MUCH painful and MUCH longer.

Some other people, learn Dvorak cold turkey, but months or years later, has to type on other keyboard and they re-learned touch-typing on QWERTY again.

I relearned touch-type on QWERTY after many years of Dvorak. My QWERTY speed is 20 wpm to 40 wpm, it just depends on the period, how much I have to use it.

Should You Switch to Dvorak

Ultimately, it depends on you.

Dvorak is more comfort, more efficient, but takes 2 months to learn, but inconvenient when you need to use other people's computer or in public.

How to Switch to Dvorak Layout

Basically just goto your OS keyboard preferences.

Dvorak Typing Tutorials

Best Typing Tutorial, Speed Test, Typing Games

Dvorak Key Stickers!

dvorak key label stickers
Buy at amazon

Advantage with Proper Key Labels:

Blank Keycaps vs Labeled Keys

Blank Keycaps vs Labeled Keys

Keyboard Hardware Dvorak vs Software Dvorak

Keyboard Hardware Dvorak vs Software Dvorak

Hardware Dvorak Layout Keyboards

List of Hardware Dvorak Layout Keyboards

Chinese Input and Dvorak

Myth of QWERTY?

Myth of QWERTY vs Dvorak Layout

What about Colemak?

Keyboard Layout: Dvorak vs Colemak

What's the Most Efficient Keyboard Layout?

My Experience with Dvorak

rustom wrote:

Just curious Xah — Do you use Dvorak primarily for speed or for RSI related problems?

Neither, but for nerdy obsession with design and efficiency.

I learned touch-typing on a typewriter in about 1987. For some reason, i am fascinated by typewriter. (at the time, personal computers are still rare.) The first typewriter i had is a electric one from the brand name Brother.

I started to use a computer in 1990, using the QWERTY keyboard. In ~1992, i worked for over a year at Graebel Van Lines, as a secretary with typing duties, including taking dictation from sales people or managers. (by this time it's all done on computer, the Macintosh Classic)

My typing speed was about 400 keystrokes per minute (80 words-per-minute) with about 99% accuracy, as certified in temp employement agencies back then.

In 1993 (or maybe 1994) i switched to Dvorak. More or less due to my nerdiness towards better design. I don't have speed problem or RSI in anyway.

It took me about a month to re-learn touch typing, and 2 months to become somewhat fluent. It was a very frustrating experience, but i persisted.

My profession changed from secretary to programer, so i have not had any heavy typing needs as before. Due to lack of intensive typing needs, i recall that my typing speed have not reached my previous speed for many years. Though, one thing i noticed is that Dvorak is much more comfortable, with less typing errors. I recall this vividly, because occasionally i tried to type on QWERTY on other's keyboards or at library, the first thing that jumped to me was that my fingers have to do acrobatics.

(note: it's common to hear many Dvorak users report typing comfort, but not necessarily speed improvement.)

My first use of emacs is 1997, and in a few months i become daily user (living in emacs, as they say). (so, my emacs experience is all Dvorak) First 6 years of emacs using is exclusively text terminal based. In fact, as sys admin, i resisted installing X11 when a colleague wants it to run emacs. Didn't start to use GUI emacs till 2005.

When working as a unix system administrator starting in 1998, occasionally i have to type on other people's keyboards. So, i kinda picked up a bit of my totally forgotten QWERTY touch-typing skill. My speed on QWERTY is about 30 wpm, due to lack of practice.


Some references and other interesting sites about typing:

Dvorak Layout Topic

  1. Dvorak Layout
  2. Hardware vs Software Dvorak
  3. Myth of QWERTY vs Dvorak
  4. Dvorak vs Colemak
  5. Blank Keycaps vs Labeled Keys
  6. List of Hardware Dvorak Layout Keyboards
  7. How to Touch-Type
  8. Best Typing Tutorial, Speed Test, Typing Games
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