Dvorak Keyboard Layout

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

I touchtype on QWERTY since 1987, and touchtype Dvorak since 1994. I've read just about everything there is about typing, and have read most Dvorak typists 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. (it's better to use simple text for this research, because vast majority of people's typing, are chats, twitter, email, etc, not writing Shakespeare or chemistry textbook.)

Key stroke distribution

The Dvorak Layout

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

The Dvorak layout is designed for efficient typing.

Dvorak US layout 081d62
Dvorak US 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. Dated around 1910. 3264×2448

My Experience of QWERTY and Dvorak

I learned to type QWERTY around 1987 on a electric typewriter.

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

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

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

I learned to type Dvorak in 1994. I went cold turkey. It took 2 full months to become fluent. It was a VERY frustrating experience. 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. It can vary by as much as 20 wpm. [see Typing Tutorial, Speed Test, Typing Games]

Will Dvorak Make You Type Faster?

No, if you already touch type.

But if you don't touch type, learning dvorak will get you started, and in 2 months you would be typing 40 WPM, and up from there. In a year, 70 WPM at least.

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. Let's say you are fast, and types on QWERTY at 100 wpm. If you switch to dvorak, and if you practice non-stop typing for 1 hour per day for half a year, your speed might be 105 wpm.

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

Will Dvorak Reduce Typing Error?

No, not really.

Will Dvorak Prevent Repetitive Strain Injury?

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

There's little empirical evidence that Dvorak reduces Repetitive Strain Injury risk neither.

Dvorak does increase comfort in typing. There are lots empirical evidence of this, from dvorak users.

Using a ergonomic keyboard will be far more important for hand health. There are scientific evidence for this, and also lots empirical evidence 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 me is that my fingers have to jump all over the keyboard.

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, on coworker's computer, in public library.

Also, your coworker, friends, mom, won't be able to type on your keyboard. If you are doing pair-programing at work, you'll need to have a separate keyboard, or, press a keyboard shortcut to switch layout everytime you or the other programer needs to type.

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 use QWERTY again, you will forget QWERTY.

Some people try to learn Dvorak while trying to still touch-type on QWERTY. Do not do this. This will make the learning MUCH painful and MUCH longer.

Some people learn Dvorak cold turkey, but months or years later, have to type on other keyboards and they relearned touch-typing on QWERTY again.

I relearned 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. If i practice, am pretty sure it'll easily go up to 60 wpm in a week.

Problem with Vim, Emacs?

I live in emacs since 1999. At the time, i've already been typing on Dvorak for some 5 years. I do not see any problem using emacs.

I don't use vi much, so i don't know how it impact vi. However, there are lots packages that let you change keys.

Note, the vi' hjkl keys, on Dvorak it's worse.

I've read lots other Dvorak programer's experience using emacs or vi. Basically, there's no problem. Any key problem, can be easily solved by rebinding the problem key.

Myth of QWERTY?

Myth of QWERTY vs Dvorak Layout

What About Colemak?

Keyboard Layout: Dvorak vs Colemak

What's the Most Efficient Keyboard Layout?

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

Typing Tutorial, Speed Test, Typing Games

Dvorak Key Stickers!

dvorak key label stickers
Dvorak Keyboard Stickers

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 Dvorak Keyboards

Chinese Input and Dvorak

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 mostly done on computer, the Macintosh Classic, but sometimes i was still required to type on a IBM Selectric in the office.)

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

Dvorak Layout

  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 Dvorak Keyboards
  7. Qwerty to Dvorak, A PhD thesis, 1978

Keyboard Layouts

  1. Alternative Layouts
  2. Dvorak
  3. Alt Graph, Compose, Dead Key
  4. International Layouts
  6. German
  7. German Ergonomic
  8. French
  9. New French Layout
  10. French Ergonomic
  11. French Letter Frequency
  12. Russian
  13. Portuguese Ergonomic
  14. Chinese Input Methods
  15. Japanese Layouts

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