Keyboard Design Flaws

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

The computer keyboard we use today, sucks big time. Let us count the ways.

MSI Vigor GK30 keyboard 20210114 JkR3n-s1000
generic computer keyboard (MSI Vigor GK30 keyboard)

Computer keyboard we use is derived from the convention of Typewriters, of 1900s. The design of the typewriter itself, is largely concerned about getting the machine to actually work. Like most inventions, in the beginning the concern is just to get it to work. The concept of keyboarding ergonomics didn't come about or become popular after some 100 years.

Mechanical typewriter, the mother of all keyboard bane.

mechanical typewriters 2023-01-31 6pywn

Let's consider some examples.

Let's Use Pinky for Important Keys

The Backspace ⌫ key, the Return key, are among the most frequently used special keys. However, they are placed in the most inconvenient spots, pressed by the weakest finger the pinky.

Note that originally, on a typewriter of 1800s, these keys are not that frequently used. The Return exist as a metal bar lever for “carriage return”. It is used to move the “carriage” that carries paper from left to right, so the stationary typing head is on the beginning of line, at the left margin of the paper. It is used once about every 80 chars (per line). The Backspace ⌫ doesn't exist yet.

But with computers, these keys are two of the most frequently used special keys, more than, say, z or comma.

Let's Make a Beehive

Let's Burden Right Pinky

The number of keys for the left/right hands are not symmetric.

here's Standard US layout without slant:

`12345 67890 -=⌫
 qwert yuiop []\
 asdfg hjkl; '
 zxcvb nm,./

~12345 67890 _+⌫

In the above diagram, notice how the right side has 6 extra keys, operated by your stretched pinky. Especially bad for programers because we need to type the [ ] { } = + often.

Let's Slow Down Typists

Ever wonder why the letters are arranged that way? Look at the top row of your keyboard, you see: Q W E R T Y. It's arranged that way so that frequent letter combinations are hard to type fast so that the hammers won't jam!


Let's Space Out Spacebar

Hand Angle Problems

There are also problems of various hand angles, and hand separation.

Ulnar Deviation

keyboarding RSI ulnar deviation
Ulnar Deviation. [image source]

Ulnar deviation is solved by split keyboards where the keys are separated into 2 groups.

Forearm Pronation

keyboarding RSI forearm Pronation
Forearm Pronation. [image source]

Forearm Pronation is solved by split/ergonomic keyboards that are curved/tilted.

[see Is Keyboard Tenting Important (Wrist Pronation)]

Wrist Dorsiflexion

wrist dorsiflexion is when you bend up the wrist. This happens when you use a thick keyboard that sits on a flat desk and your forearm rests on the desk surface. Especially bad when the keyboard's back legs are propped up.

This is solved in several ways:

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, solving the wrist dorsiflexion problem by raising the palm rest.

Research on Keyboard Ergonomics

Scientific Research on Keyboard Ergonomics