QWERTY or DVORAK: which is best to type fast?
Computer keyboards traditionally use the QWERTY layout. This was initially designed for use with conventional typewriters. The DVORAK layout is seen as a good alternative – but which is the best layout to use to type fast, and why?
The story behind the QWERTY keyboard is an interesting one. And it is an unusual one too. The reason for the unusual ordering of the letterings Q, W, E, R, T, Y was actually to make it harder to type fast. It probably comes as a surprise to learn that the layout of a keyboard was deliberately designed to make the process of typing slower. However, for QWERTY creator, Christopher Sholes, it solved a distinct problem.
In the 1800s, the main problem with typewriters was that the bars of a machine would collide during typing. This was a particular problem if two keys next to each other were pressed quickly. As a solution, Sholes designed the keyboard by rearranging letters so that commonly combined became much harder to type. This, of course, considerably reduced the speed with which it was possible to type – and greatly reduced the possibility of jamming and colliding keys.
Why did QWERTY stick?
Another reason for the ordering of the letters was actually a bit of sales trick. You may have noticed that all the letters in the word ‘typewriter’ are on the top row of letters on the keyboard. This made it easier for typewriter salesmen to impress potential customers by typing the word out quickly in demonstration.
The reason why the QWERTY keyboard became the layout of choice and very much the ‘industry standard’ is a simple matter of business economics. Trained typists would use the layout and this meant that all typewriter manufacturers really had to adhere to the layout. Otherwise, businesses would have needed to re-train staff.
As the technology of typewriters improved and into the age of the computer keyboard, the QWERTY layout remained – not necessarily because it was the best layout, but because it was typists had been trained to use.
The DVORAK layout was designed because its creator believed that the QWERTY layout was both uncomfortable and a waste of energy. The DVORAK layout is designed to minimise the movement that is required around the keyboard. The key principle behind it is that it becomes as easy as possible to type common combinations of letters and common words. Therefore, the most used keys, such as vowels, are easy to access. A remarkable statistic to consider is that a DVORAK typist will see their fingers move a distance of approximately a mile over the day. The corresponding distance for a QWERTY typists would typically exceed 15 miles!
QWERTY or DVORAK?
So, which is best? Is it a good idea to move over the DVORAK?
The DVORAK layout has some clear advantages, but virtually all keyboards you will find on the market worldwide are QWERTY, and this includes the keyboards that are used in schools, colleges and those used for exams. There are specific DVORAK keyboards available on the market, although these are rare. This is why it is best to learn on a QWERTY keyboard first.