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Debunking Dvorak vs QWERTY myths (reason.com)
22 points by gnosis on Jan 23, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 27 comments

Previous discussions can be found at:



The QWERTY vs Dvorak argument is silly; both were designed at a time before any research had been performed into typing ergonomics, and the only reason to pick one or the other is largely based on hearsay and rumor.

If you'd like an ergonomic keyboard layout, try one designed to be efficient for common use cases, such as:

Colemak < http://colemak.com/ >: More efficient than QWERT and Dvorak, while preserving common QWERTY-based keyboard shortcuts.

QGMLWB < http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/?full_optimization >: Highly efficient, at the cost of sacrificing keyboard shortcut muscle memory.

Or, design your own with carpalx: http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/

> The QWERTY vs Dvorak argument is silly; both were designed at a time before any research had been performed into typing ergonomics, and the only reason to pick one or the other is largely based on hearsay and rumor.

I grew up using my own odd way of typing with several of my fingers, but didn't type by touch. When I started studying comp sci I decided to finally learn to type properly. After a year or so of typing qwerty I had pain in my wrists and fingers.

Obviously I couldn't afford any injuries before my career even started, so I read up on dvorak and the decided the reasoning behind it was sound. I switched and it was one or two weeks before I could type very well at all, and a month before I was what I call proficient. Since then no more pain.

So whether my fingers actually travel less or not, I don't really care. Something about it is better ergonomically, for me. It's been 5-6 years since then without any pain or discomfort (apart from 20+ hour sessions, and I deserved exactly what I got, that's just dumb).

AFAIK Dvorak wrote studies on this for some US gov't body, around WW1 or WW2 iirc. I haven't looked for them but to call his research hearsay and rumour is not very fair. You need to back that up.

> You need to back that up.

Besides presenting us with an unfalsifiable anecdote, you obviously haven't read the article. It's about backing that claim up:

"Fast forward now to 1936, when August Dvorak ... patented the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard...

The standard telling of [the Navy Study] story turns out to be false in almost every important respect....

[Dvorak et al] compared students of different ages and abilities (for example, students learning Dvorak in grades 7 and 8 at the University of Chicago Lab School were compared with students learning QWERTY in conventional high schools)...

Even in their studies, however, the evidence is mixed as to whether students learning Dvorak retain an advantage, since the differences seemed to diminish as training progressed."

No, the article is addressing a different claim about Dvorak from the one sjs made. (Article: Can one type faster on a Dvorak than a QWERTY keyboard? sjs: Is typing on a Dvorak keyboard easier on the wrists and fingers than typing on a QWERTY keyboard?)

For what it's worth, I've heard a lot of anecdotal claims that Dvorak is better in terms of pain, and scarcely anyone claiming it's better for speed. This might, of course, be because the main thing that makes someone switch from QWERTY to Dvorak is that they've started having pain and are searching for something that might stop it.

> Besides presenting us with an unfalsifiable anecdote, you obviously haven't read the article.

There were a few articles trying to "debunk" dvorak recently and no, I did not read this one. I am tired of them. It's a silly debate.

It's not just my anecdote. There are at least 1/2 a dozen others here on hacker news this week with a similar story. That's only a small sample. I've met others in person who type dvorak with a similar story, there's one at my current workplace.

The fact that people don't know about or consider alternative layouts doesn't mean they aren't better in some way.

Good post! I can confirm that: I switched to Dvorak from Querty a few years ago too - big improvement.

Er...or click on the dvorak link on your QGMLWB site. There's no mention of 'heresay' or 'rumour'. What they do say is:

"Chances are you don't know anyone who types on Dvorak. This is unfortunate because Dvorak significantly reduces typing effort and the likelihood of typing-related injuries. "

"First, Dvorak is very good at keeping fingers on home row - 71% of keystrokes land there (compare this with 34% for QWERTY). This alone is worth the price of admission. Dvorak bottom row usage is very low at 9% (15% for QWERTY). Dvorak favours the right hand by 14% (QWERTY favours left by 15%). Dvorak has more uniform finger usage and makes greater use of the pinky (18% vs QWERTY's 10%). "


> Dvorak favours the right hand by 14% (QWERTY favours left by 15%). Dvorak has more uniform finger usage and makes greater use of the pinky (18% vs QWERTY's 10%).

I find that writing code, my right pinky is by far the most overworked finger, on account of the ; ' " [ ] { } - _ = and + characters, and especially the return key which you hit all the time in code but only once per paragraph in prose. So now I can shake off this nagging feeling that I should look into Dvorak. Thanks.

Programmer Dvorak puts the brackets on other keys, and the +, = and * keys front-and-center. It's more hassle to set up but it murders QWERTY for coding. Except cut and paste, which still sucks.

See, what I would like to know is, what aspects of keyboard design actually make the keyboard more efficient? Most discussions I've read about QWERTY vs Dvorak, etc. eventually turn into personal anecdotes or debates about economic ideology, which has nothing to do with keyboard design.

Optimizing keyboard layout to have common letters on the home row and alternating hands during typical usage seems like a reasonable principle. Dvorak is significantly better at that than QWERTY, at least for English text. (Neither was designed with Norwegian or C in mind, obviously.) Years ago, there was a website* in which the author used genetic programming to evolve better keyboard layouts, seeded with QWERTY, Dvorak, and a few others. Dvorak was never best, but tended to place highly. But the more important question is, how should you score keyboard layouts?

* My wayback machine bookmark says the author blocked it with robots.txt.

Is Dvoark an objectively better keyboard? I don't know. I've typed with Dvorak for about three years, and I strongly prefer it, but it could probably be better. I also don't care about typing speed - I already type fast enough to not mind getting briefly sucked into QWERTY/Dvorak threads before breakfast. ;)

I haven't ever used any of the really funky ergonomic keyboard designs (the Kinesis, Maltron, etc.), but that's another option, and possibly more important than layout.

I'm going to switch to QGMLWB tonight. We (by which I mean I) will see if it is in fact greater.

Please, let us know how it goes!

I have converted to the Dvorak in Aug 09, to see if the Dvorak suits me. I averaged about 70 words per minute on QWERTY and got back to this speed in Dvorak after about 4 months. I don't buy the claim that a person can switch to the Dvorak in 25 days. Took me almost that long just to be able to type with the Dvorak without looking at the keyboard. The DVAssist program for Windows was very helpful in the transition stage.

Wikipedia claims the fastest typist in the world uses a Dvorak. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dvorak_Simplified_Keyboard so you draw your own conclusions about speed from this

I am sticking to the Dvorak because I don't feel as much strain on my wrist as compared to using a QWERTY. I have had a pain in my right wrist which hasn't occurred since I started the Dvorak. (Note: It could also be due to the slowdown in speed during the transition process).If I get an increase in speed it is a bonus.

A small bonus on using the Dvorak is that I don't need to bother about people looking at my keyboard when I am typing my password.

Cons: 1) Pair programming is a pain if the other guy doesn't use Dvorak. Having to switch keyboard layouts often isn't fun, unless of course your workplace allows you to install DVAssist 2) When using outside terminals, such as Internet cafe, it is highly unlikely you are going to be able to switch keyboard layout. 3) On a Mac, the shortcuts still follow the QWERTY keyboard, so the Apple-C key is really an Apple J key.

Signed A QWERTY keyboard typist for 25 years

I had a similar experience. I was beginning to experience pain in my fingers from typing on QWERTY. Since making the switch, that pain has completely gone. My typing speed remained about the same but I am very glad I switched.

It took me about a month practicing 30-60 minutes per day to make the switch.

Dvorak does have some cons, but I'm not sure yours are really the most relevant. 1) Most OSs allow you to switch layouts with a hotkey like left and right Alt, right Alt+Ctrl, etc. (ubuntu and osx at least) 2) Typing on internet cafes, is not really the norm, and is something most people just a small amount of time in long periods to be really relevant. Its like having to go to an internet cafe in france (where some keys are misplaced), assuming you totally forgot qwerty. 3) On my mac, all shortcuts are where they should be, following dvorak layout and not qwerty. so close window (Cmd-W) is cmd-w in dvorak (which is relative to pressing cmd-.)

I've been using a Dvorak layout for about 7 years now. I converted for efficiency; at that time I had no wrist or hand problems. Within the last couple years, intense typing sessions have give me lasting pain in my hands (mostly emanating from my pinky fingers). The Dvorak layout actually seems to be worse in this regard (pinky strain) than Qwerty, so I've switched to using a Kinesis keyboard, which has helped somewhat. Though nothing seems to help like backing off of typing for a while, and avoiding long laptop typing sessions.

Looks like the carpalx software (mentioned above) can be tuned to find you a layout that doesn't work the pinkies so much.

The article is mostly about speed, not efficiency. If you care about speed only, then many will argue it's a toss-up. If you care about efficiency over your typing lifetime, then I'd strongly suggest Dvorak has a big advantage.

Small slightly loaded example. Try it yourself on any body of text: I just typed your title on Dvorak and QWERTY layouts. The top line are the keys that are on the home row of each, so fingers don't have to move to type them. The second are those you have to move for. Ignores shift.

"debunking dvorak vs qwerty myths at reason.com"

Dvorak: (home row first)



So in this contrived example, the home row has slightly more letters on it than other rows.

QWERTY: (home row first)



Here, the home row has far fewer of the letters required, so most of the time you have to move your fingers. Oh, and I removed QWERTY because it was just unfair. Even if you remove the 'reason.com', Dvorak is more efficient. So try it yourself for a few sentences. I suggest you'll find Dvorak has far less finger movement in most cases. Maybe someone will code up a test, scanning HN for home row keys :)

Is it for everyone? No. Like Sarah Palin, everyone has a different opinion. If you're happy with QWERTY, use it - there are generally far better things to learn about. Out of 4 friends who tried Dvorak, two of us kept it. I use Programmer Dvorak because it makes coding nicer, but that's even more hassle.

I had bad RSI, then took a couple weeks, and switched to Dvorak (it took a bit longer to get proficient in Vim again though). Anyhow, RSI problems were gone, and never returned.

So, regardless of any debunking myths, it prevented my pain from ever coming back again.

Or maybe the pain went away for some reason unrelated to Dvorak, and would have gone away on its own even if you hadn't switched.

It seems unlikely given how many people report that same benefit. On this thread alone, there are 4 people that report it's much easier on the wrists (to which I'll add myself - I'm a Dvorak user and found it physically much easier to type on than Qwerty) and 1 person that reports it's worse.

Ouch, I don't know the english word for it, but you're making a severe error by assuming that pro's and cons are as likely to report here. If you really want to know whether it's coincidental or not you'd have to phone people chosen at random from the total population (just humans, just americans or just american programmers for example)

"Selection bias" is the term you're looking for. ;-)

And yes, I know I'm making it, and choosing to make it anyway. Mostly because it squares with my own experience (there's a term for that too: "anecdotal evidence"), and because we don't have any evidence the other way.

it squares with my own experience

The placebo effect can make cancer go away for a while. Vanishing RSI is trivial.

You're especially at risk because you've already sunk time and effort into retraining yourself, and have made a conscious decision to separate yourself from everybody else. That's Big Magic, psychosomatically speaking.

None of this means you have to go back to QWERTY (or for that matter, that QWERTY is any less broken). But if Dvorak's research really was shoddy and self-serving, and you want to take care of the hands you presumably use to earn a living, wouldn't it be a good idea at this point to look into other keyboard layouts with better-documented benefits?



I'd really like to find some research on people that were proficient with Dvorak first and then were asked to learn QWERTY. I suspect the take-up (even for those desperately wanting to be different) would be lower! There's quite a cost to re-learning how to type, so let's not discount that some people still think it's worth it.

Personally, I did it because a couple of my mates were still happy with it after a year and it started making sense on day 1, before any Big Magic kicked in :)

I would like Liebowitz and Margolis work more if they'd actually done any research. If you bother to go find the original Journal of Law and Economics paper, you will see that the paper consists only of hand-waving criticism, and has no original research. I suppose a paper of this form has a place, but you'd think that in the intervening 20 years, someone, someonwhere would try to confirm or deny.

But that hasn't happened, as far as I know.

This is a funny webzine I found about Dvorak: http://DVzine.org/zine/01-toc.html

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