When I started on computers, one of the requirements my parent set upon me was that I learn how to type. We had an old Smith Corona typewriter in the home and an old “learn how to type” book from the 1970’s that I used to practice with. Fortunately, that small gesture paid off: today, I touch-type a solid 90-120 WPM with 95% or better accuracy. Considering that I probably spend a good 12-14 hours a day in front of a keyboard, it’s come in very useful.
My friend, packardgoose, knowing my typing speed, asked:
What’s your opinion of the Dvorak layout? I’ve been thinking of switching just to frustrate anyone else who sits at my keyboard, but also because I have trouble getting upwards of 80 WPM, which as I understand is part of the design behind the QWERTY layout (time for the mechanical arms to strike and reset).
Here’s my response:
Dvorak doesn’t allow you to type faster; I’m convinced that’s purely urban legend. I’m pretty convinced that QWERTY is actually the most optimal layout for speed because it was designed to alternate strokes between hands evenly to optimize typing speed for mechanical typewriters. There are actually three Dvorak layouts: left-handed, right-handed and two-handed. For a two-handed typist, the left- and right-handed Dvorak layouts can’t possibly be faster than QWERTY, because there’s not enough alternation between hands. So, compare the two-handed Dvorak layout to QWERTY and I’m still betting that QWERTY is marginally faster at the upper end.
The gating factor for typing speed, I’m guessing, is greatly determined by the frequency of letters in the words being typed. Notice how the “e” and “i” in the QWERTY layout aren’t on the home row: the middle finger tends to be longer than the other fingers, so while hands are resting in the home row the middle fingers are naturally inclined to rest on the “e” and “i” — in English, those are pretty high-frequency letters. Two-handed Dvorak, on the other hand, places those letters where the “d” and “g” keys are — both on the same hand, and it puts the “e” in the home row under the middle finger, which isn’t the natural resting place for the finger!
Of course, my “natural resting position” in the home row is “awef-jio;”, not “asdf-jkl;”. Perhaps this is why I can achieve speeds of 120 WPM? I also shift predominantly with my right pinky and I spacebar mostly with my right thumb, but then, I’m right-handed.
I wonder if it’s actually possible to prove that one layout will ultimately be faster than the other when mastered? I wonder what the upper limit is in terms of typing speed for the QWERTY layout; I’ve been “stuck” at 120 WPM as my best speed for years now.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!