The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard Layout

The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard Layout

In 1873, an American newspaper editor named Christopher Latham Sholes designed a keyboard layout which looked a lot like the contemporary QWERTY design.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 – ,

Q W E . T Y I U O P

Z S D F G H J K L M

A X & C V B N ? ; R

A company named Remington bought this design and made it identical to the modern QWERTY. As Remington’s typewriters dominated the market, so did its keyboard layout, which was adopted by other typewriter manufacturers.

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There is a popular urban legend that QWERTY was deliberately designed to slow typists down. The evidence they say is that the most frequently used letters in English language are arranged further apart. However, this theory can be debunked by the same evidence because such feature prevented jamming and maximized the use of both hands, thus helping typing to be faster.

Whichever you believe QWERTY was then designed for – to speed up or to slow down, the fact remains that it is far from the best design for modern use. Digital devices do not jam like typewriters do. Yet still in 2017, we put up with the drawbacks with the inefficient design of the 19th century that was meant to solve the problem we don’t have now.

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The home row of QWERTY (A S D F G H J K L) is where the fingers rest naturally. But it makes up less than 20% of the keyboard strokes in English. That means that typing with this layout requires more finger motions towards the lower and upper rows than with a better designed layout. What’s worse? Most of the typing is done with the left hand when 90% of people who type are right handed. If I had to make a joke here, I guess this is one of the few things that privilege left handed people.

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Aren’t there other keyboard layouts that are different and superior than QWERTY? Dvorak and Colemak layouts beat QWERTY with far less required hand motions and far more accuracy.

However, neither Dvorak nor Colemak ever came remotely close to QWERTY in their popularity. QWERTY, at the times of their inventions, was already the universal norm in the fields where typing existed. A handful of countries tried to ease the burdens in typing in their languages by replacing the universal keyboard layout with their variants, such as AZERTY layout in France, or QWERTZ layout in Germany and other Central European countries. But even these layouts are not free from the drawbacks of their origin.