Computers & Tech

Dvorak – Does it make sense?

I was recently requested to answer a question on quora and my answer had so many good points that I felt it needs to be shared here as well.

The question was:

Does it ever make sense to switch to something like a Dvorak keyboard if you already type fast?

Firstly a bit of personal history. Those who know my blog would know the following posts. I’ve been switching in between keyboard layouts for the past few years.

Your Keyboard & You. I’ll Stick With Colemak

Good Bye Colemak… It’s Been Fun

Thinking About Dvorak Again

A couple of weeks ago, I took the plunge to move over to Dvorak, yet again. Haven’t I made my fingers suffer enough?… I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. There were a few reasons but the biggest one was I wanted to get faster speeds. It is quite interesting how my fingers got so used to the layout so quickly.

Now to answer the question…

To properly answer the question about Dvorak making any sense, you need to consider more than just speed. Here are the factors and questions you need to ask yourself.

How fast do you type?
I’ve read a number of posts and articles that suggest that the improvements over speed and accuracy are more of a placebo effect rather than anything else. Most of those who moved over to Dvorak have actually have reported gains in speed. However the speed gains have been marginal for most. While the previous record holder was a Dvorak user for a long time, the record is now currently held by a QWERTY typist. So speed isn’t really the deciding factor here.
you need to ask yourself, how fast do you type and would typing on Dvorak make all the difference in speed for you? For those who are already typing at over a 100 WPM, it makes no sense really because that still is pretty fast. There are those who are typing well over that in QWERTY in Type Racer.
In my case, on QWERTY, I barely cross 35WPM so I guess it should be better for me to learn Dvorak.
This should answer the question, but you need to get through the other factors before you make a firm decision. Speed isn’t always the best deciding factor.

How much do you type?
There are some people who do use the computer quite a bit but they don’t type all that much. Maybe the odd email here and there. So for them the standard layout would be just fine.
It is know that the average typist does 3 – 4 miles of finger travel in a day. With the Dvorak layout the distance in brought down to just 1 mile. However most people don’t really do that much in day’s work.
Prolonged period of typing at the computer for lengthy periods of time. does produce health issues. This we will come to later on a point of its own.
But for now, we all have been told that proper computer usage should be complimented with breaks in between to rest your eyes and hands. Prolonged periods of sitting behind a desk is known to be bad for your health and most doctors prescribe that we should stretch our legs and walk around a bit more.

Dvorak was mostly designed for comfort rather than speed.
This is completely true. Dvorak would be far better than QWERTY. Having used the alternative layouts, I can easily say that when I went back to QWERTY for a couple of years, the first few weeks was hard, not because of the layout, but how my fingers had to travel across the keyboard.
On Dvorak your fingers don’t move all that much from the home row. Also the way the layout is designed, most of your typing is done with hands alternating quite a bit.
Comfort is subjective. There are some people who don’t find using the right pinky more as comfortable. But I will say that one you get in the habit of exercising that finger for typing the way that it is supposed to be done, you shouldn’t have any issues.

Do you have any Pain?
You may be a fast typist on QWERTY, but are you having any pains or aches after typing for extended periods of time. The one reason that Dvorak made the layout was because he found standard layout inefficient and most of all, a new kind of health condition was starting to form among typists, secretaries, etc. – RSI and Carpal tunnel.
Now there is no direct link in between these health issues and the QWERTY layout. It could be because of poor training on proper posture, typing techniques, etc. For the most part there are many computer users who are completely fine and don’t have issues. However there have been some that have pains and aches later on in life.
You will need to ask yourself, whether you are having any pains and aches in your hands and fingers.If you don’t have any pains and aches right now, do you use the computer long enough that there is a possibility that you would be having pains and aches later on.When it comes to pains and aches and improving comfort, most people don’t take such things into consideration until they actually have issues. For some users just switching to an ergonomic keyboard like the Kinesis have helped them out more than changing the layout. But what if you are on the go and you use a laptop for most of the time?

Well then, I guess Dvorak would probably help in that it will be far more comfortable.This is one of the reasons that got me thinking about Dvorak and make the switch – “Prevention is better than cure”. And if you’re reading this, even though you’re a fast typist on QWERTY, then you’re thinking the same as well.

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