Dvorak: To Each Their Own

Most of the time, people switch to a different keyboard layout for the reportedly better ergonomics. Two years ago, I switched to Dvorak not because of ergonomics, but because I want to improve my typing speed. At that time, I can type up to around 70 wpm in Qwerty, and I can’t get any further. Because Dvorak’s design is more efficient (relative to English), I concluded that I can type faster once I get comfortable with the layout. Indeed, after a month of use, my typing speed increased from 70 to 80 wpm. After a year, my typing speed went up to 100 wpm.

While Dvorak helped me increase my typing speed, strangely enough it had an adverse effect on me in terms of ergonomics. Instead of a more comfortable typing experience, I experienced pain in my right hand instead, which becomes apparent after prolonged periods of typing. This is probably because I’m a lefty, and my right hand is not used to doing much work. Most probably, my right hand just needs time to train.

However, at that time, I was handling my team’s servers at work. Actually, the rest of the team is expected to have at least an acceptable skill in systems administration so that each of us can jump-in in case of emergencies. Guess what, all of us share the root account :) Because of this use case, it’s not practical for me to set the default keyboard layout to Dvorak, esp. since changing keyboard layouts in the command line is non-trivial. The rest of the team will hate me for doing so. Eventually, this made me switch back to Qwerty.

I haven’t really had the chance to see whether the pain in my right hand will go away after spending some more time in Dvorak, but what I’ve learned from the experience are:

  • Dvorak is designed for right handed persons (so is the keyboard in general).
  • Environmental factors will limit the advantages of using alternative keyboard layouts.
  • Most program hotkeys are designed with Qwerty in mind, and are noticeably more comfortable to use in Qwerty.
  • Dvorak may increase your typing speed.

Overall, my experience in using Dvorak is definitely worth it. I’ve been using Qwerty for more than a year now, and my typing speed caught up with my Dvorak typing speed. Right now though, I have no desire in switching back to Dvorak because I’m not willing to spend time retraining my muscle memory esp. for the keyboard shortcuts I usually use.


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