Why QWERTY Keyboard?

Does anyone know why the keyboard is designed in such a way where all alphabets are placed all around without the sequence of alphabetical order?

Just like how the sequence of the letter appear in our keyboard, qwerty keyboard is the standardized keyboard used commonly nowadays in all our computer or notebook keyboard and typewriter.

The design of qwerty keyboard was created by Christopher Latham Sholes, a newspaper editor and printer who also invented the early typewriter machine together with his two friends. They patented the creation and subsequently sold the manufacturing right to Remington and produced the first typewriter which uses the qwerty design in 1878.

The initial mechanism of the typewriter is to hit a key and the type bar which has its letter craved at the end of the rod will swing up and hit onto the paper. The type bars are situated in a ring. Each time they swing, they hit on a layer of ink ribbon which will press the character onto the paper. Of course there are mechanisms to move the paper to the right side for each swing and ready for the next character hit.

If you observe carefully, the most common use character such as “O” are placed to be used by right hand ring finger. “S” and “A” are designed to be used by left hand ring finger and little finger. Less frequent used character such as “V”, “J” and “U” are used by index fingers. It seems that frequent used characters are designed to be handled by less active finger such as little finger and ring finger, while index finger used for less used character. It definitely looks very funny.

The most common complains for the early generation of typewriter was the type bar jamming problem, especially when user punches the key in a fast manner. “Jam” problem will arise as the swing from the type bar will tend to jam with another type bar when user started to type fast.

That is why base on the observation above, there were saying that qwerty keyboard was purposely designed to reduce the speed of the user so that “jam” can be reduced. But this was not the real reason.

The main purpose why qwerty keyboard was created is to reduce these “jams” problem by distance away those commonly used letters and letter-pair such “th” and “st”. Since then, there were some minor changes of letters position to prevent jams further when typing speed further increased.

However in 1932, a new Dvorak Simplified keyboard was created by August Dvorak and claimed to be able to address most of the weakness found in the qwerty keyboard. It able to avoid typing using one finger on certain words, finger jump from home row, typing using one hand while another hand is idle especially only left hand and some awkward finger movements.

Qwerty keyboard uses approximately 52% on top row, 32% on home row and 16% on bottom row. Usage of top row and bottom row will slow down the typing speed. Unlike Dvorak keyboard, top row is only 22%, bottom row is 8% and home row consist of 70%. This make Dvorak keyboard able to type about 400 words without leaving home row compare to qwerty keyboard only can cater to around 100 words.

August Dvorak also sent many typists to enter typing contest since the invention and won many awards and until certain typist contestant request not to be placed next to Dvorak typist as they will feel pressured for the noise produced from the fast speed typing using Dvorak typewriter. The world fastest English language typist according to the Guinness book of record was also using Dvorak keyboard.

Base on all these facts, Dvorak Simplified keyboard should be able to replace qwerty keyboard, but it did not.

Most of the studies conducted at that time to study the effectiveness of the Dvorak keyboard were conducted by the creator, August Dvorak whom was a psychologist and professor of education in University of Washington. Due to this, it was claimed to be flawed due to conflict of interest issue.

The major resistance for the wide acceptance of the Dvorak keyboard was the conclusion given by General Services Administration which study was conducted by Earle Strong. He pointed out that Dvorak keyboard and qwerty keyboard does not pose much differentiation on typing speed and there would be unnecessary high cost involve to retrain all qwerty trained typist to use Dvorak keyboard which he claimed is unjustifiable.

Nevertheless, there was also evidence shown that Strong and Dvorak was not in good business relationship before, which claimed by many that the study was also conducted in a quite subjective manner.

The situation also worsens further as the invention created during World War II where many firms would not spend extra investment to produce new keyboard layout. Conversions of exiting typewriters were not so feasible on that era too and no large typewriter companies were able been persuaded to produce large enough volume of new typewriter to create the impact.

Many schools and trainer were already very familiar with qwerty keyboard, thus changing the whole new way in retraining these typists become a natural resistance. Although many contests were won by no significant awareness was created among general population.

When time goes by, even there were many computer application and operating system such as Windows, apple and unix base system tried to incorporate Dvorak keyboard system, but it still does not take off well until today.

This is because more and more additional characters, symbols and alternate function key used mainly for movement control in computers were created base on the qwerty layout and thus further making the change difficult.

Great invention which was supposed to benefit mankind were sometime been deserted due to many reasons such as unnecessary conflicts among human race which can sabotage the original good intention, wrong timing of launching the new product, unable to persuade large and strong sponsors to support the new product, no or inadequate follow through strategies in promoting awareness, no proper plans in preparing for changes especially changing a prolonged human behaviour and the longer it takes to launch a product the more irrelevant when time pass.

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Comments 6 comments

Cloverleaf profile image

Cloverleaf 5 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

How interesting, calvincho! I sit behind a computer and type all day long, but I had never considered the reasons for the layout of the QWERTY keyboard. It's funny; I have used my keyboard so much that the letters "E", the "C" and the "S" have rubbed off entirely now. If I look closely at the keyboard I have to stop for a moment and think "what letter is that?" and yet when I'm in full flow at 100wpm it doesn't even cross my mind :)


Voted up!

ilitek profile image

ilitek 5 years ago


klyyong profile image

klyyong 5 years ago

Very interesting sharing here, calvincho. Thanks.

My Footprints profile image

My Footprints 5 years ago from MY

Never crosses my mind to look at it this way. Anyway...to me it does not matter because I don't use all my fingers when typing.

joriechew profile image

joriechew 5 years ago

Now that’s interesting, calvincho, I use the keyboard almost everyday but never give much thought to the layout. Good sharing.

happyyeo 5 years ago

Interesting, thanks for sharing.

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