2 min read

Switching keyboard layouts

Switching keyboard layouts
Photo by Florian Krumm / Unsplash

Recently, I've been getting into keyboards, ergonomics and typing.
I did some research and found out the QWERTY layout is suboptimal. It places the most used keys all across the board, which creates a lot of uncomfortable finger movement. I also found out there are lots of alternative layouts (Workman, Colemak, Dvorak, Halmak and many others...) which try to limit finger movement, meaning typing for long periods of time becomes less strenuous.

First, I learned the Workman layout. It places all the most used keys in easy-to-reach places, and forces "rolls" on the most common letter pairs. Rolls are where you "roll" your wrist to hit the keys. (The roll I use most is when you type TH; your pointer finger hits "T", then your wrist rolls and your middle finger hits "H").

I found Workman suited me well, but there were some improvements I thought I could make. So I designed my own layout! It is largely the same as Workman, but it swaps the positions of P and F, and L and K (the most common 'same-finger bigrams' ie. two keys pressed one after the other, creating stress on the finger).

Wouldn't it be difficult to switch to a new layout?

Yes it is difficult, but I will share some tips that made it easier for me.

Step 1. Pick a layout

Go on Google and do some searching around to find a layout you like. Once you have decided on one, search the term '(insert layout here) download', download the file and set it as the default layout on your computer. (If you want, you can download my layout here!)

Step 2. Memorize

Get a picture of the layout you chose on one side of your screen and a typing test on the other. I use MonkeyType  as my typing website.
Don't look at your keyboard, only the layout picture on your screen. You will be very slow at first, but over time you will speed up.

Step 3. Practice.

I practiced every day for a week before I hit 40 words per minute with Workman. Having switched to my own layout 2 months ago, my average typing speed now sits at around 60-70 words per minute.
It's all about practice.

Step 4. Hang in there.

It will be difficult, and it will take perseverance, but hang in there and keep going. It's gonna be good!

**Important caveat**

If you regularly switch between computers, and/or use public computers, don't go and install your layout on all of them! Just stick with QWERTY, because it is probably not worth the hassle in your situation.

The end result.

Since switching layouts, my hands feel less fatigued after typing for long periods of time. I can also type faster, because there is less finger movement and I feel more comfortable at the keyboard.

I hope you'll give it a go! If not, it's all just a bit of fun.

Thanks for reading!