Ask most people why why have a scrambled keyboard layout and they’ll unblinkingly say, “Ergonomics” or “Usability”.
When we first encounter the garbled mess that is a QWERTY keyboard, our immediate response is a stunned, “WTF???” followed by an imploring “Why?”
Perhaps we assume it could only be this messed up for a reason. Perhaps it helps us:
- Learn the keyboard arrangement quickly and intuitively
- Type faster
- Type with fewer mistakes, or
- Type with fewer injuries or long term damage to our fingers, hands, wrists and arms.
None of these is true.
QWERTY is the sub-standard response to a mechanical design flaw. A design flaw dating from 1878. A design flaw that no longer exists. The ergonomic and usability needs of the billions of poor people forced to use QWERTY were not even considered as part of the solution to this glitch.
The QWERTY “solution” was all about the machine itself: “How do we stop the keys from jamming?” not “How can we make typing, easier, faster, more intuitive and mistake free?”
And the consequences of that “design fix”:
- QWERTY takes years to learn and master
- It is no faster than any other system that requires years of dedicated practice
- Its nonsensical order of the letters proliferates mistakes and has spawned entire industries making products helping us fix these mistakes (think of the Bette Nesmith Graham and her wonderful ‘Liquid Paper’ story)
- Its rigid linear layout and confusing letter placement cause millions of crippling injuries every year.
QWERTY more ergonomic? That myth is definitely busted.