Carwin Young


Adventures In Dvorakland

11 Feb 2013

Ah... Dvorak. That strange, mystical keyboard layout for super nerds. Let's take years of muscle memory and take a huge dump on it.

Carwin's Dvorakland


The Dvorak keyboard layout was invented by August Dvorak in the late 1930s to replace the QWERTY layout which he had deemed inefficient after studying English letter frequencies and hand physiology (thanks Wikipedia).

I came across Dvorak while searching for ways to improve my efficiency during my day to day work activities. While researching some time-management techniques, I came across a forum post where a few folks were discussing the layout and touting an increase in overall typing speed.

Saliva immediately began fountaining from my mouth. I cried tears of joy. A parade was held in my hometown to congratulate me on such a wonderful discovery.

Well, not really -- but I still can't think of a better way to improve my efficiency than to just type faster. That's the computer nerd's dream right? Sure, you need to worry about accuracy when typing and time management, but a big part of what I do is all about typing things I've typed a million times before. Typing faster would be an enormous benefit, hell, I'd probably punch a crate full of < insert adorable animal >s if it meant I could type 300wpm.

So, filled with fanciful dreams of insane typing powers - I decided I would commit to learning the Dvorak layout. After all, the holder of the world record for typing speed used Dvorak.

Round 1, Fight

I started my switch one Friday evening after work. Using two tiny little screwdrivers, I popped the keys off of my MacBook Air and re-arranged them in this terrifying new order. It looked pretty cool but was also insanely daunting.

To get situated, I used TypeFu to train. The statistics feature is pretty great, and I also really like the layout and functionality compared to other typing tutors I've used in the past (Mavis Beacon anyone?).

After an entire weekend spent with Dvorak I was up to about 30wpm, down from my top score of 113wpm (average speed 80s-90s) using QWERTY.

Monday was not a good work day. I immediately became frustrated while coding, and finally had to give up and switch back to QWERTY during lunch because I was completely unable to communicate over IRC in a timely manner.

Round 2, Making It Stick

Nearly a month later I decided to give the switch another try, but this time, I used some sense and decided to only use Dvorak on the weekends -- which goes against what everything I've read on the subject of switching teaches.

After somewhere in the neighborhood of two months, I was up to a consistent 45wpm with Dvorak and decided to commit fully. This time it took pretty well. I was able to communicate with text, albeit somewhat more slowly and my typing speed got better and better every day.

This was the real turning point for my switch, I needed to be able to type well enough to be able to do my job - even if it meant needing to put in a few extra hours off the clock to compensate for my slowness. The sheer need of getting back up to speed forced me to get better, although that might be my imagination.

I did however start to notice a lot of things that made life really tough:

I've since overcome a lot of these issues, which I'll go over in Pt. 2

Dvorak, my BFF

I'm still using Dvorak today, it's been two and a half months since I committed to the layout a second time.

My typing speed averages in the 60-70wpm range, I've made a lot of keyboard customizations and I'm back to feeling comfortable in Vim. I'm fairly skeptical of the purported typing speed increases that users gain with a Dvorak layout, but I think there are plenty of other reasons to keep using it.

Mainly, it just feels more comfortable to type on for long periods of time. I've been told this is due to the alternating nature of keystrokes that Dvorak encourages, roughly every other letter is (theoretically) typed with a different hand. Seems pretty ergonomic to me.

If you plan on trying the switch to Dvorak, my best advice is to just keep at it. It takes time, and I can't promise it'll be worth it, but so far I really like it.

There's a follow up post to this one in the works with resources for Dvorak users, but if you can't wait feel free to ping me on Twitter: @carwin.

Also, Wikipedia has this neat list of famous Dvorak users which I find to be pretty damn cool:

Future Experiments

A few weeks ago I ran into the Programmer's Dvorak layout which made me want to eat my laptop. Just after I'd gotten used to Dvorak I find that there's an even more specific, supposedly more efficient, keyboard layout designed for my job. Fffffuuuuuuuuuuu.

I can't promise I won't try it, but I'll probably wait for some sort of catalyst before I do. By the way, if you're a coder, and you use that layout -- I look forward to some first hand accounts of its usefulness.