Why We Use the QWERTY Keyboard

The QWERTY keyboard is the most popular type of keyboard used today by a large margin, even though they're not aren't the most efficient keyboard design. Why do we use QWERTY keyboards if they're not the best choice? It's all about history.

What Is a QWERTY Keyboard?
A QWERTY keyboard gets its name from the first six letters in this configuration, which are Q, W, E, R, T and Y. The QWERTY keyboard is the standard keyboard configuration that ships with pretty much every computer today. While other keyboard configurations are available, the vast majority of computer users still use QWERTY keyboards.

Built to Slow You Down
Believe it or not, the QWERTY keyboard is actually designed to slow typing speed. Early typewriters had problems with the plates jamming in the mechanical arms if users typed too quickly. Christopher Sholes invented the QWERTY keyboard layout to force typists to type slower so that typewriters wouldn't jam. QWERTY became the model in typewriter production and the standard for business use.

Why Do We Still Use These Keyboards?
Jamming typewriters isn't an issue for modern keyboard users, so why do keyboards still use the QWERTY layout? At first glance, continued reliance on QWERTY is simply a matter of ensuring ongoing productivity. The learning curve between QWERTY and different keyboard configurations is typically a matter of weeks, or even months, before someone can type at full speed. Most companies don't want their employees to lose productivity for that long, and most individuals don't want to bother to learn an alternate configuration.

Alternatives Exist
Educational psychologist August Dvorak created the American Simplified Keyboard, commonly called the Dvorak keyboard, in 1936. The Dvorak keyboard layout takes into account the letters that people type most frequently, creating a layout that makes typing significantly faster and easier. The Guinness Book of World Records registers the fastest typing speed on a Dvorak keyboard of 212 words per minute; up to 100 words per minute faster than most professional typists on a QWERTY keyboard.

Marketing to a QWERTY Crowd
While all operating systems support Dvorak keyboards, manufacturers cater to a QWERTY crowd. Even cell phone manufacturers incorporate a cell phone QWERTY keyboard, and many users simply don't know that alternative keyboards exist. Laptops come with keyboards labeled for the QWERTY layout, which the user would be hard-pressed to change, and you have to look very carefully to even find a Dvorak keyboard. With manufacturers marketing to a QWERTY crowd, it's unlikely that alternative keyboards will ever take off among the mainstream population.

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