Home > Keyboards > Extensive Research Into The Area of Keyboarding: A Look At The Many Layouts

Extensive Research Into The Area of Keyboarding: A Look At The Many Layouts

All comparisons involving letters are on QWERTY, because I assume that’s what you’re using. You will switch to Dvorak eventually, but you haven’t yet.

HERE is a piano player who has an interesting look on keyboarding. He claims that it’s easier to type freestyle, instead of staying on the home row. He also says it’s easier to do a run of keys (asdf;lkj) than to alternate hands (a;sldkfj). Most new keyboards base a lot on alternating hands. But he is partly wrong. Asdf;lkj is easier than a;sldkfj, but a;sldkfj is a lot easier than stewardesses (as far as I know the longest word on one hand). So runs on one hand are good, but since you can’t have all straight runs on one hand, you should alternate. Another person in a different place suggested that it is easier to do 2 keys with one hand before switching, which makes a lot of sense. By the way, here are the most common digraphs, as a reference point. I got this from 2 sites, who each said different things, but that is probably due to different areas of research. They were similar enough, so I averaged them. Sources: site one site two

TH, HE, AN, IN, ER, RE, ON, ND, AT, HA, ED, ES, NT, EN, OF, TO, IT, EA, TO, TI, OU, HI, IO, IS, OR, AS, AR, LE, TE, ET, DE, RT, NG, AL, DE, SE

Oh, I forgot! You need to know letter frequency! Here it is. From Wikipedia.

E T A O I N S H R D L C U M W F G Y P B V K J X Q Z
Notes about letter frequency: E has far more than anything else (with 13% to T’s 9%), and etaoins makes up slightly more than half of everything.
As I was researching, I realized I needed to know the frequency of punctuation to really make a proper keyboard. So (with help from Bilfo of course) I (we) made a widget that counts characters. So I gathered a bunch of documents I had on my computer and stuck them into a 2000-page file. Here is the letter frequency I got from that, with characters included.

space E T A O I N S R H shift L delete (4% error rate) D C U M G Y W P B . , return V K ‘ tab X J Q Z

Very close to what Deafandblind.com said, so I can assume that this is an accurate assessment.

A few people who were striving to create a keyboard to beat Dvorak created a genetic algorithm. THIS GUY created an improved version of QWERTY, an improved version of DVORAK, and his own layout, which looks like this.

.YWDF JPLUQ
AERSG BTNIO
XZCV; KWH,’

Sorry, the letters are different sizes so they don’t want to line up.

This is a pretty good keyboard. He kept X, Z, C, and V on the bottom row because those are used for cut, copy, paste, and undo. He is supposedly is not finished, but it looks like he was doing this in 2005, so I think it’s as far as he’s going to get.

If you want his code (it’s C++), you can get it at his website HERE.

His algorithm contains certain restraints. That’s a good idea, since there are 30 factorial (30x29x28…x1) possible layouts. That number is 265252859812191058636308480000000 by the way.
RESTRICTIONS: ETAOIN are automatically on the home row. S, R, H or D usually get the 2 remaining spots.
X,C,Z, and V remain on the bottom for reasons I already stated.

Here’s the rest of the algorithm, where lower scoring keyboards are better.

+5: reach to the center column without switching hands before
+5: reach to the center column without switching hands after
+5: changing row on one hand (i.e. going from A to W, not A to O)
+50: using same finger twice in a row (i.e. A Q) (this is really really bad and is just about the hardest thing to do, short of placing a key on the moon)
+30: jumping over the home row, but only +10 if this jump is VE, VW, NI, NO, MI, MO because those are easier according to this guy
-4: using adjacent keys on the same hand and not reaching to a center column(i.e. A S)
-3: using keys on the same hand
If there is a space between 2 keys, the penalty is reduced by 50%.

This guy bases a lot of his work on the original Genetic Algorithm Keyboard guy, P.M. Klausler. If you look at his website, he is an extreme geek. HERE is his genetic algorithm. The idea is that 2048 keyboards are generated, and tested. The half that do worse are dropped, and the better half are mutated, and then re-tested. (Each layout has a 50% chance to switch 2 keys, a 25% chance to switch 3, a 12.5% chance to switch 4, etc.) This continues until one keyboard layout is the consistent winner. He did this whole thing because he used Dvorak, but a couple things about it annoyed him and he wanted to see if he could make it better. He not only uses letter and digraph frequency as input, but he uses word frequency. I do not want to copy and paste them all here, but the top ones (not surprisingly) are: the of and to in a I that. Other word frequency sites say slightly different things, but they are all basically the same. Klausler goes into detail about this on his site, linked above.

He ended up with this:

k , u y p w l m f c
o a e i d r n t h s
q . ‘ ; z x v g b j

Stupid crooked letters. Anyway, it ended up very close to Dvorak, which is:

‘ , . p y f g c r l
a o e u i d h t n s
; q j k x b mw vz

Stupid crooked letters again.

He tried his evolved layout for a while, and didn’t like it as much as Dvorak. Oh well. Maybe my genetic algorithm design will work better.

OTHER ATTEMPTS TO BEAT DVORAK
EDIT: By the above phrase, I mean these are layouts made by people who did not think Dvorak was good enough, and wanted something better. I am not saying they attempted to beat Dvorak and failed; they each have different priorities, for instance, the Arensito layout doesn’t focus so much on hand alternation, but wants to make sure that the same finger is never used twice in a row.

There are 2 big keyboards that are attempting to beat Dvorak that are actually available for use. (You can actually get Michael Capewell’s layout, but he’s not heavily recommending it.)These keyboards are Colemak and XPeRT, found at colemak.com and xpertkeyboard.com
COLEMAK was designed in 2006, and attempts to beat Dvorak. Here’s what it looks like.

Q W F P G J L U Y ;
A R S T D H N E I O
Z X C V B K M , . /

(Apostrophe is off to the side)

This is a good layout. It is based on being easy to learn, as well as good. Z,X,C, and V are still in the same place. Many keys remain in their QWERTY positions, such as Q, W, A, and the entire bottom row other than K (what was N doing on the bottom row in the first place?). I just noticed, I use a lot of parentheses. The Colemak also has common keys on the home row, not too much emphasis on pinkies, a good arrangement, and is easy to learn. I haven’t used it, but I would guess by looking at it that it’s not quite as fast or simple as the Dvorak. But it’s easier to learn, and has benefits. For ease to learn, this is the way to go.
EDIT: I have researched this layout more. Currently it looks like the best layout for people who are coming from QWERTY. It is as good as Dvorak, better in some ways and worse in others. It isn’t as popular, but it has a strong following, and I will be very happy if it takes over QWERTY as the prominent layout. I would be equally happy if Dvorak took over as the main layout. As long as a better layout takes over, I will be happy.

XPeRT:

X P E R T Y U I O J
Q S D F N H A E L K
; W C V B G M , . /

I personally am not a huge fan of this layout. It is designed for extreme ease to learn and a lot of hand alternation. Let’s check out the hand alternation.

TH: Alternate. Good.
HE: Not alternate.
IN: Alternate.
AN: Alternate.
ER: Not alternate.
RE: Not alternate.
ON: Alternate.
ND: Not alternate.
ED: On same line. That’s not good.
AT: Alternate.

That’s good alternation. Could be better, but it’s certainly good. What about their other selling point, it’s easy to learn?
Well, hardly anything changed from QWERTY, but enough to make it good. But why did they put X and P in the place of Q and W if they are trying to move as little as possible. I have a suspicious feeling that they were trying to spell something….
A great idea they came up with was to have 2 Es. E is very common. They left it where it was, AND put it on the home row. Great thinking!

Unfortunately, there are some big problems. First of all, they give no credit to the pinkies. Why is Q under the pinky home row? I think the best method for pinkies is to give them something fairly common. Not etaoin, too common–how about shrdl? Yeah those are the best for pinkies. Then give them something very uncommon up and down, so they rarely have to move. But Q on the home row???? That’s just crazy. Plus, I think it might work a tiny bit better to put T, I, O, and R (or at least 2 or 3 of those) on the home row, seeing as how they are very common and are still on the top row, especially T, in the hard-to-get upper middle area.

Not that I have anything against this keyboard, but it’s no Dvorak.

ONE FINAL LAYOUT: ARENSITO

This one has an interesting look, and does a great job of ensuring that you never use the same finger to press 2 keys.

* q l , p $ f u d k
a r e n b g s i t o
w . h j # v c y mx

*: backspace
$: delete

Z is to the left of W, on a part that isn’t normally considered part of the actual keyboard. If you look at an image of the ARENSITO, it has secondary characters such as @ and numbers on the letters. It’s late and I’m tired, so maybe later I’ll review this one.

Okay, it’s the next morning and I’m back to finish. The Arensito does an incredible job of ensuring that you never use the same finger twice in a row. It has good alternation between hands. This is probably the weirdest keyboard. It does break some assumptions about which keys are the easiest to hit, putting less emphasis on the middle, with G and B, as opposed to I and D on Dvorak or D and H on Colemak. Also it puts H on the BOTTOM ROW!!! This keyboard is so weird that I think I’ll have to try it.

One thing he does do is place all the special characters on the keys for easy access.

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Categories: Keyboards
  1. JLF
    September 2, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Very interesting, especially your freq. list including characters like . , and (space). However, f is missing from that list. How come?

  2. September 2, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    That frequency was out of date. I now have a more accurate one. I put it in there. Thanks. I have more frequency at mtgap.bilfo.com/letter_frequency.html

  3. JLF
    September 3, 2008 at 12:03 am

    I am working on a new layout, where I — besides letter freq. — try to take the way people learn and memorize patterns into consideration.
    Regarding the freq. your article have been very helpful. Thanks for updating it!

  4. JLF
    September 3, 2008 at 12:11 am

    F is still missing!

    I can’t help asking:

    a) by “delete”, you mean “backspace”, right?

    b) do you also know where on the list “delete/backspace” will end up with a 2% error rate?

    c) would you be so kind and write the letter frequencies in %?

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