Best Keyboard Layouts for Different Uses

As more and more people are spending significant amounts of time at their computers, we are seeing an equally large increase in interest in how to spend that time efficiently. One of the key ways you can do this is to have the best keyboard layout for you. 

What the best keyboard layout will be based largely on what you are using for. If you are a programmer I recommend Dvorak Programmer if you work alone or QWERTY if you work in a team in an office, if you are a gamer I would stick to QWERTY, and if you are a typist I would choose Colemak.

Right now though that may not mean all that much to you. Throughout this article then, I will dive into why you should optimize your keyboard layout for your use, what the main keyboard layouts are, and the decision making process for what is the right option for you. 

Standard Qwerty Keyboard Layout
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Why Bother Having the Best Keyboard Layout for You

We sit at our computers a lot. In fact, office workers spend an average of 6.5 hours a workday or 1700 hours a year in front of their computer screen. And this is just from work, not taking into account home usage such as, for many people, gaming. 

Improved Efficiency

With all this time spent on the computer, you want to make sure you are using it as efficiently as possible. This is where your keyboard layout comes in. While it may not seem like a big deal, just a small improvement in efficiency could save you hours in work each year.

Alternatively, if you primarily use a computer for gaming, it can buy you precious milliseconds to make the difference between winning and losing time and time again. 

Improved Long Term Health

It is not only a case of efficiency though, as heavy computer use can have serious consequences for your health. Increases in issues such as damaged backs and necks due to bad posture, deteriorating eyesight, and repetitive strain disorders have all been linked to rising time spent in front of screens. 

Unfortunately having a layout that works for you won’t be able to help your back or eyes, but it may well be a godsend to repetitive stress disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome. Making your fingers and hands move less and at less awkward positions can have serious long term benefits. It can save you a lot of health problems in the long run. 

Improved Short Term Health

An optimized keyboard layout can even help your body in the short term. If you have ever sat at a computer for hours on end and found your hands cramping up or aching, you will know that this can completely grind your work or gaming to a standstill. With a keyboard layout that doesn’t force your hands into such awkward positions, this fatigue can be reduced. Or in some cases, eliminated altogether. 

So if it can dictate how quickly you work or game, how healthy your body is, and how you can avoid aches and pains, it is clear that having the best keyboard layout for you is an essential rather than a necessity. The only questions are, what are your options, and what is right for you?

Photo by Dries Augustyns on Unsplash

Main Options for Your Keyboard Layout

First of all, we need to know what your options actually are. I will then quickly go through an overview, pros, and cons of the three most popular keyboard layouts. I will also look at what it means to have a custom option designed by you.
QWERTY Keyboard Layout

QWERTY Keyboard Layout

QWERTY. The original. The default. And certainly not the best. 

The QWERTY keyboard, named for the top six letters running across it, was originally designed in the 1870s for typewriters and has become the standard keyboard across the world. The problem is, it isn’t great. 

A lot of keys you end up pressing right after each other leave you stretching your hands, wrists, and fingers. This can both slow you down and cause unnecessary damage, so why does anyone still bother? 

Well, the main reason is that people don’t like change. Almost everyone learned how to type on a QWERTY keyboard and it would be challenging to learn a new method, even if it helped in the long run. 

This is combined with the fact that there is far more availability of QWERTY keyboards giving you far more options, and that because almost everyone uses QWERTY it makes life a lot easier when working at each other’s desks. 

Also, many people aren’t even aware that other keyboard layouts exist. It is hardly surprising therefore that QWERTY keyboards remain by far the most popular. 

In short, it is like this because it always has been

Pros Of QWERTY Keyboard LayoutCons Of QWERTY Keyboard Layout
Don’t have to learn new systemSlower than other keyboard layouts
Lots of options availableMore awkward and can cause long term damage
Convenient when using other people’s desks, or they are using yoursLeads to greater fatigue and aching in hands

Dvorak Keyboard Layout

Pretty much everything the QWERTY layout isn’t, the Dvorak system was designed in the 1930s by Dr. August Dvorak to be absolutely optimized for actual typing within the English language. 

Frequently used keys rest close to your fingers, particularly the index and middle fingers, and keys placed so that you alternate hands with them as much as possible. 

This can give you marked improvements in both long terms writing speed and the state of your hands

Dvorak Programmer Keyboard Layout

With a huge 33 changes to the QWERTY design, It is a complete overhaul though, and so it can take a lot of time to get used to this new system. 

There have also been developments with coding and computer use that have also negated some of the benefits of the Dvorak system. For example, many coding languages such as C+ and C++ make heavy use of semicolons. Also, common shortcuts such as ‘Ctrl C’, ‘Ctrl V’, and ‘Ctrl Z’ are awkward to press on the standard Dvorak keyboard layout. 

While these issues have since been addressed with Dvorak Programming Keyboard layouts and the ability to program your own shortcuts, issues like this still diminish Dvorak’s usability somewhat. 

Pros Of Dvorak Keyboard LayoutCons Of Dvorak Keyboard Layout
Quicker typing speed once learntComplete overhaul can take time to learn
Less stretching for damageOther people using your keyboard and you using theirs can become awkward
Less pains and achesSome issues with coding and shortcut speed although these are resolvable

Colemak Keyboard Layout 

Colemak is the newest of the three main keyboard layouts. It was designed in 2006 to bridge the gap between the usability of QWERTY and the efficiency of Dvorak. 

Changing only 17 letters from QWERTY, Colemak is far more recognizable than Dvorak. This makes the Colemak keyboard layout much easier to learn, taking less time to get used to it. 

It also keeps ‘Ctrl C’, ‘Ctrl V’, and ‘Ctrl Z’ easy to use and sacrifices little to Dvorak in terms of usability.
Colemak Keyboard Layout

Because it is newer though, it will take a little more effort to install. But, once you have and got used to it you will be typing far more quickly. 

It has also placed the semicolon conveniently and replaced the ‘Caps Lock’ with another backspace for use with your left hand. 

Pros Of Colemak Keyboard LayoutCons Of Colmak Keyboard Layout
Quicker typing speed once learntNewer system and so much less available
Less stretching for damageOther people using your keyboard and you using theirs can become awkward, but less so than Dvorak
Less pains and aches

Custom Keyboard Layout

If none of these three are what you are after, you can even make your own custom keyboard. 

This can either be used to create an entirely new keyboard or simply add a key or few keys that you particularly want to change to one of the main existing keyboard layouts. This is easiest to do if you have a mechanical keyboard so that you can take out and match the keys in front of you to what the computer is registering.

I am not going to do a pro/con list for this one. It really does depend on what you make of it. But, if you want to learn how to do this, check out this great how-to video for instructions for Windows 10!

Best Keyboard Layout for Programming

Unfortunately for programming, there are two clear answers to this, and it really depends on how you work. 

If you work by yourself, I would absolutely take the time to learn Dvorak Programmer Layout. It is the most efficient, and ultimately will help you work the quickest. 

You can further augment this layout with custom key additions and changes, but the Dvorak Programmer Layout is undoubtedly a great place to start. 

If on the other hand, you work in an office with teams of people, it is a story. This is because if it is anything like mine used to be you will be working on each other’s computer to help, brainstorm, and work through bugs at least every couple of days, if not more. Because of this, you want to work with whatever keyboard layout everyone else is, for both them and you. 

As this is likely going to be QWERTY, that means QWERTY for you too. 

Your Keyboard Layout Matters far more than what it looks likw!
Photo by Amir Tavas on Unsplash

Best Keyboard Layout for Gaming 

For gaming, I honestly don’t feel like you would get enough use out of learning a new keyboard layout to justify it. 

Games are normally designed with QWERTY in mind, and so will be optimized for this. The buttons you are going to be spamming are already where you want them to be. 

If you like you can always add custom buttons and keywords to tinker slightly. This is definitely a secondary thing to focus on though. 

Fantastic looking keyboard with QWERTY layout
Photo by Dries Augustyns on Unsplash

Best Keyboard Layout for Speed Typing

For me, the best keyboard layout for speed typing isn’t even close. I use Colemak and love it. I can write anywhere from 4,000-8,000 words on a regular workday and so having a keyboard layout that works for me is a lifesaver.

Maybe it would have been slightly more efficient typing wise to go for Dvorak, but people do still use my computer for proofreading every so often. Colemak allows them to use it without too much effort, while still making my life easier (also the amount of times I need to go back with ‘Ctrl Z’ in a day means I couldn’t handle it being further away!).

I used to use QWERTY and found my wrists seizing up and the backs of my hands hurting by lunch. I made the change, knuckled down, and got used to it. And so should you. 

Eli Civil

A software engineer, entrepreneur, and keyboards enthusiast. I spend my time click-clacking on keyboards. About Eli Civil

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