There is an ongoing discussion in the keyboard community regarding keyboard ergonomics. In this post I would like to shed some light on what I’ve found from my experience.


I’m not an ergonomics expert and if you have any sort of severe pain you should contact a professional.

Keyboard layout

There are alternatives to the classic QWERTY keyboard layout that was not designed for optimal efficiency. The most classic and perhaps well known alternative is the Dvorak layout, designed by August Dvorak in 1936. Dvorak is a popular choice and it has a lot of software support if you are not using a programmable keyboard. There are however some common problems with Dvorak and the most common ones are related to modern short-cuts and bindings in software. E.g., Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V are not as easily accessible as in the QWERTY layout.

Another popular alternative is Colemak, created by Shai Coleman in 2006. Colemak takes the concept of Dvorak, i.e., a more ergonomic alternative to QWERTY by placing commonly typed letters on the home row, but the optimization is constrained to differ as little as possible from QWERTY. This leads to an equally ergonomic layout as Dvorak but a layout that might be better for common modern software-shortcuts.

One difference between Dvorak and Colemak is the way you type. Colemak has the home row keys: arst and neio. This allows you to “burst” common bi-grams and tri-grams, e.g, common endings such as tion are all on the home row. Dvorak also has an optimized home row but it uses more of an altering hand approach.

There a several mods of the above mentioned layouts, e.g., Colemak DH mod is a popular mod for people using ortholinear keyboards. The main reason it gained popularity in the community was that the position of H on the regular Colemak layout might not be optimal since “HE” is the second most frequent bi-gram in the English language, and ‘TH’ is the most common. The pro is that it might improve the typing experience, the con is that you are no longer using standard Colemak layout.

I should also mention the layout Workman, created by OJ Bucao in 2010 the layout was optimized by Bucao who didn’t think that Colemak was good, and that Colemak DH mod still could be improved upon. The Workman layout has gained in popularity but not to the extent of Dvorak or Colemak from my understanding.

In conclusion, one could choose any alternative layout as long as one switches from QWERTY.

Different layout for symbols and numbers

Even though you have switched to an alternative keyboard layout, you might have trouble with the symbols on the layout. E.g., if you write a lot of code and frequently use {[()]}, as well as numbers, it might be advisable to add there symbols on a second layer on your home row, or at least to a better position so you don’t have to reach for them, or use uncomfortable finger combinations.

One popular layout that builds upon Colemak DH mod with home row modifiers (ctrl, shift, alt, super) is the Miryoku layout. This layout can be used for all programmable keyboards, ortholinear as well as staggered. You simple do not use the keys that are uncomfortable.

Keycaps and touch typing

Touch typing is when you write with only “touch”, and without looking at the keyboard. The homing keys on the home row usually have a bump on them so that you can locate them and always know where your fingers are. Smaller ortholinear keyboards have an advantage in touch typing since you only have to move each finger a maximum of one step. This means that each finger has a dedicated set of keys it presses. Related to switching to an alternative layout other than QWERTY, there is an advantage of using blank keycaps, or simply leave the caps as QWERTY, as that forces you to touch type rather than look at the keys.

Staggered or ortholinear keys

Split keyboards

Keyboard angle


Low profile

Key switches