Are COLEMAK and DVORAK Worth Learning?

As someone who writes daily for this website, I type a lot. In order to satisfy my curiosity, I decided to read up on the differences between the traditional layout and the DVORAK and COLEMAK layouts.

What I found was quite interesting.

The COLEMAK and DVORAK keyboard maps are alternative ways to type by laying out the keys in a more efficient way that requires less movement of the fingers. There are claims that this style of typing can increase typing speed and reduce typing related fatigue and injury.

Let’s look closer at the different layouts. If you’re interested, check out the best mechanical keyboards for typing.

What is DVORAK?

DVORAK keyboard layout
DVORAK Keyboard Map

Well, let’s dive into some of the details that distinguish the DVORAK keymap from the standard layout to hopefully give you a better understanding of what the exact differences are and some of the pros and cons of using this keymap.

DVORAK is a keyboard layout created 1936 by August Dvorak and his brother. DVORAK is the 2nd most popular keyboard layout in English, after QWERTY.

Originally created with the hopes of replacing the QWERTY layout, Dvorak claims that it can make typing more efficient by lessening finger motion, reducing errors, and muscle fatigue.

He claimed that by placing the vowels on the left-hand side of the keyboard and the consonants on the right hand row, people would be able to type in a more rhythmic way by alternating back and forth.

In addition, by placing the most common keys on the home row and the least common keys on the bottom row, this allowed the typist to press the more common keys from a stronger position and only have to reach for the less common ones.

In total, about 16% of the typing is done on the lower, 52% on the top row, and 32% on the home row. 

Some of the main downsides to this typing style include,

  • The majority of people already use QWERTY, and switching can take a long time to adjust for possibly small gain.
  • Computer shortcuts such as copy & paste are awkward to reach for on this layout.
  • Using public/work keyboards might not have a configuration option to switch to the DVORAK layout. In order to make learning faster, it might also make sense to re-layout the actual keys on your keyboard. This will most likely not be allowed on a shared keyboard.

What is COLEMAK?

COLEMAK keyboard layout
COLEMAK keyboard layout

COLEMAK is a relatively new keyboard layout that came out in 2006. It was created and named after Shai Coleman. The main differences between COLEMAK and the standard QWERTY layout is 17 keys are repositioned to optimize and minimize finger path distance by utilizing the home row as much as possible. 

For reference, the QWERTY layout only has 32% of the typing done on the home row but with COLEMAK 74% is on the home row. the entire purpose of the COLEMAK is to make typing as fast and efficient as possible. Compared to QWERTY, finger movement is reduced by a whopping 50%.

Since only 17 keys are changed, unlike DVORAK, COLEMAK is easier to learn. Some say it only takes 1-2 weeks to learn the new layout and then an additional month or two to really increase typing speeds.

Because it is a relatively newer layout, COLEMAK has not undergone any studies or nearly as much scrutiny as the DVORAK layout. So technically there have been no studies that prove definitively that COLEMAK will improve typing speed.

Should You Make The Switch to COLEMAK or DVORAK?

Although I lack personal experience using either of these layout, based on what I’ve read is If you’re willing to dedicate a few weeks to learning one of these layouts and really commit to it, it’s worth it.

Over an entire lifetime the inefficiencies of the QWERTY layout really do add up and can cause issues such as carpal tunnel and arthritis. By switching to a more efficient keyboard layout, you are potentially increasing the longevity of your career as a typist and will remain healthier and more pain-free. 

Although sacrificing short term efficiency while you learn a new keyboard layout can be frustrating and difficult, if you’re willing to put in the effort I would recommend giving it a shot.

If you’re not convinced, or maybe on the fence I would checkout a few of the online forums and read some of the testimonials of people who have made the switch themselves.

What’s The Best Way to Learn?

The best way to learn would be to find a training course online. There are a lot of free resources available and they ease your way into learning the new style. For example with the COLEMAK training, you start by only swapping out two keys and then as you adjust you start to swap out more and more until you’ve swapped out all 17 keys.

It’s also best to be really focused for the first few weeks as this will be the main adjustment period, and try to get as much practice in you can over this time. As you get more comfortable, over the next few months your wpm will increase to what it once was and possibly surpass the old speed.

After that, typing on the new layout will be second nature to you and shouldn’t be too difficult swapping back and forth between the new layout and QWERTY

Which Is The Best: COLEMAK, DVORAK, or QWERTY?

While it’s hard to say which layout is definitively the best, I would have to recommend COLEMAK. Primarily for the reason that this keyboard is the newest of the three layouts and has the most community support, along with lots of resources to learn with.

If your interested, check out this link to start a learning COLEMAK immediately.

How Do You Remap Your Keyboard to COLEMAK or DVORAK?

Here is a site that will walk you through the set-up process for each layout.

Jake Harrington

Jake has been an avid mechanical keyboard user for the past six years. He has a background in Mechanical Engineering and wants to apply his expertise to break down how mechanical keyboards and other tech work to show the world all of the cool aspects of the hobby.

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