The standard QWERTY finger placement is uncomfortable and terribly designed.

by Peter

I’ve noticed something curious when creating One-Hand Keyboard. It’s a one-handed typing system for injured touch typists. Helps you stay productive if you type for a living and break your wrist.

I won’t get into that here. The important bit is that I know exactly which fingers hit which keys.

  • [E] and [I] are typed with your middle finger reaching upward.
  • [F] and [J] are index finger, home row.
  • [Z] and [.] are ring finger, curling down and out.

Wait, what? That’s not how you type? You type [Z] with your little finger?!? And [X] with your ring finger?

You’re crazy. But it turns out that’s exactly how most people type. I had to pull the initial version of my Mac App because I got it wrong.

I’ve discovered that most people type like this:

Normal touch-typing finger position layout.

See that, on the left? How your left-hand fingers curl inward to hit the bottom row?

It makes my hands want to scream in pain.

I already have RSI, and I type in Dvorak no less. Using an inverted claw grip to hit the [C] key would destroy my hand.

Here’s how I type. I thought this was normal home-row technique, but apparently not.

Better touch-typing finger position layout.

See those beautiful key cascades on the left? The ones that follow the curling-movement physiology of your fingers rather than go completely perpendicular to the way your digits want to move?

Feels good man. You already type like this with your right hand. Do it with your left as well.

Universally Taught

The sad thing is that this uncomfortable finger placement is so widespread. Searching Google Images for “typing finger position” does not show a single result for the more comfortable finger layout.

It’s almost certainly a result of our left-to-right focus. That the left-most key column should be typed with the left-most finger, no exceptions. Much easier to teach to a class of unruly 10 year olds.

One interesting kink in this theory is that many European keyboards have an additional punctuation key to the left of [Z] (aka [Y], in QWERTZ). I’d be very interested to know if European touch-typists thus do type the key in the [Z] position with their ring finger.

Non-Staggered Layouts

Some specialized ergonomic keyboards actually correct for this issue. They’re called “non-staggered” key layouts. Each key column is completely vertical.

Staggered TypeMatrix keyboard layout.

The problem with these keyboards is that staggering is good… as long as it’s in the right direction.

A keyboard’s width is less than the width of your shoulders. So your arms will naturally be angled slightly inward when you put your fingers on the home row. The diagonal line of the U|J|M keys matches this angle perfectly.

Non-staggered layouts are better for the left hand. Unfortunately, in an effort to fix the broken typing angle for the left hand, they’ve eliminated the good staggering for the right hand.

I’ve yet to see a non-staggered layout that also tilts both sides of the layout inward, to match how your hands sit on the keyboard. This would be a great solution.

Try it. What do you think?

If you do have pain in your left hand, rather than buying an ergonomic keyboard, try readjusting your fingers slightly.

Follow the natural clasping motion of your left-hand fingers. Your ring finger curls down comfortably to [Z]. Use your middle finger for [X], and index for [C]. Stop awkwardly reaching “under” your hand to hit those bottom-row keys

Alternate touch-typing finger position layout.

I’d be very interested to hear if anyone else already uses this “offset” layout, or if anyone makes the switch.

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