Different keyboard layouts

published : 2022-04-13 changed: 2022-05-08

category: global --> keyboards

Table of content:

There is more than QWERTZ

If you deal with the subject of ergonomics and keyboards, you can't avoid the keyboard layouts. At some point you realize that there is something other than QWERTZ or QWERTY (and the various derivatives thereof).

These layouts are getting a bit old and have quite an interesting history. I would like to share a few thoughts on this here. 😉 The story behind it is amazingly exciting and shows once again how things develop. And not necessarily to the optimum!

(a little) history of keyboard layouts

This is by no means intended to be a complete list. It should give a brief insight into the rather interesting history behind the things. In general, the keyboard layouts were by no means standardized at first, the manufacturers of different devices used different layouts that were designed for the mechanics of their product. This means that if you could type on one machine, you couldn't on another!

An impressive collection of historical typewriters can be admired here.

How it all began

the first mechanical keyboards did not initially have a QWERTY layout (contrary to general opinion) but an alphabetical one, which looked something like this:


However, this turned out to be very error-prone, since the keys kept getting stuck when typing fast and you had to release this "hook" manually.

That was actually the biggest problem with the early mechanical typing machines: very frequent keystrokes (such as ei in German) must not be close to each other. That's not bad per se. Back then, the layout had a different goal.

After several "optimizations" of the layout, the QWERTZ or QWERTY, which has now been used for more than 100 years, finally came out.

Everyone should know this layout. But there have long been efforts to optimize it, but for some reason those "better" layouts did not make it.


What are the disadvantages of Qwerz and Co? Well, the aim of the layout was to prevent the stop levers from jamming and has therefore packed all the frequent consecutive keystrokes as far apart as possible. You notice that with the e and the i e.g.

Letters that were relatively rarely followed one another could be filed together, such as m and n.

However, an ergonomic layout would have positioned the most frequent keystrokes more on the so-called home row (i.e. the middle row on the keyboard where the fingers are resting). This is sub-optimal with the QWERTY layout, to say the least (just pay attention to where you have to move your fingers when typing) and causes a lot of wide finger movement.

This can lead to problems such as RSI1, especially for frequent typists. In theory, however, this can be minimized by adjusting the layout.


This was already clear to Prof. August Dvorak (and his brother-in-law William Dealeyund) in 1932 and he even patented the layout named after him in 19362:


The aim was to be able to type faster and more efficiently by optimizing the layout. In addition, the layout should be easy to learn. To do this, Dvorak and his collaborators looked at letter frequency and also took into account the physiology of the hands.4.

Apparently, measured objectively, this was not crowned with particular success, in the 1950s investigations were made that hardly see any speed advantage with DVORAK. However, DVORAK still enjoys some popularity and is still used today.

NEO and NEO2

NEO was created in 2004 and arose from the idea of ​​incorporating new findings about ergonomics into the layout. They also wanted to include the experiences that others had made5.

In 2010, NEO was then further developed into NEO2. Both layouts are also quite popular and used by many, especially as there is also widespread support.

Whether and to what extent you can type faster with NEO or not is still a point of contention. Unfortunately, there are still no scientific studies on this.

Aus der Neo Welt (translated: From the Neo World - ADNW)

The history of the creation can be read very nicely on the ADNW page and is very interesting. Here an attempt was made to calculate an optimal keyboard layout with the help of statistical analyzes and "weightings". It's super exciting and you get a sense of what's wrong with QWERTZ.

Personally, I find the ADNW-XOY layout6 to be best and is what I use alongside QWERTZ (sometimes - not good enough to use ADNW consistently yet).

The picture shows the layout adapted to my Keyboardio Model01 keyboard.


Switching to a new layout is difficult, very difficult! And takes time, a lot of time!

I type in QWERTZ at about 450-480 strokes/minute (in German, for English texts it's more like 380-400 strokes/minute). With XOY there are currently around 80-100 (German, English around 50)! This is super frustrating and nerve wracking. I've been trying to make the switch for at least a year. Unfortunately, I can't manage to switch to XOY permanently. I have to keep switching to QWERTY because otherwise things take unnecessarily long.

You have to relearn all the key combinations you have practiced, which is difficult and requires a lot of practice. It would be best if you simply used the layout and then it just takes quite a long time at the beginning.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to do it that way so far, because I (and my work colleagues) lack the patience.

How to transfer

It's surprisingly complicated, to be honest. Luckily, I had a programmable keyboard before I started thinking about the keyboard layout. I was fine with that, I was able to solve it on the hardware side.

Admittedly, this is also the best solution for this. Otherwise you really go insane. The solution in software is possible, albeit complicated. Depending on the layout, it's quite easy, because for NEO / NEO2, DVORAK or WORKMAN there is support for all operating systems in one form or another. Linux, Windows and MacOS. With ADNW and its derivatives it's more complicated, you'll have to help yourself with tools like Ukulele for the Mac (a keyboard layout editor). There is something similar for Linux, but mostly only for the graphical user interface. It's more difficult in text mode, but it's also possible.

Honestly - if you want to switch, you should get a keyboard and change the layout accordingly. That always works 100%!

Tips for the transition

Well... the blind man is talking about colors, but at least theoretically I can say something about it, because I haven't really switched yet either.

  • it is probably best if you simply change your keyboard / your OS and then try to live with the new layout
  • It's surprisingly exhausting when you're suddenly typing so slowly. Only perseverance helps.
  • Maybe the layout isn't the right one, maybe try a different one.
  • Attention, the keyboard shortcuts are now also different. I.e. CMD-Z is somewhere else - you have to learn the practiced "monkey grips" all over again!
  • Pages with typing games like 10fastfingers or typeracer help a lot
  • If you, like me, switch back and forth between the layouts, you have to be aware that the switch takes much longer!

But the most important thing is and remains to stay tuned and use your desired layout every day. For example when writing blog posts for your own blog 😉


created Stephan Bösebeck (stephan)