Keyboard viewer with Dvorak layout

Yes, You Can Type With Dvorak: Here’s How I Did It

If you use a Mac computer and have trouble using the standard QWERTY keyboard layout, the Dvorak layout may be a good option for you. Dvorak layouts put the most frequently used keys right under your fingers, so you can type with less finger movements needed. Several years ago, I was having significant trouble with wrist and hand pain so I taught myself to use the Dvorak keyboard layout for touch typing. It was frustrating to do, but paid off handsomely in the end… here’s what I did and how you can do it too…

Step 1: Should You Switch?

This is what the Dvorak keyboard layout looks like:

Dvorak keyboard layout
This is the standard Dvorak keyboard layout on Mac OS X.

It looks strange to those who are only used to a QWERTY keyboard, but if you’re an English user the Dvorak layout in more logical. The keys used most commonly in English are, in frequency order, E T A O I N. The Dvorak layout puts them much closer to where your fingers rest on the home keys so less finger movement is required. I don’t know the exact statistics but you can generally type more text with less finger movement on a Dvorak keyboard than the equivalent QWERTY keyboard.

Dvorak won’t be very helpful if you use “hunt and peck” typing – its benefits are really only for touch typing – but learning to touch type is part of switching so it doesn’t matter whether you touch-type in QWERTY, only whether you can do it in Dvorak mode.

Another point to keep is mind is that for now if you use the on screen keyboard on your iPhone or iPad you are stuck with the standard QWERTY layout for that. Android phones have much more flexibility in this area and I understand that finding variant on-screen keyboards is fairly easy. Once iOS 8 is available and third-party keyboards become available I would imagine that a Dvorak layout should be around very quickly, but that’s still a few months in the future.

iPhone on screen keyboard
This QWERTY layout is the only one my iPhone offers with iOS 7.

Keeping two keyboard layouts in one’s head isn’t too hard for me, especially when one’s for touch typing and one’s for iPhone on-screen keyboards as they are quite different movements, but for somebody who has issues with memory or thinking it could be a problem so keep that in mind when deciding whether to switch.

Step 2: Getting Ready To Switch

Keyboards are available which natively have their keys arranged in the Dvorak layout, like my favourite Kinesis Advantage Pro, but for most people you can just remap the keys on your standard keyboard very simply. The instructions are here: How To Use Dvorak with OS X Mountain Lion or Mavericks. Make sure you know how to go back and forth from Dvorak to Qwerty easily to start your learning process.

Something else that helped me greatly when I was learning was printing out a picture of the keyboard layout, colour-coding it to show which finger hits which keys, and attaching it to the top of the monitor so I could see it easily – that way I learned to look up to check my finger placement rather than looking down at the keyboard and my fingers. Dvorak is a layout designed for touch-typing without watching your fingers, so this helps you get into good habits.

I’ve made up some colour-coded layouts and some which are blank so you can colour them yourself if you want. I suggest you print one out and laminate it or stick it to some cardboard so you can attach it to the top of your screen and have it stand in an easily visible position.

Dvorak Keyboard - coloured by which fingers hits which key

Step 3: Learning Dvorak

The first step in switching is to learn Dvorak, and the easiest way to do that is to find a typing tutor program which uses the Dvorak layout. This used to be very difficult but there are now many typing tutors available which understand the Dvorak layout, though there are also many which do not.

Two typing tutors I found that look promising:

  • Dvorak keyboard training is great for using right from your web browser and is free.
  • Type Fu is an application that can be downloaded from the Mac app store for a small cost.

There are others available too, just try web searching for “Dvorak typing tutor” or similar.

Practice with your typing tutor every day for at least 15 minutes, preferably two or three times a day. Frequency is absolutely vital as you’ll forget things every day you don’t practice. Keep up with the typing tutor at least until you can manage all of the letters and and punctuation symbols you will use commonly.

Step 4: Type Real Things

Once you are familiar with enough symbols to type real things, do that as mach as you can – the way to get better is to practice, practice, practice. It will be incredibly frustrating, and you just need to push through that as far as you can manage to. The first month I did this couldn’t accomplish much, I couldn’t do anything without thinking about each letter, and I couldn’t do anything fast… if you can possibly manage it, don’t switch during the month you have final exams or your business is at its busiest.

My technique to make myself practice was to set my computer to start up in Dvorak mode and I would use that layout to do whatever regular typing work I had to do until I couldn’t stand it any more and then switch back to QWERTY for the rest of the day. My keyboard doesn’t have Dvorak legends on it so I would look at my printed out fingering chart when I got stuck, instead of looking at my fingers.

Gradually my typing improved and so the time until frustration meltdown overtook me lengthened … by the end of one month of practicing I could get to lunch time before my frustration boiled over and that helped a lot because there was a built in break for frustration to decrease.

Once I could get to lunch time and take that break I felt that using the QWERTY layout at all was just confusing my fingers, so I switched to Dvorak full time. That was many years ago, and I’ve used Dvorak full time ever since!

The Benefits

I type faster now than I ever did using QWERTY – probably because of all of the practice at touch typing. But the real benefits for me is that typing causes less pain and less fatigue so I can do more of it each day without causing long-term damage to my hands. I know other people that have switched too and pretty much all of them are pleased they’ve done it and feel it’s benefitted them.

Let me know how you go!

– Ricky

2 thoughts on “Yes, You Can Type With Dvorak: Here’s How I Did It”

  1. Thank you for the post advice.

    I had a hand injury (still in the cast as I type this) and a week ago made the switch. Practiced on a great website and switched over smart phone, tablet, PC laptop, and Mac.

    It is going well. Only advice is to stay slow and certain to build the new muscle memory faster.

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