Ramón Calvo's picture
Ramón Calvo
Robotics Engineer

Thoughts on the Dvorak layout

Published on 24 Dec 2022

During my senior year in my Bachelor’s, I was very interested in finding ways to take notes efficiently in real time while attending lectures or watching videos. My workflow was inspired by the blogs from Gilles Castel. After hours of customizing my dotfiles and getting used to the new workflow, I reached a point were no more snippets or hotkeys would make me faster: my bottleneck was my typing speed.

I never learnt how to properly type on a computer, even though I spend most part of the day working on one. Moreover, when trying to type at ‘high’ speeds, I had sore hands and could not maintain the typing speed for long. My thinking speed was faster than my typing speed, and this was really annoying me.

I decided to learn how to touch type. For some months, whenever I needed a small break from coursework or was bored, I would practice for a few minutes on keybr. I realized that by learning how to touch type QWERTY, my previous experience with the keyboard was not transferable since I was used to move my hands all around the keyboard. Touch typing requires assigning every key to a single finger. I thought that if I was to learn how to type from scratch, I could go to the extreme and learn Dvorak. I was attracted to Dvorak because of its supposed typing comfort (and also I could flex to my friends ;) ).

The learning process took me three months more or less. I used the default settings of keybr. During that time, I didn’t use Dvorak outside my learning sessions. You will not forget how to type on QWERTY while you are learning a new layout, as long as you use it. After I felt a bit confident with my typing speed (around 90wpm), I started to use the new layout 24/7.

One of the most difficult things to re-learn after learning Dvorak was the vim keybinds. Having to forget all the muscle-memory I had developed through the years, and then having to get used to the new layout was not easy. I felt like a vim-noob again. Simple tasks that were a few keystrokes away felt like a lot of friction. This was a bit frustrating because I was used to a very smooth and frictionless text editing experience.

But the new vim layout is not that bad: j and k are next to each other and with the same ordering, and h and l are reachable with the index and pinkie finger of your right hand, respectively. The other keybinds are easy to relearn, since most of them are very mnemonic.

If you are a vim user, I would advise against changing your vim keybinds so that they were the same or similar to the previous QWERTY ones. I think in the long term it is worth it just to get used to the Dvorak layout.

In the end, I don’t think I can really type faster than with the QWERTY layout. But Dvorak does an amazing job at being very comfortable to type with. I barely move my hands from the center of my keyboard, and I can continuously type without getting sore hands. Moreover, by not having to look at the keyboard, I can use any keyboard, even without engraved keycaps, and type without any problems. This allows me to pick any computer with any layout, change it to Dvorak and type as I would on any other computer. Where I’m studying and working, it is normal to see various layouts (US, German, Swiss, French, Spanish, …), so being able to type on any computer without having to figure out where this or that symbol is is very useful. Finally, several months after building it, I can use my split ergonomic keyboard.

To anyone thinking about learning Dvorak (or Colemak, any other keyboard layout or just touch typing) I would absolutely recommend it, but only if you have the time. Before I could use Dvorak daily I think I must have spent around 15 to 20h or even more just to learn the layout and be able to type anything comfortably. Do not forget that you will have to re-learn all of your shortcuts, and you will loose your muscle memory.

To conclude this blog post, I strongly encourage everyone to learn Dvorak or at least to touch type. My daily experience with computers is more enjoyable because the friction between my mind and the computer has been reduced because of it.