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From: "Paul F. Dietz" <>
Subject: The Myth of the Superiority of the Dvorak Keyboard
Date: Sat, 06 Mar 1999 06:11:39 -0600

> Despite the fact that extensive testing
> showed dramatic improvements in both speed and accuracy with DSK, we still
> use QWERTY.

Myth alert!

The following by Stephen E. Margolis is from


"The QWERTY keyboard, it turns out, is about as good a design as the
Dvorak keyboard, and was better than most competing designs that existed
in the late 1800s when there were many keyboard designs maneuvering for a
place in the market.

Ignored in these stories of Dvorak's superiority is a carefully
controlled experiment conducted under the auspices of the General Service
Administration in the 1950s comparing QWERTY with Dvorak. In the
experiment, a group of typists were retrained on the Dvorak keyboard.
When these retrained Dvorak typists regained their prior QWERTY speed, a
group of QWERTY typists began additional training on the QWERTY keyboard,
while the new Dvorak typists continued their training. This parallel
training is important because it is always possible to improve a typist's
performance on any keyboard with additional training. The QWERTY typists
were carefully selected to constitute a proper control group for the
Dvorak typists, and other scientific controls were applied. The
conclusion of the study was that the QWERTY typists always performed
better than the Dvorak typists. Thus the experiment contradicted the
claims made by advocates of Dvorak and concluded that it made no sense to
retrain typists on the Dvorak keyboard. This study, which was influential
in its time, brought to an end any serious efforts to shift from QWERTY
to Dvorak.

Modern research in ergonomics also reaches similar conclusions. This
research consists of simulations and experiments that compare various
keyboard designs.  It finds little advantage in the Dvorak keyboard
layout, confirming the results of the GSA study.

So on what basis were the claims of Dvorak's superiority made? We
discovered that most, if not all, of the claims of Dvorak's superiority
can be traced to the patent owner, Professor August Dvorak. Yet his book
on the relative merits of QWERTY versus his own keyboard has about as
much objectivity as a modern infomercial found on late night television.

The wartime Navy study turns out to have been conducted under the
auspices the Navy's chief expert in time-motion studies, Lt. Commander
August Dvorak, and the results of that study were clearly fudged. The
study compared the performance of two groups of typists, one that trained
in Dvorak and another that trained in QWERTY. The two groups were not
comparable and the data on the two groups were not treated in the same
way. For example, the typing speed for the Dvorak group was measured on
the first and last days of training, while the data for the QWERTY group
was measured as the averages of the first four days and the last four
days.  This clearly truncated the effective training time for the Dvorak
group. The study also appears to be lacking in anything remotely related
to objectivity. The difficulties that we had getting a copy of the Navy
study, and the fact that it is mentioned, but never actually cited,
convinced us that those economists enamored of the Dvorak fable never
actually perused a copy of that study.

Many other aspects of the received story were also erroneous. It turns
out that there was intense competition between producers of various
keyboard designs early in the history of the typewriter keyboard. And
contrary to prior claims, there were many typing competitions between
touch typists on various keyboard designs, and QWERTY won its share of
such competitions. QWERTY was put through a fairly severe set of tests by
the market, and the reason QWERTY survives seems to be that it is a
reasonably good design. Thus it is not by incredible luck that we ended
up with a reasonable standard. Rather, our good fortune in inheriting a
reasonably efficient standard may be attributed to QWERTY's success in
these severe tests.

We published a very detailed account of this in the Journal of Law and
Economics in the spring of 1990. Yet in spite of this six-year-old paper,
which has not been factually disputed, economists working on path
dependence topics continue to use the QWERTY keyboard as the main example
to support their theory that markets cannot be trusted to choose
products. One could hardly find better evidence of this theory's lack of
empirical support than the continued use of a result that is known to be

From: "Paul F. Dietz" <>
Subject: Re: The Myth of the Superiority of the Dvorak Keyboard
Date: Sat, 06 Mar 1999 06:16:11 -0600

> yth alert!
> The following by Stephen E. Margolis is from

Ack!  I left off one of the authors.  It was by
Stan Liebowitz and Stephen E. Margolis.


From: (Henry Spencer)
Subject: Re: The Myth of the Superiority of the Dvorak Keyboard
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 1999 05:55:16 GMT

In article <>,
Dan Hartung <> wrote:
>I'll give 'em the fact that the QWERTY story -- that it was a
>deliberately inefficient design, to accomodate mechanical typewriters'
>limitations -- is largely disproven.

That story is completely disproven, because it was never true in the first
place and there is not a shred of evidence for it.  QWERTY *was* designed
around the hardware limitations of early typewriters, but the requirement
was not to slow the typist down, but rather to reduce the chances that
*adjacent* keys would be struck in fast succession.  This actually turns
out to make the keyboard *more* efficient, because spreading the heavily-
used keys out increases the chances that keystrokes will alternate between
hands, which definitely speeds things up.

Quite apart from the biased nature of the tests that fed the hype, one
should bear in mind that some of the original problems of QWERTY are
obsolete.  In particular, the heavy workload placed on the little fingers
(while one thumb sits idle!) was much more of a problem on manual
typewriters than it is on modern electronic keyboards.
The good old days                   |  Henry Spencer
weren't.                            |      (aka

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