Qwerty vs Dvorak

prize fightBefore you read any further, can you answer what year this famous heavyweight prize fight occurred? No? Well, good answer. It wasn’t a boxing match, but could be dubbed a prize fight of sorts. It has all the characteristics: two men with differing style, acceptance and acclaim of one over the other and a battle for the win. Some have claimed the wrong guy won. You decide.

In 1867 a patent was filed by Christopher Latham Sholes, (politician, printer, newspaper man and inventor) for his new writing machine and the “Type Writer” was born. He was assisted by two friends and their first keyboard design was in a piano style with two rows of keys arranged alphabetically. But they soon realized that arranging letters this way caused the metal keys to jam if keys were pressed too rapidly.


Through some trial and error the QWERTY keyboard was invented to keep commonly used letter pairs together (e.g. “th” or “st”) in order to avoid jams. Some claim that this keyboard was also invented to slow the typist down to avoid jams. Of course, QWERTY are the six letters on the top left of the keyboard commonly used today.

Sholes sold the patent to Remington in 1878 and their engineers made some adjustments to provide the keyboard we have today on most devices.

keyboard1In 1936 along comes Dr August Dvorak and his brother-in-law, Dr William Dealey with a Patent for a new keyboard layout pattern. This keyboard configuration is known as the Dvorak Keyboard (go figure). This keyboard has not been able to replace the QWERTY that we use today, but most operating systems today allow the user to change the keyboard to the Dvorak keyboard if desired.

Dr. Dvorak was an educational psychologist and a professor of education. He became interested in the keyboard and typist efficiency and decided that the QWERTY layout must be replaced. So Dvorak and Dealey set out to scientifically design a keyboard to decrease typing errors, increase typing speed and reduce fatigue of the typist.

They began extensive research, attended seminars on the science of motion and reviewed slow motion films of typists. They even studied the English language, determining the most used letters and letter combinations, as well as the physiology of the hand. In 1932 the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard was introduced.


In 1933 it was time to put his theories to the test. Was all the research worth the time and effort? Was Dr. Dvorak correct that his keyboard would save time and stress on the typist? Typists were trained and entered in the International Commercial Schools Contest. This was a typing competition sponsored by typing manufacturers.

From 1934 to 1941 Dvorak’s typists won first in their class 10 times. In the 1935 competition alone, 9 Dvorak typists won 20 awards. They were actually so successful that in 1937 the contest committee attempted to ban the Dvorak typists for being “unfair competition.” And it seemed that QWERTY typists did not want to be placed beside Dvorak typists because of the noise produced by the fast typing speed of the Dvorak typists.

typewriter2In the 1930’s the Tacoma, Washington school district held an experimental program with 2700 students to determine whether to hold Dvorak keyboard layout classes. It was determined that the Dvorak students learned the new design in one third the time it took to learn the QWERTY layout. But when a new school board was elected the program was dropped.

Dr. Dvorak’s keyboard layout certainly made an impression, taking on the competition and verifying his conviction that he could change the workplace for the better. But why didn’t the Dvorak keyboard replace the QWERTY as the standard? It proved to increase production and the learning curve was shorter.

But, as in a prize fight, I think Dvorak experienced a sucker punch even though these two men never met.

prize fight1

Dvorak didn’t realize that his struggle was against human nature. The knockout came when the typing world bought into the original idea, the heavyweight Remington was engineering the product and people have a tendency of not wanting change.

Dr. Dvorak died a frustrated man. Upon realizing that he had failed to convince people to adapt to his keyboard layout he said, “I’m tired of trying to do something worthwhile for the human race. They simply don’t want to change.”

It’s true in the business world, the education world and certainly churches experience the digging in of heels when people are asked to make uncomfortable changes. “We have never done it that way before!” This can be a death knell for ministries, service organizations, education institutions or a business progressing to the next level. Change is not easy, but it is certainly necessary if we as a business, church or culture want to move forward.

change1 “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can give a discreet answer.” (Proverbs 26:16) Let’s not be sluggards, but people that listen to those with discreet answers that want to move us forward. It’s ok to try some new opportunities. You never know, you might change your world.