What's the best keyboard layout? 8 alternatives to QWERTY

What's the best keyboard layout? 8 alternatives to QWERTY

Back in the 1800s, there were all kinds of weird yet fascinating keyboards.

In 1857, the first typewriters had piano keys with an alphabetical arrangement.

Piano key typewriter

In 1865, a Danish guy created this writing ball.

1865 writing ball

And we even had this keyboard that kinda looks like a smiley face.

Smiley face typewriter

So how did we end up with QWERTY?

Well, it was all thanks to Latham Sholes, Carlos S. Glidden, and Remington and Sons.

Read below or watch our video!

History of Layouts

The layout inventors

In 1867, Latham and Glidden started working on a typing machine that soon evolved into something very similar to what we'd call a typewriter.

The first typewriter

It had a cylindrical platen and a four-row QWERTY layout that seems utterly familiar although not exactly like the one on our keyboards.

If you look closely, you'll notice there's no 1 and 0. That's because they used the capital I and O for those numbers.

However, they had trouble manufacturing it. After several design iterations and failed attempts, the machine was acquired by E. Remington and Sons in early 1873.

And after further refining the design, they released the Remington 1 in 1874.

Remington Typewriter

Thomas Edison wasn't amazed by it though. He described this new invention as:

“It's utterly difficult. The alignment of the letters is awful. One letter would be one-sixteenth of an inch above the others, and all the letters are just wandering out of line."

Despite Edison's dismissal, the Remington No.1 was the first commercially successful typewriter, setting the standard for future designs.

In 1893, all the major manufacturers including Remington, Caligraph, Yost, Densmore, and Smith-Premier formed the Typewriter Trust and agreed to use QWERTY as the layout for all their typewriters.

Then the Teletype company adopted the layout in 1910.

Teletype Writer

That's important because from the 40s to the 70s, the company became the keyboard provider for computers in the US, UK, and Japan.

That's the reason why we all use QWERTY. But, is it the optimal keyboard layout?


Well, let's find out!


This is the QWERTY layout we all know today.


let's look at the heatmap of our most frequently used keys.

QWERTY Heatmap

Yeah, QWERTY is all over the place.

The most used keys are slightly off the home row. And it depicts a heavier workload on the left hand.

But there were attempts to revolutionize this layout. Let me introduce you to Dr. August Dvorak

Dr. August Dvorak


This was the first real layout to challenge QWERTY.


In 1936, Dr. August Dvorak wanted to prove his layout was faster and replace all computers of the North American administration.

His idea was that-

  • Letters should be typed alternating between hands.

  • Vowels and the most used symbols are on the left, while the most used consonants are on the right.

  • The most common letters and bigrams should be typed on the home row and under the strongest fingers for maximum speed and efficiency.

  • The least common letters should be on the bottom row.

  • The right hand should do most of the typing because most people are right-handed.

  • Stroking should generally move from the edges of the board to the middle. This is because, for most people, it's easier to tap their fingers from pinkie to index than vice versa.

DVORAK Heatmap

Despite all of his theories, Dvorak could not prove that his layout was faster. He conducted some studies, but they where not properly executed and the results weren't valid.

We'd have to wait another 70 years to see the next challenger.


This time it's Colemak, a layout based on QWERTY intended to ease the learning curve.


This layout reduces finger travel and fatigue by placing frequently used keys together.

It's not an overhaul as significant as Dvorak, but it's commonly acknowledged as one of the more ergonomic layouts.

What makes this an easier layout to transition from QWERTY is that the Punctuation is in the bottom row. Unlike DVORAK, which had it at the top left.

The heatmap displays a more horizontal disposition, but compared to Dvorak, it has more focus on the inner columns.

Colemak Heatmap


Then we have the COLEMAK MOD DH, developed in 2014 as an evolution of the previous Colemak layout.

Colemak DH Layout

The goal of this mod is to remove stress from the central columns. This is a trend that will continue in future layouts.

Colemak DH Heatmap

The small modifications push the heatmap to the upper row of the keyboard.

We can see how with both Colemak models, the work is more evenly distributed between both hands and removes effort from the index.


Then we have the WORKMAN layout.
Workman Layout

This layout was developed in 2010 and evolved from Colemak.

Workman Heatmap

It's more evenly distributed among the fingers, removing stress from the index fingers and relying more on the middle fingers.


This is the Norman layout. It was developed in the early 2010s, and its creators claim that it requires 46% less effort than QWERTY.

Norman Layout

As you see, the middle and ring fingers are clearly the ones carrying the task in this layout.

Norman Heatmap

Almost as if it was made for a split keyboard and clearly intended to remove some work from the pinkies.


Developed in 2021, Engram is a project completely created from scratch, focusing mainly on the best way to type diagrams, trigrams, or... Ngrams.

Engram Layout

The punctuation in the middle creates a clear gap between the hands, which makes it one of the best layouts for split columnar keyboards.

Engram Heatmap


Carpalx is a keyboard layout optimizer. A community-driven project that must be acknowledged.

Carpalx Layout

Their site has a section to design your own keyboard.

You can input books and texts to calculate the most efficient layout.

These layouts are based on the user's needs, taking language and other specifics into the equation.

If you are interested in alternative layouts, this is worth visiting. You might not agree with the criteria, but reading the explanation is a pleasure for any keyboard enthusiast.

Carpalx Heatmap

This is an example of a QGMLW layout generated by CARPALX, which they claim is THE BEST LAYOUT.


Last, we have the HALMAK layout.

Halmak Layout

Halmak is another project that started from scratch, based on AI. It recognizes patterns and creates a layout that further reduces hand movement.

Halmak Heatmap

The typing distribution is pretty even. The stress is mainly on the middle row and has punctuation symbols in the center, making it ideal for removing stress on the pinkies and for split columnar keyboards.

Should we kill QWERTY?

Despite the effort of all these other layouts and their reduction of finger travel, there's still no hard proof that QWERTY is actually a slower layout.

In fact, during the last Ultimate Typing Championship, only one among the 16 top participants used a non-QWERTY layout, and it was actually Dvorak.

Another thing to remember is that all these studies, considerations, and tests were made for typing in English. If you type in another language, like Spanish, French or even a programming language, these layouts may not be as effective.

Another caveat is that none of these layouts considered the possibility of using the thumbs or layers.

With a programmable keyboard with extra thumbkeys like the Dymga boards, you can remap keys like Enter, Backspace and your modifiers to your thumbs, avoiding pinkie stretches.

Surprisingly, what might end up killing QWERTY is not another layout but voice recognition.

Still, QWERTY is very much present in phones, tablets, and even on your remote control or the search menu for Netflix.

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