New Standard Keyboards? You gotta be kiddin’ me!

Maybe I’m not getting the joke, but it looks like the company New Standard Keyboards wants to sell us on keyboards that have a layout with keys in alphabetical order. As I have blogged before, I’m using a keyboard in Dvorak layout with my desktop PC, and I have configured my laptop keyboard to Dvorak as well (I also swapped the keys around physically, which isn’t described in that article – I find it useful when I’m doing presentations and need to hit a certain key without actually having both hands on the keyboard).

Now, I’m sure most of us tend to have an averse reaction to the idea of using a different keyboard/-layout, because we’ve just gotten used to what we’ve always been doing. But the idea of the alphabetical keyboard sounds especially strange to me, as that’s where it all started… look here, the paragraph titled “History and Purpose” explains how the QWERTY layout was invented nearly 140 years ago to overcome the shortcomings of the alphabetical system. I believe that the Dvorak layout does a far better job at organizing the letters in a way that’s useful for (western) language typing, but at least QWERTY also had kind of a scientific idea behind it… the whole idea about New Standard Keyboards seems to be “let’s do something new (or at least something that hasn’t been around for a while), maybe we can sell it to some people who don’t know better.”

3 Comments on New Standard Keyboards? You gotta be kiddin’ me!

  1. Interesting BLOG entry, but my gut reaction was "you’ve got to be kiddin’ me."The New Standard Keyboard (NSK) was not developed on a whim. It’s a pity you did not check it out first and do some reporting and research before drawing a negative conclusion.The keyboard was invented by John Parkinson, an English entrepreneur. Parkinson became frustrated by the amount of attention needed for typing, and the amount of time wasted on learning to touch type by drilling. The developer of the keyboard has a background in engineering, psychology and ergonomics. Instead of inventing an improved keyboard for a certain kind of user, he invented a new keyboard standard suitable for every kind of user, even down to children learning to read. The alphabet reads like a book, line by line down the left "page", then the right; and with all the keys in easy reach, small hands can make most of the movements with the fingers, not the arms. In essence, the same effect is achieved as you did with your DVORAK solution. Which is better is highly subjective. I have never played with a DVORAK-based keyboard. The aims of the New Standard keyboard are to make it as easy as possible to learn to touch type so that everybody can do so; to make touch typing a safer and more efficient task; and to make information technology reasonably accessible to non-typists who already know the alphabet. The logical design of the keyboard reduces the number of keys so they are all within easy reach, then for comfort, speed and accuracy, aligns them with the natural movements of the fingers. The letters are arranged alphabetically in such a way that the most common sequences are the easiest to type, and the alphabet is broken into small, familiar chunks of four or five letters that are easy to memorize. The shift keys are centralized for easy operation by the index fingers or thumbs instead of relying on the little fingers, and tactile landmarks lead the hands to an obvious home position so there is no need to look. These features all combine to make the touch typing skill quick to master. They enable the use of a novel learning method that prevents forming the bad habit of looking at the keyboard and involves no drills. In addition, the other common keyboard functions for editing, numeric data entry, etc., are all integrated onto the same keys, so the same skill can be applied to these other jobs with very little additional learning. The rainbow color-coding scheme of this keyboard was devised to help teach understanding of computer operation and the different kinds of key function. For example, tab, return and space are all INvisible formatting characters found on INdigo colored keys. The colors also make it easier to form a cognitive map to visualize the keyboard while learning to touch type.While many people find the colors attractive, the keyboard is primarily designed for fast, efficient touch typing in a professional setting, where the colors no longer serve a useful purpose, and most professionals feel that silver and black is more appropriate. So, contrary to your posting — much science went into the design of this keyboard.

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  2. Hi,Thanks for your feedback on this.Let me first apologize for claiming you (I assume you are associated with the New Standard Keyboards company, right?) were doing what you do for sinister commercial reasons, I probably shouldn’t have said that as I really can’t know why you’re doing it.Secondly, and I want to stress that just like everything else that’s published on this blog this is only my own personal opinion, I still don’t see the point in what you’re saying. Let’s look at a few quotes: > "with all the keys in easy reach, small hands can make most of the movements with the fingers, not the arms."I don’t see how this relates to your keyboard. The whole idea of touch typing is about being able to reach the keys without moving much more than the fingers. Reachability of keys can be improved by changes to the physical form factor of a keyboard and there are lots of examples of this approach – the New Standard Keyboard is not one of them. > In essence, the same effect is achieved as you did with your DVORAK solution. It’s not "my" Dvorak solution. And the effect is not the same – Dvorak used comprehensive statistical analysis of written western languages as the basis of his system. With regard to the New Standard Keyboard, there are only two possibilities: (1) you did the same kind of analysis and arrived at the conclusions that (a) Dvorak was wrong about the distribution of characters in written languages and the relation of that distribution to keyboard typing and (b) the actual best layout is – by chance, I assume – exactly the order of the latin alphabet. (2) you didn’t do that kind of analysis and can therefor not claim the kind of scientific background to your layout that Dvorak can. > The letters are arranged alphabetically in such a way that the most common sequences are the easiest to type So you are claiming that by coincidence the most common sequences can be most easily typed when the keys are in alphabetical order? Interesting. It’s easy to see how that holds true for words like "abcde" or "ghijk", but for more common words like "keyboard" or "standard" it’s obviously not true. > The shift keys are centralized for easy operation by the index fingers or thumbs instead of relying on the little fingers I can not easily identify the shift keys in the pictures of the layout, but the idea of putting them elsewhere may actually be a very good one, IMO. OTOH, I have a number of other modifiers on my keyboard, namely Ctrl and Alt, which need to be equally accessible… > and tactile landmarks lead the hands to an obvious home position so there is no need to look. True. Which is why every keyboard I can remember using since Commodore 64 days had tactile feedback on certain keys.> The rainbow color-coding scheme of this keyboard was devised to help teach understanding of computer operation and the different kinds of key function. For example, tab, return and space are all INvisible formatting characters found on INdigo colored keys. The colors also make it easier to form a cognitive map to visualize the keyboard while learning to touch type.Definitely an interesting approach, although the connection of "INvisible" and "INdigo" obviously only works for English language users. Plus, the whole concept doesn’t have to do with the layout of the keyboard – as long as a keyboard layout follows any logic at all, the idea of colored regions for new users could always be adopted.Again, thanks for your feedback. I do believe you’re going an interesting way there and I’ll be interested to see how things develop for you. Personally I don’t see the advantages as big as you do, but that may be a matter of perspective. Feel free to comment on my comments, if you really see the need for it, but I would appreciate it if we could agree to have different opinions after that, as I don’t want to drag a pretty pointless discussion out any more than necessary.

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  3. Nick Harris // May 16, 2007 at 1:38 am // Reply

    Hello. This feels a bit wierd as I am unaccustomed to commenting on stranger’s blogs – or even reading blogs for that matter.I am writing in reference to your critique of the New Standard Keyboard. Please note, I have no connection to them.I looked at their website and laughed too, although you do have to bear in mind that their product is not wildly ridiculous given that there are some non-Qwerty and non-Dvorak layouts that are required by their users in certain niche markets. I am talking about concept keyboards in schools for the disabled and gorilla-resistant ones in the Apple vivarium zoo.Apart from that small caveat I agree with every point you made. It does seem, now that I have done some belated research that there are a number of alternative keyboard layouts (besides Dvorak) and some of these utilise an alphabetic arrangement – for example, check out http://abckeyboard.co.uk/Donald Norman correctly asserts that keys are not found faster on an alphabetically ordered keyboard than a ‘scrambled’ one as the typist has to think a lot about letter precedence, etc. and, probably due to the alphabet being a linear sequence this then entails a slow, sequential, high-level cognitive process rather than regarding the layout as a matrix/visual-field and benefiting from the parallelism built into the visual cortex for this simpler ‘spot the matching shape’ task – also, it is probable this low-level brain function would not impede your concentration on your creative work, whilst the high-level cognition required by an alphabetic layout WOULD; and in so doing lower your productivity.Phew.Ok. However, Donald Norman’s critism is based on a false assumption.He hasn’t made a mistake, but the ‘marketing departments’ of these alphabetic keyboard manufacturer’s have. They say/imply/assert that ABCDEF must be better than QWERTY because everyone knows A-Z order; so, presumably suggesting that THAT knowledge will aid them as they first start to type (I am assuming that they are targeting neophytes who have never habituated to Qwerty, Dvorak, Colemak, Fitaly, etc.), and that knowing that T comes after H will mean that they will scan back along the rows from right to left to type ‘THE’. Advantage? No.Put, simply, most people learn the alphabet forwards (A to Z) and it is harder to get them to recite ZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA.No. There is no productivity gain to be had from ‘A to Z’ ordering, either in getting beginners to type more rapidly than on ‘scrambled’ layouts when habituated to them, or through reducing/eliminating the time taken to habituate to the keyboard layout in the first place – except, ABCDEF will be more productive than Qwerty or Dvorak when the prospective computer user is such a technophobe (and has no need for, or compulsion to adopt I.T.) that they can only be coaked into trying a computer (other than a touch-screen kiosk one in a museum), when the user-interface doesn’t make them feel inadequate, confused, and… well, dyslexic.Many more people started using computers when they came with mice as all many of them had to do was noodle around with MacPaint and save their work as Untitled, or Untitled2, etc. (no typing needed). Then, we have the wonderful World-Wide Web which eliminated double-clicks (which some find hard to pull off) and reduced the amount of text input, or let you jump away from a page that had a form on it, thus coining the term: ‘surfing’.So, what I’m saying is that there is YET an opportunity to bring all those technophobes into the magical world of computing if only they weren’t frightened off by the hardware. Hence: ABCDEF…If you are still in doubt about the validity of this point just look up the history of the Apple Newton (i.e. a desire for handwriting recognition as sole palmtop input), or the many efforts made to ‘do’ speech recognition – you know, like they often have in SciFi films; clearly a simpler mode of input is desired. (If you really dig there is a use of an ABCDEF keyboard in a Buck Roger’s TV episode). These film makers obviously think that Qwerty will eventually be obsolete.Now. I realise that you will probably counter this comment by saying that for any percieved gains the neophyte computer user will improve to a point where the comfort, accuracy and efficiency of the ABCDEF keyboard becomes a nuisance. What may have been okay for typing in the odd filename, or labelling a layer in Photoshop, is revealed to be inadequate for e-mail and positively hopeless for writing a novelOne could argue that this is the time for the ex-technophobe to get themselves a Dvorak keyboard; after all, I have been to: http://dvzine.org/info/input.htmland was both impressed and convinced of Dvorak’s superiority to the widespread Qwerty layout. I recommend the comic if you haven’t read it already. However, on page 8 of TheDvorakZine.pdf it admits:’As part of his study Dr. Dvorak trained two separate groups of people who had NEVER typed before. One with Qwerty and one with Dvorak. It took the Qwerty students 56 HOURS of training to achieve a typing speed of 40 words per minute. The Dvorak students however, achieved 40 words per minute after only 18 HOURS of training. Dr. Dvorak also took a THIRD group of people, who were already proficient Qwerty typists and retrained them using the Dvorak layout. It only took 52 hours of training for the typists to achieve their previous Qwerty typing speeds.’…therefore, it would seem that Dvorak is easier to learn, even if you have prior experience of Qwerty.However, although 52 < 56, 52 > 18 by some margin; one might have hoped it would have taken less time than that. Is there any reason for this? Is it difficult for most people to adjust to yet another ‘scrambled’ pattern due to some factor? What could that be? And is this the main reason why Dvorak is the "Betamax" to Qwerty’s sub-standard, but more widespread "VHS"? Some pundits think so, and cite product ‘lock-in’ (i.e. people tend to stick with what they already know, "why reinvent the wheel?", cost of retraining vs. productivity gain, etc.), I think it has a lot to to with the fact that many of the keys that are on the right-hand side of the Qwerty layout are on the left of the Dvorak – and vice-versa. Compare them and you will find that the left-hand sides have A E Q and X in common, etc. This, I feel is bad as I have noticed that my brain is conditioned to try and acquire a given letter on the same side of the keyboard it was on in the Qwerty layout (even if its exact position has changed on that half), it is much easier to type HMMM on Dvorak than REST for this reason and I feel the urge to cross my wrists as I type. This is probably due to each hand being under the command of a separate half of the brain (so the ‘mapping/skills’ are in the wrong bit).Rather than contemplate brain surgery, you could reflect the layout:=/lrcgfyp.,’ -snthdiueoa zvwmbxkjq;…ensuring that the home keys U and H lined up with PUK and GHM in vertical order (even if this meant remodelling the keyboard). Also, while you are at it you could return RETURN to the left-hand side as it used to operate from there on a mechanical typewriter (better?).However, the REASON Dr. Dvorak didn’t do this was that physiological research indicated that the right hand of most people was stronger and more dextrous, so more keys should go on the right. In fact, the inventor of ‘Qwerty’ (Mr Sholes) came up with another layout not all that different from Dvorak in its architectural principles – i.e. a frequency analysis was made of english texts which suggested that: ETAOIN SHRDLU CMWFGYP BVKJXQZwere the most frequently occurring letters -> least (approx. varies)I’ve tested my own texts and found this to be the case. Consequently I became intrigued. Was it possible to apply frequency analysis to the A to Z ‘aspiration’ of user-friendliness and obtain a compromise that I could live with in casual use (I am not a hugely fast typist)After about a year of trial and error (I have been doing other stuff as, I should explain, the notion of "reinventing the wheel" and me making a relabelled/reprogrammed layout was to be the icing on the cake of a much larger project*).I have made MANY paper prototypes and on recently reverse-engineer-ing the principles behind Dvorak, tried to adjust the splits between the rows of letters so that frequently occuring letters in english texts did not appear on the bottom row, hand alternation was good, etc.. The DVZine applets were of great help and I used wikipedia’s percentages to ‘colour’ my keys with colour temperature relating to the frequency of use as they do. This was very interesting and may suggest that although my layout is in no way as good as Dvorak it is superior to Qwerty and benefits from having fewer keys "on the wrong half" of the keyboard as it were.The left hand gets more use than the right (major difference to the Dvorak layout), but I feel that this is actually desirable as it is easier to invoke Command-key shortcuts with the left-hand whilst you use the mouse in the right – or switch tools in Photoshop, etc.NOTE: the Apple Mac hadn’t been invented when Dvorak was alive.So, in conclusion I hope some of this has been of interest to you. I really just wanted to say don’t be dismissive of alphabetic layouts as I can assure you it is theoretically possible for them to be ok, they do satisfy an untapped market, although I wouldn’t expect any ‘A to Z’ design to supplant established layouts.Yours Sincerely, Nick HarrisP.S. The ABCkeyboard I mentioned is nothing to do with me and has an inefficient and uncomfortable layout.*In a nutshell I have been designing a new computing environment, as if Microsoft and Sun and Apple had never existed – i.e. absolutely no preconcieved notions prior to research and no assumptions that I didn’t rigourously question (like: why even have a Save option?). It does not constitute an OS, but would run as middleware (think Lotus Notes, maybe) on top of its host, but exhibiting no evidence that it was on a Linux/OS X/Windows/Solaris base. It has been a LOT of work and I am still not finished. The design incorporates a language that is something like LISP and Smalltalk whilst not looking horrendous, I am currently finalising the GUI which is looking very minimalist and tidy, the idea being to let you focus on your work. Its entirely document-centric (i.e. NO applications), but…It is in no way compatible with any other system, including the web.Basically, I’m a perfectionist who feels that everything about I.T. has been rushed out (due to beating a competitor to the marketplace) or used too widely too soon by users who demand it doesn’t evolve.This has happenned with Bjarne Stroustrup and C++ at AT&T and Sholes with Qwerty and many, many others too depressing to mention. It is for this reason our current systems have ‘friction’ in their UIs and even crash losing all our unsaved work. Computers as they stand are not fit for purpose. I WOULD NOT USE ONE if I didn’t have to to be able to create something I (personally) preferred.I can’t say when this will be ready, but I plan on making it proper free to download open-source – not GPL rubbish. P.P.S. I may give you further details of my project, including the layout of the keyboard so you can "pick it to pieces", but that all rather depends upon your response. I hope you don’t feel that this has been a ‘tease’ or ‘promotional spam’ for vapourware, but you must appreciate that I can’t put my work up on your site in comment form where everyone can see it. I would much rather wait until my project is finished so that all aspects of its integrated design can be assessed fairly, instead of blurting details out early and spoiling the whole surprise – like they seem to do with videogames.

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