Back to Qwerty

A few months ago I began a journey to learn Colemak. Yesterday I switched back to Qwerty. There were a number of reasons I stepped off my adventure into Colemak, but perhaps its better to start at the why I began that journey.

The luxury of trying

In my job I have the luxury of being able to experiment with what works for me. I had toyed with the idea of trying a different keyboard layout as a lot of colleagues had. They were split between Colemak and Dvorak.

The tipping point

There were a few factors that made me make the change

  • New MacBook key sounds: the keys are super loud, similar to a mouse in boots tap dancing loud, when I get a good conversational pace going.
  • Wrist pain: over the years I haven’t been great to my wrists with typing strain and they were reminding me of this factor.
  • Wanting to reduce my typing speed: a maybe unexpected motivation was to add more thought to my typing by reducing the speed.

It begins

I began my journey into Colemak possibly naively by going 100% in with doing it all the time. I did however use a cover. There was a problem with this though quite early on, the cover began warping and it kept leaving marks on my screen – not great.

I moved onto using stickers and this may have been where one of my downfalls began. The only stickers I could find meant you saw 2 letters – the ones on the keys and the stickers. This got even worse at night because the keys highlighted the Qwerty ones. I was rapidly finding things more and more of a struggle

The end coming

I found my spelling mistakes went through the roof. I have a lot of spelling issues as it is and my comprehension can at times be creative. However, it was compounded by trying to learn Colemak, to the point not a sentence would go by without issues. Just writing this in Qwerty already I am back to my usual pace of mistakes.

A different voice

One thing I did not expect to discover was a change in my writing voice. In the past my use of punctuation was somewhat lazy. It has on more than one occasion been suggested I should purchase a box of commas. As I was writing in Colemak this strange thing happened, I found commas.

Beyond my discovery of commas, the voice was slightly different. This was an unnerving effect. Not one I was sure I wanted. I did not feel it was a positive change either. In some respects I felt it lacked personality, it lacked emotion. Because I was having a lot of issues with typing the words, I became minimal to a point that wasn’t always good. It also tested my patience, although that was a nice thing to test at times, at others it could have created a bad response from me.

Mental model comfort

I never have learnt to touch type, I have this kind of weird half memory, half some fingers typing method. Its clumsy and inelegant to view, but it sure gets the job done.

I find touch typing very hard and the lessons to do it close torture. They make me panic, which has this awesome side effect of my Dyslexia going into overdrive. As I switched to Colemak, I began typing lessons that seemed like old scary ghosts back to haunt me.

Lessons learnt

I did try for several months but it came to a point where the benefits were not out weighing the gains. I had less wrist pain, yet the mistakes and brain hurdles I was causing myself were not worth the change. Even the keyboard sound was loud once I took the cover off and the covers don’t work yet well with the new MacBooks.

Reverting doesn’t mean other issues have gone away. I suspect my wrist pain will surface soon enough. Yet, I will combat this in other ways such as specific exercises and actually being better at breaks. I may have changed my keyboard layout but I did not get better at taking breaks. A keyboard layout isn’t a magic cure all.

What I have learnt is this:

  • Exercising my wrists and taking breaks is more important than switching a keyboard layout.
  • The ghosts of typing lessons need to be conquered. I plan on finally learning to properly touch type.
  • Experiments don’t have to succeed and I am lucky to be able to do them where I work.
  • I have more respect for those with slower typing speeds, for whatever reason. I want to try and keep the pace more considered and hold onto that respect.
  • Commas are great, I should use them more.






One response to “Back to Qwerty”

  1. Graham Armfield Avatar

    Hi Tammy. An interesting article – thanks for sharing.

    Perhaps with my lifelong adherence to QWERTY, I had not really considered alternate keyboard layouts (apart from US/UK differences) so I’ve had my eyes opened.

    Re your hurting wrists, have you ever considered voice recognition software to help with your writing? You may have seen me demoing Dragon NaturallySpeaking as an accessibility aid, but it’s primarily marketed as a productivity tool. Once you get over the initial weirdness of talking to your machine it can be really useful, and involves very little keyboard interaction.

    With Dragon, the training goes both ways. Dragon progressively learns to recognise your voice, along with any accents and idiom you may use. At the same time you have to learn Dragon’s various voice commands, how to correct mistakes and to understand its quirks.

    You can even specify where to put punctuation – including commas…

    I think it’s available for Macs – as Dragon Dictate.

    Take care.

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