Russell Sheppard of Naseby asks :-

Are better keyboards being designed?

Stephen Legg, an ergonomist at Massey University, responded.

Ergonomics is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans, their work, their travel, and their leisure environments, in order to optimise human well-being and overall system performance.

When C L Scholes was working on his prototype typewriter in the 1860s he initially arranged the letters alphabetically. However if two successive letters typed were adjacent the bars they were on would clash and jam. To speed up typing he used the frequency analysis of letter pairs to make sure common pairs like 'th' weren't adjacent. Hence his QWERTY keyboard was designed to speed up typing.

There were many later attempts to re-design a keyboard. eg Dvorak placed the letters by frequency of use, with vowels on one side of the main row and the five most frequent consonants on the other - AOEUIDHTNS. However it turns out that in unbiased tests on any keyboard arangement none is better than the other. Good typists type fast, others slower.

Recent work is to find a layout that is less tiring and injurious to typists, and that is partly ergonomics. This is where curved and split keyboards come from. Using keyboards or the mouse confers postural constraints on the users that can cause musculoskeletal neck and upper body discomfort, pain and injury. Thus the focus of current ergonomics research in this area is to examine the benefits of using non-keyboard/non-mouse input devices such as speech and to optimise user efficiency.

A key principle in achieving these dual goals are to 'Move-IT' i.e. to move or re-arrange the data entry system to better suit the individual and to move the individual into a variety of postures so as to minimize the effects of postural fixity. Readers are alerted to two important websites for more useful information about these issues: www.moveit.org.nz and www.ergonomics4schools.com