If you’ve ever looked down at your keyboard and wondered why it’s not in alphabetical order, you’re not alone. But who came up with the current design, anyway? A few popular myths abound, but one Japanese study got to the root of it. (Hint: This design dates back WAY farther than you think.)
Myth #1: The keyboard is designed in accordance with letter usage to allow for the fastest typing possible.
This idea makes sense: Designers must have looked at the varying degrees of usefulness of each letter and attempted to evenly split them between each hand. That way, we could type quickly and not have one hand doing more work than the other.
Myth #2: The design is a relic of the typewriter era, and was engineered to stop the machine from jamming.
This myth is the opposite of the first, and alleges that the QWERTY design was meant to slow typists down in order to stop the typewriter from jamming. While it’s unclear whether or not separating the useful keys makes typing a slower endeavor or a faster one (as the creators of the first myth would argue), this one’s also been debunked.
The truth: The design is a hand-me-down from morse code transcribers.
We’re guessing you didn’t expect this, so we’ll let Smithsonian reporter Jimmy Stamp, who originally sleuthed through the Japanese study, explain.
“The QWERTY system emerged as a result of how the first typewriters were being used. Early adopters and beta-testers included telegraph operators who needed to quickly transcribe messages. However, the operators found the alphabetical arrangement to be confusing and inefficient for translating morse code. The Kyoto paper suggests that the typewriter keyboard evolved over several years as a direct result of input provided by these telegraph operators.”
It’s an interesting idea, but now that we’ve moved from morse code to iPhones, we’re thinking it might be time for a new system.