QWERTY (hereafter referred to as qwerty) was designed in the 1870s by Christopher Sholes, a newspaper editor. While the keyboard was designed with speed and efficiency in mind, efficiency on an easily jamming 1800s typewriter is not the same as efficiency on a modern computer keyboard. At the time though, qwerty was the most efficient keyboard, and remained that way for several decades.
The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard is an alternative layout to qwerty developed in 1936, by August Dvorak, an educational psychologist. Whereas qwerty maximized speed on moving arms typewriters, Dvorak was designed to maximize efficiency on keyboards where there is no risk of jamming.
Facts and opinions
I prefer Dvorak. When I was learning touch typing, qwerty was driving me up the wall, so I gave Dvorak a try, and found it a much more fluid and logical experience. That was learning from scratch, however; how I would have found it if I’d already been proficient at qwerty is tough to say.
Discussion of qwerty vs. Dvorak tends to be heavily biased on both ends. With qwerty supporters considering Dvorak a useless novelty and Dvorak proponents raving about the evils of qwerty. (One way that I agree qwerty is evil: having to type it in all caps–if that doesn’t smell of fanaticism I don’t know what does.)
But anecdotal evidence is rubbish, what does the science say? Well, nothing. There have been no well-designed studies comparing the keyboards. Arguments for or against tend to use “common sense” reasoning: one side stating that because Dvorak is newer and designed for modern keyboards it must be better, the other that if Dvorak were superior it would have replaced qwerty long ago, and qwerty’s continued dominance proves it is at least equal to any alternatives.
Plowing past the fluff
Many of those who debate this matter seemed to be personally interested in seeing one point or the other be the correct one. Besides simply wishing to be right, both skilled Dvorak and qwerty users alike do not want to think that the time spent mastering that skill could have been better spent. Compile this with the scant amount of evidence at hand, and the result is two extreme views blowing smoke at each other.
But don’t pay attention to either of these groups. In reality, neither side is really correct. Qwerty is adequate for all purposes, and a skilled typist is going to be fast regardless of which keyboard layout they use.
Someone learning to touch type however, is going to have an easier time, and ultimately be using a more logical layout if they go with Dvorak. In the big picture, it may not have significant effects on their typing speed, but it’s a push in the right direction. Any modern computer can be switched to Dvorak in less than a minute, and instantly back and forth, so compatibility is not an issue. Being ‘different’ is the only real problem.
In conclusion, while I do not recommend that an experienced touch typist switch to Dvorak–the gains probably not being worth the time spent relearning-–a touch typist in training should at least give Dvorak a try.