When Christopher Latham Sholes first thought of the typewriter in 1866, his aim was to build a tool that would allow an author to put in the paper his thoughts faster than he can write it. Unknown to him, he would also create the world’s most familiar, seemingly random, letter combination: the QWERTY. Here is what you need to know about it.
Untangling the Letters
The first typewriters were counterproductive. This was because the strikers within the machine keep on hitting each other whenever a user type phrases or sentences. To fix this, Sholes conceptualized a design that would minimize both the speed of the writer as well as the clogging within the machine.
The exact reason why Sholes arranged the buttons as it is familiar to us now is unknown. A common theory is that Sholes wanted to separate the most frequently combined letters to ensure that there is enough time between keypress. This would allow the strikers to spring back to their original position to give way to the next one. However, recent studies suggest that it has most used combinations in the English language adjacent to each other. Examples of these are “er” and “the”.
Touch Typing was Invented After QWERTY
Attempts to propose alternatives to the QWERTY layout revolve around a key innovation after its invention: touch-typing.
Touch typing is defined as the ability to use muscle memory to find keys without looking at it. This skill is the same skill used by pianists.
QWERTY was designed for what researchers call “hunt and peck”, wherein the typist would search through the sea of letters and then press the key, often only using one finger. However, QWERTY places most generally used keys or letters in areas where fingers are stretched and those least used, in optimal locations. Studies claim that this affects the accuracy of touch-typists.
However, because the layout has been incorporated to almost all keyboards, and almost everyone have become familiar with it already, QWERTY remains to be the standard.