- Reputation: 1
- Registered: 16-Dec-2021
- Posts: 6
Lifelong QWERTY user here, beginning my quest for ergonomic typing. Practicing DHm every day, looking into keyboards to buy. The concept of layers is pretty new to me, but makes a lot of sense. I understand that layers can be great for saving space, typing faster, having a more portable and cost-efficient board, and also just general slick philosophical appeal. My question is, are they actually ergonomic?
There's an underlying assumption I've seen around the keyboard community, and it pops up equally whether discussing layouts or physical boards. People assume that minimizing finger and hand travel is, in general, a good thing for ergonomics. I'm posing more of a question here than making a stand. I'm completely willing to accept either answer (and honestly I'm hoping layers come out on top, since they seem cool). I'm motivated by my own RSI. I was interested in an highly-layered setup (34-40 keys) for maximum ergonomics, but as I was thinking about it, I wondered if holding your hands on the home row all the time was actually the ergonomically optimal thing to do.
I'm going to group stretching one's fingers around the board into two general categories: twisting and jumping.
By "twisting," I mean twisting your fingers around to hit, e.g., Ctrl + Y on a standard full QWERTY layout with one hand. I think most people could agree that using layers to prevent these intra-hand gymnastics is a good thing. Similarly, holding a key down with your thumb wrapped underneath while reaching with another -- e.g., holding the 2 or 3 on the number pad down while hitting another number pad key with a finger on the same hand -- could definitely be painful for people with RSI. In fact, any layering that involves holding down one finger while simultaneously using another finger on the same hand is potentially problematic, in my opinion, unless the key position is very near optimal (e.g. Ctrl+ZXC on QWERTY).
By "jumping," I mean more inter-hand gymnastics: moving my entire left hand and hitting Ctrl + Shift with, say, my left middle and ring fingers. while simultaneously jumping my right hand a few inches over to hit the arrow keys, or similarly holding Shift with my left middle/ring/pinky finger while hitting Home or End with my right hand. Two-handed layering like Ctrl+Enter or Shift+End that involves a lot of movement around a standard keyboard is something that, as far as I understand, people who use layers are trying to optimize, since it's slow. 34-key layouts take that to an extreme where no hand movement is ever required.
Again, for speed, design appeal, and saving space, 34-key layouts (and any heavily layered layout) are great. But for pure ergonomics, using your left arm to move your left hand towards shift and control, perhaps using your middle and/or fourth fingers to hit them, avoids use of the pinky (which can be an RSI trigger, since it's weak), and technically minimizes hand/wrist movement, relying on the shoulder and elbow to rotate. The same is true of floating your entire right hand over to Page Up/Down or the arrow keys.
Taking the thought even further: if you never have to leave the home row, you can hit keys faster, which could trigger more RSI. If you have enough layers, you're probably going to need to do a lot of holding a key down with one hand while pressing a key with the other -- or even worse, holding with one finger, pressing a key with another finger on the same hand -- generating more physical key presses, potentially triggering more pain. My thought was that sharing the load between elbows, shoulders, wrists, and fingers might decrease strain as opposed to putting all the layers in your fingers.
Or am I thinking about this wrong? Does staying near the home row constantly (e.g. a 34 key layout) outweigh the increased keypress count? Or does buying a mechanical keyboard (as opposed to whatever the $9 Verbatim I'm typing on right now has) do enough for finger health that finger presses become a negligible factor in RSI? Because if so, I'm going to go buy the lowest-key keyboard I can find and just load up on layers.
Any thoughts, insight, and experience appreciated.