Ergonomics for the Win!

I got my new Kinesis Advantage LF yesterday, and after about 10 hours of touch typing training, I’m back up to about 25 wpm with some accuracy (This is the very first thing I’ve tried to type outside a typing trainer). That’s actually pretty good. Most people report taking days get back their former fluency. [Edit, back to 50 wpm in a week, using www.keybr.com to practice]
I elected to stick with the Sholes (QWERTY) layout because I cannot realistically avoid it on laptops and such, and I can’t see switching back and forth on a daily basis. So far, though, the Kinesis is almost as jarring. It uses a columnar, or matrix layout (like many newer ergonomic designs) and worse (or better), places keys in wells to better fit the natural shape of the hand.advantage-black
If you are skeptical of this design, so was I, and I knew it would be my main source of difficulty. I am already a long-time touch typist and it effectively puts many of the keys in positions as different as if I had switched to a different layout. I will say this, however: it works! What started me on this quest was the realization that I simply cannot improve my typing skills and eliminate bad habits I’ve carried for years because my hands cannot endure the quantity and velocity practice needed to get there. I say I type 50-60 wpm, but that’s only in sprints. The fact is, I never type anywhere near that fast for any length of time. My hands just can’t take it. And that encourages more breaks, more distractions, and less productive writing time.
Only recently did I remember what I knew from years ago: this is all the keyboard’s fault!
In this age of laptops and tablets, it’s easy to forget that the cheap and highly compact keyboards shipped even with with most modern desktops are not in any way engineered to fit the needs of the human body, and most so-called ergonomic keyboards are anything but–they are designed by marketers, not engineers.
The arrangement of keys (as I detailed in an earlier post) is not the main problem.  The problem is that twisting the highly complex and variable human hand to fit these awkward keyboards and then rapidly whacking our delicate tissues against unrelenting surfaces is a recipe for pain and injury.  These portable devices are marvels, but they ignore decades of research on ergonomic and reliable design.
It’s a conundrum, and as I have no plans to give up the joy and productivity I get from being able to carry an entire writer’s office in a  handbag, it’s time I upgrade my home office (where portability is not an issue) to give my poor hands a break.
And so far, so good. Though typing on this Kinesis is still a bit of a waddle, the hand orientation, key wells, and top-quality Cherry MX Red low force linear mechanical key-switches definitely do the trick. Even after hours of heavy use, my hands and wrists feel better than after typing a single email on any of my other keyboards, and any discomfort fades away in minutes.  This is hands-down the most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever typed on–even better than the extremely noisy Logitech ergo I bought years ago for work.

The Kinesis is not cheap and it’s not perfect. I’d like the key wells to be further apart and more highly tented. I’d like the home row keys to have tactile nubs (though it’s less essential than you might think owing to the key wells, and they omitted it to simplify remapping). The top row of function keys are not standard 1×1 mechanical switches but these little rubberized doodads that many people hate. That actually doesn’t bother me (how often to you use them really?) but I wish they were turned away from the fingers to make it harder to accidentally hit them while typing. I’ve turned on the embedded numeric keypad once so far, and that is a huge pet peeve of mine-functional overloads that lurk in otherwise good designs, waiting like landmines to kill your productivity at the least opportune possible moment.

In my opinion, keyboards should not have num-lock, scroll-lock, or caps-lock keys. These are land mine attempts to shoe horn in functions better served in other ways. However, I can’t complain in this case. The Kinesis has a built-in micro-controller that makes it super simple to remap keys. I turned the hated caps-lock into a more conveniently located control key and the utterly superfluous “Windows Key” into a convenient redundant backspace. I cannot eliminate the “keypad” key, but if it turns out to be a problem, I can remap all the keypad numeric keys to their proper alphabetic values. I may also eliminate the cursor arrows (which have no business being adjacent to alphabet keys where they can be inadvertently struck.

All-in-all, I’m loving the Kinesis, and cursing it surprisingly little. I’ll post an update after I’ve had time to get fully up to speed and finish integrating it into my workspace.


What do you think? Have you gone ergo? Has it helped? Have any questions about the Kinesis or what to look for before buying one? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.