The Workman Keyboard Layout Philosophy

  1. Introduction
  2. The Problem with Colemak
  3. Back to the Drawing Board
  4. Introducing the Workman Layout
  5. Pros and Cons
  6. Test Results
    1. Key Usage Visualization
    2. Tests Using Popular Books
  8. Recommended Keyboard
  9. Share It

Being a programmer, I type a lot and I suffer from Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and tendonitis on my wrist. I’ve tried many different ways to help make it better. One way to do this is to switch to a different keyboard layout other than QWERTY. QWERTY was supposedly designed for typewriters to solve a very specific problem–to keep the types from jamming against each other. The most frequently used keys were placed apart from each other to prevent them from jamming. This results in a non-ergonomic layout. However, there are alternatives.

Dvorak and Colemak

The first alternative keyboard layout that came to mind is Dvorak. It was created in the 1930′s and promised to be vastly superior to QWERTY. I went ahead and tried it out and soon enough after doing “ls -latr” on the terminal, I had to shake my head and sadly walk away from it. I didnt like the way Dvorak was laid out especially for the weak fingers of the right hand.

Then I stumbled upon a layout called Colemak, a relatively new player in the game compared to QWERTY and Dvorak. It was released in 2006 and boasted impressive metrics in terms of finger travel, hand alternation, and same finger frequency. Everyone in the alternative keyboard layout crowd seemed to be raving about it.  There are other layouts available namely Capewell, Arensito, Carpal X, etc. After some research I decided on Colemak because of its metrics and probably partly because it looked “normal” and “familiar”. The other ones either looked too radical and different or they suffered from awkward placements of some often used letters. Colemak looked the most promising and I was excited to try it.

So I went ahead and tried it and immediately it felt good. I noticed that my fingers were not moving up and down as much and most of the time they stayed on the home row. However after a few days of practicing on K-touch, a nagging feeling started to creep in. Something felt rather awkward. At first I thought that maybe I just wasn’t used to it yet and it’s the result of the awkwardness in switching to a different layout. So I kept on and while doing so, I  tried to analyze how my hands were moving and then the problem became clear to me.

The Colemak keyboard layout

The Colemak keyboard layout



The Problem with Colemak

My initial excitement turned to disappointment when I realized that even though my fingers were not moving up and down as much, they were moving too much laterally. I realized that the main culprit was the letter ‘H’ placed to the right of the letters ‘N’ and ‘E’. ‘N’ is where your index finger rests. Typing ‘HE’ forced the hand to make a very unnatural sideways twisting motion from the wrist and then back again. To give you an idea on why this could be serious, consider these:

  • ‘HE’ is the second most frequent bigram in the English language (‘TH’ is the first).
  • It occurs in approximately 8,188 words.
  • You type it approximately once every 26 keystrokes, or once in every 5 words.
  • At 40wpm, you will make this movement 8 times in one minute. More if you are faster.

Just ask yourself, how often do you type ‘the’, ‘these’, ‘them’, ‘when’, and ‘where’, etc. on a day-to-day basis? It’s even worse when you’re typing these words in the beginning of a sentence. Try typing “The” with the T capitalized on Colemak and hopefully you’ll see what I mean. Your right hand will move somewhat like this: you swing to the right to get the SHIFT key with your pinky, then you swing back to the left to get the letter ‘H’, and then you move to the right again to get the letter ‘E’. All this is happening in a split second. That’s quite a bit of lateral movement. Now I’m not a doctor, but multiplied over a lifetime, making that sideways motion with the wrists could be detrimental to people’s hands. It’s nothing personal against Colemak. However, I consider this to be a major flaw in Colemak’s design and I’m concerned that nobody is talking about it. And even if it’s proven to be benign, I find it personally cumbersome.

The letters ‘D’ and ‘H’ are relatively high frequency letters and placing them in the middle of the keyboard forced the hands to make that lateral twitching move a lot. This is by design since the purpose was to optimize the home row keys for high frequency letters to reduce finger travel, which is primarily caused by moving up and down above and below the home row. Colemak by design, as well as Dvorak tries to reduce use of the top and the bottom rows. Actually, when you think about it, most of the other alternative layouts optimize for this very thing. However, I believe that the way that alternative layouts focus on just the home row for optimization is somewhat misguided. We should optimize the keys inside the hand’s natural range of motion and not just strictly the home row.

Other letters that I think are cumbersome with Colemak are the letters G, L, and O. I believe that by moving these letters, horizontal and diagonal stretching could be made less and the load on the right pinky could be reduced.

Improving Colemak

I was really disappointed that Colemak was not the layout that I had hoped it would be. I no longer wanted to use QWERTY. I didn’t like Dvorak, and the other alternatives didn’t look very promising either – but rather very alien. I really wanted Colemak to work however I can’t live with the H-E movement and having to reach for D and H often. I felt that it could be made better.

I tried to see if there’s anything that could be done to solve this. At first I ignorantly tried to replace ‘D’ and ‘H’ with other lower frequency letters and moved them elsewhere still expecting the same metrics. I used the awesome Keyboard Compare applet by John A. Maxwell with modifications from Michael Capewell, and also Patrick Gillespie’s amazing Keyboard Layout Analyzer. Long story short, I got pretty crappy results. It soon dawned on me that just moving a few things around isn’t going to cut it. It’s like playing with a water balloon. If you squeeze on one side, it bulges on other sides. If I was going to get the results that I’m looking for, I had to sit down and do some thinking.

Going Back to the Drawing Board

I decided to try to create a new keyboard layout based on these ideas. I first came up with the following observations and assumptions:

  • Movement on the Keyboard
    • The home keys (not necessarily the home row) are the place to be
    • Vertical movement between the columns (reaching and folding) are not necessarily strenuous on the fingers and wrists because it is more natural for the fingers to fold or stretch vertically than horizontally
    • Side-to-side movements are more strenuous for the wrists than up and down motion
    • Diagonally reaching for the top and bottom middle keys are the worst
  • Fingers
    • Index Finger: very strong, short
    • Middle Finger: strong, very long
    • Ring Finger: weak, long
    • Pinky Finger: weak, short

Most of these seem obvious enough but it helps to jot them down for clarity. I then came up with a set of principles to serve as guidelines to help me with the design:

  • Prioritize the home keys
  • If vertical folding and reaching cannot be prevented, prioritize reaching for longer fingers and folding for shorter fingers.
  • Place more frequent keys under stronger fingers
  • Common bigrams should be easy to type.

Here’s a an illustration that I created grading the keys based on the approximate amount of difficulty/strain in reaching or pressing them with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the most strenuous. This grading scale takes into consideration the position of the keys, the strength of and length of the fingers and the staggered nature of the keyboard.

Keys graded based on strain/difficulty (Standard Keyboard)

Below is what it would be on an “matrix style” keyboard also known as “grid” keyboards.

Keys graded based on strain/difficulty (matrix style Keyboard)



Introducing the Workman Keyboard Layout

I call it the Workman Keyboard Layout in honor of all who type on keyboards for a living. And considering that today is Labor Day, I think it’s perfectly fitting.

The Workman Keyboard Layout

Programmer Workman

Workman for Programmers


  • It’s different from QWERTY
  • Comfortable, ergonomic, and efficient — frequent keys are placed within the natural range of motion of the fingers
  • Reduced lateral movement of the fingers and wrists
  • Very, very low overall finger travel
  • Reduced load on the right pinky compared to Dvorak and Colemak
  • More balanced left and right hand usage compared to Dvorak and Colemak
  • High same hand utilization and plenty of easy combos
  • Common English bigrams are easy to type
  • ZXCV shortcuts are still accessible with one hand
  • Capslock is Backspace (linux only)
  • Shift+Capslock is Escape (linux only)
  • Only 21 characters are different from QWERTY as opposed to 31 for Dvorak
  • Not as intimidating or “alien” looking as other alternatives
  • Available for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux


  • It’s different from QWERTY
  • C and V shortcuts are slightly shifted to the right and needs a little getting used to
  • 21 letters are moved compared to Colemak’s 17
  • Left ring finger has slightly higher load compared to QWERTY, Dvorak, and Colemak.



Test Results


On Workman, the most often used keys are evenly and pleasantly distributed inside the natural range of motion of the fingers. It’s even better on a matrix style keyboard.

% Usage of the Two Middle Columns

  • QWERTY: 22%
  • Dvorak: 14%
  • Colemak: 12%
  • Workman: 6%

Workman reduces overall usage of the two middle columns by about 50% over Colemak. This 50% reduction can be divided into two parts, horizontal and diagonal index finger stretching. Workman reduces horizontal finger stretching by 63%, and diagonal index finger stretching by 27% over Colemak. This is because Workman efficiently utilizes other easy to reach keys instead of just placing them in the middle columns where they are difficult to reach. Workman also reduces vertical index finger stretching by 30% over Colemak by realizing that it’s easier for the index finger to fold than reach upwards.

Below are some tests using popular books taken from Project Gutenberg: 


QWERTY vs Workman, Dvorak vs Workman, Colemak vs Workman

      • Don Quixote (English)

        Looking at the first example. Colemak achieves the lowest overall finger-travel distance against QWERTY and Dvorak at 30,352 meters. However, Workman is even lower at 29,656 meters — a difference of 696 meters. It doesn’t sound like much, however if we convert it to centimeters, that’s equal to 69,600 cm. And considering that the distance between keyboard keys is approximately 2 cm, typing on Workman is like typing 34,000 less keystrokes than typing on Colemak. At 40 words per minute, that’s equivalent to approximately 3 hours of work. For Dvorak, it’s 126,000 keystrokes at 11 hours of work. And for QWERTY, it’s 1,369,800 keystrokes at 5 days of work.

        Same Finger Utilization (SFU)
        This shows how many times you had to do a double combo with one of your fingers. For example, typing the word “fuel” using Workman makes your right middle finger do a double combo because the letters U and E are both typed using the right middle finger. Here, Workman has an SFU of 2.185% which means that for every 46 keystrokes (approx. 9 words), one of your 8 fingers does one double combo. Compare that to QWERTY which is at every 20 keystrokes (4 words). Colemak is at every 58 keystrokes or (11 words). Workman, on average, has a higher SFU than Colemak… at +1%. Some people misunderstand and think that this somehow shows increased effort or discomfort. It doesn’t. Effort is the same, because no matter what, you’re still pressing the same number of keys. Comfort shouldn’t be a problem as long as the key is in a comfortable spot. The only thing that SFU might potentially and theoretically affect is speed because typing two letters with different fingers is a little faster than typing them with the same finger. However, I doubt that most people will have any problems with speed at all using Workman especially considering that very many people type very fast on QWERTY, of all layouts.

        In case you were wondering, the bulk of Workman’s SFU comes from these combinations: LY, OP, PO, CT, and UE. All of these combos are very comfortable to type with LY being less comfortable because the movement from L to Y is diagonal. Some people might say that this is a very bad thing but in reality it is not. First, LY occurs at about 0.24% of the time on average. That’s less than a quarter of one percent. To put it into perspective, for every 10,000 keystrokes, you will type LY only 24 times.  At this rate, you will not even notice it. Even with this extra 0.24% considered, Colemak’s diagonal movements are still greater than Workman’s. Second, even though it’s a diagonal motion, you’re not really stretching that much because when you type L, you fold your fingers (storing potential energy), then you release it to type Y. The stretch is about the same as when you come from home row. It’s even less when you use a matrix style keyboard. Third, LY occurs at the end of the word almost all the time. This is important and it makes a huge difference. This means that when you type LY, you do it at the end of the flow of a word as a finishing stroke instead of being in the middle, which makes it less cumbersome. All in all, I don’t think this is a big deal.

        Finger and Hand Percentages
        A better indicator of finger effort is the Finger Percentage. If you look at the Finger Percentages for Workman, Colemak, and Dvorak, nothing really stands out at first glance. However, Workman further reduces the load on the right pinky finger over Colemak and Dvorak. The right pinky, despite being one of the weakest, is one of the most used finger on a standard keyboard due to the location of the Enter, Shift, and Backspace keys, as well as additional punctuation keys. Both Colemak and Dvorak have higher right pinky percentage at 11% (253,850 keystrokes), while Workman is only at 9% (207,696 keystrokes). On Workman, your right pinky finger just typed 46,155 less keystrokes than both Colemak and Dvorak… that’s about 4 hours of work using ALL your fingers.


        Below are the average percentages for each hand. The two analyzers give slightly different results because they differ a little bit in how they do the calculations. However you still get the idea. QWERTY has about a 4% lean towards the left while Colemak leans to the right by about 5%, and Dvorak, 7%. Workman balances the load between the left and right hands almost equally at 50%.

        Patrick’s Analyzer John’s Analyzer
        Layout Left Hand % Right Hand % Left Hand % Right Hand %
        QWERTY 54 46 53 42
        Dvorak 44 57 43 54
        Colemak 45 56 43 54
        Workman 50 50 49 48

        Same Hand Utilization (SHU)
        Dvorak consistently gets lower Same Hand Utilization than QWERTY, Colemak, and Workman which are usually in the 30% range while Dvorak is in the 20′s. Dvorak was supposedly designed for low SHU which means that your hands alternate more frequently. Dvorak’s 20% SHU means that on average, you’re typing 8 keystrokes alternating between your hands, and the next 2 keystrokes, all in one hand as a combo. 30% SHU then means on average, 7 keystrokes alternating and then the next 3, all in one hand as a combo. In designing Workman, I preferred a high SHU (low alternation) over a low SHU (high alternation). I think high alternation is beneficial if you’re typing on mechanical typewriters but not necessarily on modern keyboards. On typewriters, it is very difficult to type combos with one hand because each key needs a large amount of force to depress. You actually rely more on the momentum of your arms and wrists to provide that force so alternating between your two arms is very helpful. However, this method of typing is inefficient on the modern keyboard because modern keys are easy to press. You are no longer reliant on each arm or wrist stroke to depress a single key. Doing so is actually unnecessary and a waste of energy. It is much more efficient to ride the momentum of a single arm or wrist stroke and type a combo rather than just one key. This way your arms and wrists potentially move less while typing the same number of keys, effectively killing several birds with one stone. In the beginning, this will not be apparent. However, as you become more proficient and familiar with the combos, you will be better able to utilize this advantage and type bursts of familiar texts in one hand using fewer hand strokes. An example of this is the word OPERATION. If you were to type this in Dvorak, you could type it as o-pe-r-a-t-io-n where each grouping is a hand stroke–a total of 7 hand strokes. Whereas with Workman, you’d probably be able to type it as o-pe-rat-ion using only 4 hand strokes. Typing Don Quixote, your wrists and arms potentially moved approximately 200,000 times less on Workman than on Dvorak.

        Usage of the Middle Columns
        What these stats do not show is the usage of the middle two columns. Colemak puts 280,850 keystrokes (12%) on the middle columns versus Workman at 125,875 keystrokes (5%). On Workman, your index fingers (and potentially your wrists) moved sideways 154,975 times less than on ColemakDvorak is at 308,533 (13%) and QWERTY is at 512,568 (22%).



        • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


        • Adventures of Tom Sawyer


        • War of the Worlds


        • Moby Dick


        • The Republic by Plato


        • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes


        • Below are the results for all of these books combined.

          All the Books Combined




Can I use this layout?

Sure go ahead! Feel free to use it if you would like. Below is a link to the implementation/installation files courtesy of David Norman (deekayen).

Download the Workman Layout

For questions or comments, please visit the official official forum.

If you have benefited from the Workman Layout, please consider making a donation.

I encourage you to do your own testing and analysis. Note that different keyboard testers will give different results as to what layout is better depending on the criteria that they are using to do their measurements and assessments. Since Workman’s philosophy is unique, many testers will register it inferior to others.

To do your own testing, you can use Patrick Gillespie’s Keyboard Layout Analyzer or this one.

You can grab full texts of public domain books here at Project Gutenberg.

Recommended Keyboard

I have been using TypeMatrix for over a year now and I’ve had enormous success with it. It is a grid-layout keyboard that works really well with Workman’s philosophy of optimizing vertical motion. With it’s good design, decent pricing, and excellent customer service, the TypeMatrix keyboard used with the Workman Layout has been an excellent ergonomic solution for me. My wrist pain is completely gone and I no longer need to wear wrist braces for day to day typing. You can get the TypeMatrix keyboard here:

TypeMatrix Keyboards



  1. Introduction
  2. The Problem with Colemak
  3. Back to the Drawing Board
  4. Introducing the Workman Layout
  5. Pros and Cons
  6. Test Results
    1. Key Usage Visualization
    2. Tests Using Popular Books
  8. Recommended Keyboard
  9. Share It
IMPORTANT: The Workman Keyboard Layout is only a partial solution. Even the best keyboard layout could not completely remove the risk of typing injury.  Typing in itself is an unnatural and hazardous task and no keyboard layout could prevent injury without proper precautions and common sense.  I suggest learning to type with good hand and finger posture, taking frequent breaks, keeping your hands and wrists warm while typing, and using a keyboard that meets your needs. Our health, after all, is ultimately our personal responsibility.


I hope that you’ll enjoy this layout and benefit from it. If you like the Workman Layout, feel free to tell others about it.

155 thoughts on “The Workman Keyboard Layout Philosophy

  1. Hi there! this is fascinating work, I’ll be sure to try it out.
    How do you run the tests with the popular works?
    Can you run them with something like source files for popular programming languages?

  2. As a programmer (currently using Dvorak), I’d be interested in seeing it run on something besides regular text. Programming makes use of significatntly different pattens than great works of literature.
    Maybe the Linux Kernel for C, something in Perl, Python, or PHP, and some HTML pages?

    • The way to optimise for programming is to leave the letters as optimized for English, and optimize the symbols instead. For example, if you type PHP you would want a good position for $ (definitely not requiring SHIFT), as well as a good position for ‘;’. But if you type Python, then you would want different symbols on premium locations.

      To make things more complicated, you can’t run computer code through a typing analyser, as much of the code is inserted by the editor rather than typed in. For example you might type <p ENTER, but what comes out is . In addition you might type things out of order, for example type if(){} then hit the back arrow and proceed to type text in between the parentheses, insert new lines and so on.

      Long story short, a programmer’s layout is very much an individual thing which you have to create for yourself.

  3. I strongly advise against putting backspace on the control key. Er, I think it’s labeled “Caps Lock”, but it’s a control key on my systems :-)

    Other than that, this looks super awesome. Especially the average key use graphics!

  4. Very interesting. I too noticed the awkward wrist motions with the colemak layout and corrected it with training on typing technique. I move my whole hand to type certain keys. I do not let my fingers perpetually on the home row. It has been working ok, but i’ll certain give another look on your layout.

  5. I like your idea. Some people on the Colemak forum believe that stretching fingers inward isn’t too difficult, but I agree with you.

    To look at your layout holistically, it performs slightly worse than Colemak on nearly every measure, but only slightly. It performs a good deal better on reducing movement to the center columns. I don’t think it’s quite as good as Colemak, but it’s still better than most other layouts out there.

      • I also believe that the Colemak Layout is actually better than this layout because of the fluiditity of the way that everything moves with my hands. Everyone basically has a layout style that they prefer over another. Kinda like an affinity for a specific motion.

        The thing is that I actually completely agree on your point of focusing on the home keys and not the home row. Also about trying to avoid typing in the middle column. That is very important.

        The problem is for me at least that I don’t believe that the H alone is a big deal, even with the information stated above. The movement that I have to hit the H and type “HE” is actually very natural for me. It might be because I play musical instruments such as the Guitar and Piano, so I already have the flexibility with my fingers.

        Anyways, your research is very impressive and appreciated by me. I learned a lot and it definitely gave me more ideas on things that should be in Keyboard Layouts.

        Other info:

        I also was reading about TypeMatrix keyboards, I do believe that these should be the keyboard layout structure that we should be using.

        Also please consider switching back the lower left set back to ZXCV.

        • Hey Jonathan. I appreciate you commenting on my blog. Have you considered that maybe the reason why you perceive Colemak to be more fluid is that you’ve already gotten used to it and it’s ingrained in your muscle memory? I certainly do not think that Colemak is more fluid than Workman, instead it’s the other way around. However, we’re talking about perception here and it will vary between individuals. What we can do is to look at the design principles inherent to the layout and see if it makes sense. A defining feature of Workman is it’s emphasis on placing the most frequently used keys within the natural range of motion of the fingers. Your response seem to indicate that you agree with this approach. Colemak does not have such an emphasis. This, along with all the other advantages that I have laid out in the article, shows me that Workman would be the more fluid layout, at least on paper. My personal experience corroborates this. Another thing to think about is the fact that all keyboard layouts will have it’s share of difficult words. I find typing the word “YOU” awkward on Colemak, and that is a common word to type. Another big example again is the word “the” which is probably the most frequent word in English. You had said that it’s not a big deal to you. My question though is, is it better to type “THE” the Colemak way, or the Workman way? It is better the Workman way. On Workman, I really made it a point to make sure that the most commonly used words are very easy to type. I’m sure people will find awkward words to type on Workman as well. I do however believe that the principles I used in Workman keep those words to the more infrequent ones. Again thanks for commenting and I wish you the best on Colemak. If you ever decide to switch though do let me know. :)

      • That might be the case actually, that I already got used to the motion of Colemak. I actually find “you” to be a very nice combination for me. Maybe I’m just weird :D . I still type in QWERTY and in Colemak so it’s not a problem for me to learn another layout if it’s worth learning. Do you know any typing software that’s good to learn Workman?

        I love Master Key because it’s feature complete in regard to what I’m looking for.
        TypeFaster is pretty good as well, but I also dislike K-Touch.

        • Unfortunately, Workman is only a few weeks old so there’s not a lot of stuff for it yet. I’ve started working on K-touch training files so that’s probably the first one to go.

          I actually trained for Workman the old-school way and it’s quite effective. You could probably do the same. First I memorized where the letters are so I won’t have to look at the map. Then I typed “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” over and over and over again. Once I got to a reasonable speed, I started copying news articles or wikipedia articles. It was a really good way to learn.

      • I basically do the same thing as well in the sense that I use repetition. I also print out a copy of the layout and leave it close to me in case I need a reference without looking at my keyboard. I love to use Master Key though because it has excellent training and it lets me keep track of how I’m progressing. Thanks for your replies, and good luck with the layout.

  6. Fascinating! I stumbled upon this post via Wikipedia and thought it was a bit inappropriate to use a mere blog post as a citation, but now I see it was more than appropriate. It looks like you’ve nailed it. I use Dvorak, and it assumes everything on the home row is more comfortable, then the top row, then bottom row. That’s true, but your image of what is most comfortable for the fingers shows it’s not that simple. Especially for the little fingers, it’s not easy. But I didn’t mind because I switched from Qwerty. While Qwerty isn’t that bad when you type in such a way that you look at the keyboard as your hands hover over it, it’s a disaster for touch typing. The fingers are all over the place, and Dvorak remedies that. It seems that Workman is a superior layout.

    What really bothered me in my quest for keyboard mastery, is that no one seemed to care. The ‘Fable of the Keys’ is an article that is cited very often to dismiss the Dvorak layout, even though it rambles on and is poorly researched and poorly written. I kept reading over and over that more research is needed to prove if Dvorak is better. But how obvious is it that if your fingers move less, it’s better? Use your imagination. (Or just switch, the difference is huge for touch typing.)

    Other than layout, though, what also bothered me is not the layout, but the keyboard design. It’s asymmetrical. I haven’t really researched it but it seems this is something that started with typewriters and carried over to keyboard and never went away. It’s not a huge issue, but it doesn’t make any sense. What also bothered me was that the enter key is further away than the caps lock key… now how crazy is that? IMO, in your design, you should have made backspace the enter key, the enter key the backspace key, and shift-enter as escape. (Or from the Qwerty point of view: caps lock as enter key, enter key as backspace and shift-caps lock as escape.) But at least you noticed how wrong it is. On some European keyboard layouts the enter key is physically even further away!

    I read some of that stuff on reddit and someone pointed out something very interesting. Apparently it’s called “inboard stroke flow”. Movements with fingers going from little finger to index finger are easier than the other way around. This is what happens on Dvorak when typing ‘th’. T starts at the middle finger, then h with the index finger. ‘ht’ is less comfortable and slower because it moves from the index finger to the middle finger. So on your layout, it seems ‘th’ is less comfortable because t is typed with the index, and then h with the middle finger. I think t and h should be transposed because of this.

    • Hey Sitbon. Thank you for your encouraging comment. Regarding keyboard design, you are correct. I started using a grid keyboard just recently called the TypeMatrix 2020 and I think it’s great. The grid layout further augments the benefits that you get using Workman on a standard keyboard. It also has the Enter and Backspace keys in the middle for the strong index finger. People might ask, “Doesn’t that negate minimizing the use of the two middle columns?” My response is not necessarily, because the way we press the enter key is different than typing a letter key in that it’s not really part of the flow of a word. It’s more like a small pause. Also, it’s far enough that you can’t just twist your wrist to get to it. You have to move your entire arm. It’s certainly the lesser of two evils, the other one being having to reach it with your right pinkie. I think it’s very good. You should give it a look.
      Regarding inboard flow, I had read about it and it was a consideration in Workman’s design. It actually helped me in deciding how to place I and O. However, for T and H, the other factors involved outweighed the benefit of inboard flow especially since I believe those benefits lessen as the fingers get stronger which is the case for the index and the middle finger versus the pinkie and the ring finger.

      • I agree with the design of the keyboard and I think it is a big deal as well. It either matches or it’s greater than the design of the keyboard itself. I also bought a TypeMatrix keyboard, the 2030 model to be specific. It’s a wonderful keyboard and I can’t wait till it comes in the mail.

  7. Hi. Very interesting read. I’ve been using Colemak for the last two and a half years and I have to say, I’ve not noticed any problems. Maybe it is because I hover my hands above the keyboard and tend to move my entire arms. I know a lot of people like to have their wrists resting on the deck but this results in awkward stretching. I also deliberately practised angling my hands outward slightly so that my right index finger (for example) is in line with ‘J’ and ‘M’ on a QWERTY keyboard. Those things helped me anyway.

    You’re ideas are certainly interesting though. Your diagram of keys based on strain looks logical. I will be following developments from new users with interest.

    By the way, any chance of some more detail on what methods you used to create Workman, i.e. use of computer software, and how long you have been using it. Whether there are any other happy users would be interesting to know as well.


    • Hey there. I’m glad to hear that you haven’t had a problem with your wrists using colemak. But like you said, you’ve learned to cope with it and manage the risk yourself. The fact that one can cope with a deficiency does not mean that the deficiency is not there. QWERTY is a great example. Most people don’t realize how inefficient it is. Same goes for Dvorak’s right pinky usage. Moving to the middle column may not be difficult to some people because they’ve developed a way to manage it, but is it efficient? Is it ergonomic? Could it be better? I think it could, hence, the Workman Layout. The principle of ergonomics is to fit the job for the worker and not the worker for the job.

      Consider the letter D. Probably the easiest way to reach it in Colemak is moving your index finger sideways and twitching your wrist a little as the fulcrum. However, moving this way is rather awkward and might be harmful in the long run. So the way to manage it is to move the fulcrum farther away at the elbow, however you just made the movement bigger and the energy requirement larger. Compare that to moving your hand to reach with your ring finger. The motion is very small, very natural, very efficient.

      Even though you could manage it on Colemak, on Workman you need to do it significantly less. Why choose the hard way when there’s a better way? The gap between Workman and Colemak in terms of the usual metrics may be relatively narrow compared to QWERTY or even Dvorak, but i think in terms of ergonomics, the gap is pretty wide.

      Here’s a simplified description of the design process. first I had to sit down and really think of all the issues involved. What I realized is that it really isn’t an issue of what row the letters are on but rather what tile the letters are on in relation to the hand. Workman was designed with the hands in mind and not the rows. The rows almost don’t matter. Next, I established a framework or a set of guidelines and the diagram which i talked about in the article. Then comes the letter frequency analysis and visual analysis in which i placed most frequently used letters on the green boxes, then pink, then red, so forth. This is where Patrick’s visualizations really came into play. Then after that comes the fun part of moving the letters around within the same colored boxes as much as possible in order to achieve the best placement being mindful of bigram frequencies, inboard flow, strength of fingers, same finger utilization, same hand utilization, finger percentage, hand percentage, and other constraints. There’s no set order of importance to these factors it seemed. They varied from situation to another depending on which ones are clashing with one another. I used the two analyzers that i mentioned in the article and a java app called LetterFrequency to help me in analyzing digraph frequencies of any body of text. So in all, analysis and design was manual… the gruntwork involved was automated.

      User feedback: the final version is only a few days old so i don’t expect to hear from anybody for a while. However, i have a few friends who are really excited about it but they are nowhere as proficient as i am. I’ve been using Workman fulltime for 2 weeks now and i’m at 55wpm.

  8. What I think is very interesting is the criticism that Dvorak is actually such a good, well-researched layout for the English language, that you can’t easily come up with something better, and that thinking this new layout is improved is therefore misguided.

    What has made this layout possible is exactly what Dvorak did not have available to him in his time. The Dvorak layout was designed in 1936. I’m sure he would have loved ‘copy-pasting’ several famous books of the English language, running them through a ‘Keyboard Layout Analyzer’ and have several clear color-coded charts produced in just a single day.

    • Very well said. It’s amazing what common-folks like us could do these days. :) Hats off to project gutenberg and the guys who made those tools available.

  9. I completely disagree with you in the question of middle vertical column letters (t,y,g,h,v,b,n on qwerty) because pressing down the ‘h’ or ‘g’ (on qwerty) are the second easiest letters to type, right after the native home row position of the index and middle fingers. Typing anything with the ring and little finger has more adverse health effect than to type anything with the index finger as the ring and little finger share the same sinus, thus making them constantly move individually puts a great strain on them during normal typing. The more simple reason is the easy maneuverability of the index fingers. What I suspect is you either place your hands in an awkward position in the first place or you have a genetic predisposition or a past accident resulting your index fingers don’t move adequately. I definitely recommend broader research, in fact I’m going to write a program to test the speed of the fingers accessing different positions, that are not keypresses of a home position, and I’m 100% sure that anything (even diagonally) that are pressed by the index finger are significantly faster than anything else.

    • I completely disagree with you in the question of middle vertical column letters (t,y,g,h,v,b,n on qwerty) because pressing down the ‘h’ or ‘g’ (on qwerty) are the second easiest letters to type, right after the native home row position of the index and middle fingers.

      It’s ok to disagree if it fosters civil debate. I don’t mind that you disagree with me. I disagree with you. And there are others who disagree with you as well.

      Typing anything with the ring and little finger has more adverse health effect than to type anything with the index finger as the ring and little finger share the same sinus, thus making them constantly move individually puts a great strain on them during normal typing. The more simple reason is the easy maneuverability of the index fingers.

      Absolutely. I agree with you 100%. It is true that the pinky and ring fingers are a lot weaker than the middle and index fingers and that we shouldn’t make them constantly move individually. But who’s doing that? Does Workman really load the ring finger more than what’s reasonable? This objection of yours is based on a complete misrepresentation of Workman. To say that Workman makes the ring fingers move constantly individually is an obvious exaggeration and is patently false. In fact, I think that Workman is able to distribute the load between the fingers quite nicely based on their strengths… arguably better than the rest of them. You should compare Workman’s left ring finger usage to QWERTY and Dvorak’s right ring finger usage. And also Workman’s right pinky usage to Colemak’s. Besides being able to distribute the load between the fingers nicely, Workman also balances the load between the hands almost perfectly. Workman as it turns out is a very balanced layout.

      What I suspect is you either place your hands in an awkward position in the first place or you have a genetic predisposition or a past accident resulting your index fingers don’t move adequately.

      It’s fine if you suspect this however this doesn’t really prove or refute anything. Unless, you just want to argue that everyone who disagrees with you on this has genetically malfunctioning index fingers.

      I definitely recommend broader research, in fact I’m going to write a program to test the speed of the fingers accessing different positions, that are not keypresses of a home position, and I’m 100% sure that anything (even diagonally) that are pressed by the index finger are significantly faster than anything else.

      More research is always definitely a good thing. I think a program like that would be a great addition to the tools already available. However if you’re already sure 100% what results you’re going to get before you even begun testing, you just disqualified yourself from being an objective and unbiased researcher.

    • I completely disagree with you in the question of middle vertical column letters (t,y,g,h,v,b,n on qwerty) because pressing down the ‘h’ or ‘g’ (on qwerty) are the second easiest letters to type, right after the native home row position of the index and middle fingers. Typing anything with the ring and little finger has more adverse health effect than to type anything with the index finger as the ring and little finger share the same sinus, thus making them constantly move individually puts a great strain on them during normal typing. The more simple reason is the easy maneuverability of the index fingers. What I suspect is you either place your hands in an awkward position in the first place or you have a genetic predisposition or a past accident resulting your index fingers don’t move adequately. I definitely recommend broader research, in fact I’m going to write a program to test the speed of the fingers accessing different positions, that are not keypresses of a home position, and I’m 100% sure that anything (even diagonally) that are pressed by the index finger are significantly faster than anything else.

      I sort of disagree… I don’t think it matters at all how your hands are placed, folding the index fingers to hit keys is easier than reaching for keys. I mean all you do is bend the fingers, but when you reach you still need to move in the direction of those keys, because the index fingers aren’t long enough… I have medium-size hands.

      As for the ring and little finger, I think the little finger is just barely weaker, but I think it’s more important that the ring finger is longer so it can reach for the key above it’s home key, but it’s too long, like the middle finger, to fold. The little finger is too short to reach for the above key–AND it’s too small to fold comfortably. Obviously if you disagree with this you’d want a different layout.
      The ring finger is about the same size as the index finger, but the way hands bend to the inside are what changes this, the ring finger can then just as easily reach for the above key as the middle finger. But if your keyboard is different, or if you have a keyboard that is separated in such a way that your forearms and wrists don’t bend inside, a different layout would be more appropriate, as the ring finger would not easily reach for the above key, just like the index finger. I think it’s interesting how this is starting to open a can of worms. Asymmetry and angles in keyboards is something that has to be dealt with. The Workman layout assumes the regular asymmetry and staggered keys that are present in virtually all keyboards.

      But anyways. What I’ve learned is that the Dvorak layout is flawed. It’s not as simple as home row > top row > bottom row, but this may make things easier as it may accommodate more people. It may be flawed, but at least it isn’t Qwerty.

      I still think the ideas behind the Workman layout are valid… but it assumes things in how your fingers feel, so if you disagree, it may not be the best layout for you.

      To me, the index fingers fold the easiest, stretch above poorly, and reach sideways even worse. The middle fingers reach for the key above the home row the easiest, but fold badly (too long). The ring finger is weak and reaches nor folds properly, but with forearm and wrests bent inside, it reaches the best. On a non-staggered keyboard, it folds better than it reaches. (I can use the numpad to try this out.) The little finger pretty much sucks at everything, but I’d prefer it folds because I think my hands move less that way.

  10. heya,

    fascinating work! two comments pop into mind:
    – the awkward wrist movements shouldn’t happen if your typing technique is correct – only the fingers are doing the sideways movements, so typing ‘he’ on coleman shouldn’t hurt you…
    – and the comment about typing console commands on dvorak is entirely correct – it was designed for english texts, and I hate using it for bash. doesn’t work. workman seems much more appropriate.

    … however, it did take me some 3 months to become fluent in dvorak so i’m not sure i’m ready to switch yet. do you type more than one layout now?

    and thanks for stopping by on my blog post about dvorak ;)

    best, b

    • hey there. thanks. to answer your question. I have completely discarded QWERTY and type on Workman only. It’s been great so far. I just recently reached 68wpm after using it full time for a month now.

  11. Dear OJ Bucao,

    that seems to be really great stuff. I will definitly try out. I am really not satisfied with QWERTY and I was looking for a better solution. So I came along DVORAK, Colemak etc. Then I also stucked with the staggered columns and I was asking myself where does it come from, why is it used? I could not even imagine that the mechanical typewriter is the reason for…

    One remark: as you now use the TypeMatrix would this not (slightly) change the Key strain/difficulty rating? Anyway, I would not expect any huge changes for the layout.

    Thank you and best regards


    • Hey there thank you for your comment. You asked a very good question and you are correct. On a grid layout the middle 2 columns all become pink 3s. I think that’s pretty much it. All the benefits of Workman on a staggered keyboard are further augmented on a grid layout. The good thing is that I designed Wokrman with both styles in mind and it works really well on both. I hope you enjoy it.

      • Dear OJ Bucao,

        what do you think of bringing some of your insights to wikipedia, e. g. here:

        There is already a colemak section and I think in order to make workman spreading this might be a nice place.

        BTW: I just started the other day with workman and I am beginning to like it. Your SW also does not seem to have any problem under Linux or Windows.
        However I still have the QWERTY in my fingers… Will have to keep on using workman.

        Best regards


        • Hey anobo. I’m really glad to hear that you’re liking Workman. Keep up the good work! :)
          And thanks for your suggestion regarding Wikipedia. Unfortunately it would be unethical for me to post an entry since I’m the author of Workman. I also think that other people need to blog or write about Workman first before it would be deemed appropriate for Wikipedia. Basically there needs to be other sources of material besides the original. I really appreciate it though. If you would like to spread the word about it, please take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, Digg, or whatever social app you use. I think that’s the best way to spread the word at this point. There are these sharing links at the bottom of the article that you could use. Again, thanks for your support.

  12. Great article.

    Dvorak user myself, but I agree Dvorak does not go far enough to address ergonomic issues. I actually use a modified Dvorak layout, main thing being the keys ‘u’ and ‘i’ are switched (the most common letters should be, like you mentioned, on the ‘home keys’ rather than the ‘home row’).

    This simple switch of ‘i’ and ‘u’ keys brings the usage of the 8 home keys on Dvorak on par with that on Colemak. Here’s the results for War of the Worlds for example: (this is from my own analysis tool at

    But my main advice for people who are brave enough to move away form Qwerty, is to also change the physical keyboard by buying an ergonomic keyboard. *Kinesis contoured advantage keyboard* is what I use. Keys that are ‘hard’ to reach on a traditional keyboard are a lot easier on this keyboard: pinky keys, left bottom row, and the keys that would case the index finger to move laterally.

    • Hey thanks. Wow that’s a really detailed analysis tool that you have there. It would be interesting to see how Workman stacks up with the rest of them using your analysis tool. Would you mind trying it out?

      Also I’m curious, how are your right ring and pinky fingers on Dvorak? I’m interested in knowing if Dvorak users eventually acclimate to the higher loads or if it continues to be a bother.

      • There it is, click on all the sample texts, you’ll see the results for Workman.

        Anyone can add any layout to this tool, but I have set a 25 page limit on the dynamically analysed text.

        With my current ‘overall effort’ numbers, it doesn’t do better than Colemak, but I will try to add extra effort for striking the (qwerty) keys g and h, we’ll see if that makes a difference. The rest of the middle column is already more ‘expensive’ since the distance diagonally up/down is greater than the distance straight up/down.

        • Hey thanks a lot! This is really neat. I think it will do a lot better once you change your algorithm to include the horizontal and diagonal distances. You mentioned on your page that it does worse in other areas. Which ones do you think they are? The only one that I can see is the row jumping (hurdling) where Workman is about 0.5% higher than Colemak. To me this is an acceptable trade-off especially since Workman reduces sideways and diagonal movement by at most 50%.

      • There it is, have a look again
        Any horizontal movement now has 1 extra effort point.

        You can see how all figures are aggregated up into a single ‘overall layout effort’ here

        Based on that, now Workman scores better than Colemak on novel-type texts that you used yourself. It still scores worse on the modern Encarta and Wikipedia articles though.

        Funny enough, my DDvorak layout which has ENTER placed on the ’9′ position does even better now as the traditional layout ENTER has become more expensive, so now it gets the first spot on all texts.

      • About the right pinky finger on Dvorak, it’s not too bad. The thing is I don’t type Shift and Enter with that finger. Enter I’ve moved it on the ’9′ key, and I use only left Shift. Inspired by Colemak, I’ve moved backspace so that won’t require horizontal movement either.

        As for left Shift itself, it’s possible to move it on the left bottom row on Dvorak, replacing ‘;’, then on keyboards like TypeMatrix or Kinesis Contoured it will not require any horizontal stretch. On normal keyboards it’s not much of a stretch either.

        I would have liked to have both Shift keys on the bottom Ring finger. Unfortunately Dvorak has no spare space for that on the right side, whereas Colemak has no space on the left side.

        As for why Workman doesn’t always score better, it seems to be picking up more effort from using more of the left hand, same hand row jumps or same hand in reverse order, depending on the text, but I think mostly it’s because of the same finger keys which are consistently almost double on Workman compared to Colemak, also worse than Dvorak though the difference is not as big.

        • No. I don’t think same hand has any effect on it at all nor is the use of the left hand. I think it’s got more to do with the length of the sample text. What I’ve noticed is that if the sample text is short, Workman is sometimes at a disadvantage against Colemak. It seems that the benefits of reducing the middle 2 columns is not immediately apparent. Since Workman doesn’t care about rows specifically, it utilizes some top and bottom row keys more, which incurs distance. This makes sense. The 2 middle columns (side and diagonal movements) also incur distance but for some reason it doesn’t seem to be immediately noticeable. The interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that the longer the text (which is analogous to you typing more), the usage of the middle row starts taking it’s toll. I think this is why you see Workman having the advantage almost all the time on really long bodies of texts. If this is true, Workman’s advantage seem to increase exponentially instead of linearly in relation to the length of text. This means then that over the course of your lifetime, the longer you type, the benefits of Workman just keeps increasing. The more you type, the more it pulls away from the pack. It’s not unlike a sprint runner running against a marathon runner. If the race is short, the sprinter has the advantage. But if the race is long, it’s the marathon runner that wins. Typing for a lifetime I think is a marathon.

          Where could I get the same texts that you’ve used on your analysis tool? I would like to run these texts using the analyzers that I’ve used.

          UPDATE: This hypothesis does not seem to be correct as ARadley has pointed out below.

    • It can’t be the length, if one layout is better at 10 short texts individually, it will be better at typing them together too.

      If it was some statistical difference caused by the shorter length you would expect it do randomly do better or worse, but that doesn’t seem the case. I have added some news stories and some blog posts (it’s about 50-100 printed pages – so it’s not a very small text), I now have 4 different non-novel texts and the results are consistent between all of them. Try for example to copy everything on this page and run it through my analyser and other ones. I get similar results when running this page:

      Improvement in pinky effort over Dvorak. Improvement in index finger effort over Colemak. But this seems to be counterbalanced by other things:

      same finger
      Qwerty 3.4 %
      Dvorak 1.8 %
      Colemak 1.3 %
      Workman 2.0 %

      same hand and jumping a row
      Qwerty 8.5 %
      Dvorak 0.9 %
      Colemak 1.1 %
      Workman 1.7 %

      same hand and in reverse order
      Qwerty 14.2 %
      Dvorak 8.0 %
      Colemak 13.8 %
      Workman 15.1 %

      This suggests the effort increases overall compared to Colemak. Now, I agree this does not necessarily means it’s a worse layout, for example when carrying things, one would happily exchange an unbalanced backpack for a slightly heavier but balanced backpack.

      • I did a quick test and you seem to be correct about my length hypothesis. I used War of the Worlds and divided it into 100 pieces. Each piece tested with Workman slightly on top. Right now my earlier hypothesis from 2 comments ago is not working so I will recant my statement. :) However I still don’t think that same hand and same finger, or even jumping a row affect the overall calculated effort. I think theyire unrelated because how you press the keys should have no bearing on the overall distance. I’m more inclined to think now that it’s because of the fluctuations in the letter frequencies of different bodies of text. They don’t always conform to the overall average. I designed Workman precisely on the available average frequencies and since it is very opinionated on where to place the letters, any deviation to that readily affects it. When I initially designed Workman, I actually expected it to do worse on all texts because it utilizes the top and bottom rows more. I was pleasantly surprised that it actually does better on a lot of texts. However my initial expectation still holds true for other texts I suppose. Workman may do slightly worse on others in terms of overall distance. However, I think that Workman’s emphasis on balance, comfort and ergonomics make it the better layout, and the fact that its metrics is on par with Colemak’s is just icing on the cake.

      • Trying to be fair to your layout, I have added a new metric to my layout analysis called ‘effort imbalance’.

        The ‘overall effort’ is an attempt to aggregate key presses, distance, and everything else (including finger strength) into a single score. As mentioned, your layout does slightly worse than Colemak and slightly better than Dvorak.

        The ‘effort imbalance’, on the other hand, measures whether effort is fairly distributed between fingers.

        You can see that with the current effort algorithm, yours is the only layout that has achieved a better balance than Qwerty (Dvorak and Colemak are more imbalanced than Qwerty).

        • Hey thanks a lot. This analyzer is very comprehensive. I really appreciate all your work on this and also your thoughts on my layout. Looking at the total effort for your grand mix of text, I’m very satisfied with Workman’s result even if it came in second place against Colemak. The difference is only 0.3% and this makes me happy. This tells me that I have achieved my goal of what I think is a more elegant placement of letters while still retaining comparable metrics to Colemak with reasonable trade-offs.

          I also think I found what’s causing Colemak to be on top on some texts in terms of overall distance. It is the difference between the letters ‘H’ and ‘R’. I based Workman on ETAOIN SHRDLU…, which is generally regarded as the approximate order of English letters based on their frequencies. It puts H before R. I noticed that if the text doesn’t follow this order exactly and the frequency order of H and R gets reversed (R is more frequent than H) Colemak usually comes on top.

          Oh also, just to let you know, I added your tool to the list of analyzers above at the end of the article.

  13. Also, this are my comments regarding your “Keys graded based on strain/difficulty”. Please do not take this as criticism, as I’ve mentioned I do very much agree with the main points of your article.

    1. Left hand fingers should be slightly more expensive than corresponding right hand fingers, even on home keys. This is according to Dvorak’s initial principles, which the Colemak layout also adheres to.

    2. Index, Middle & Ring finger – you have the left index moving diagonally down as more expensive than the right one doing the same. Fair enough, on conventional keyboards the key is further away on the left hand. But for rest of the bottom row, marked ’2′, ’3′ and ’4′, you have the same values on both hands. This goes against the stated goals of your layout. Because of the way keys are staggered, and people keeping their hands at a slight angle to the keyboard, left bottom row requires awkward horizontal moves (from home key position), but the bottom right keys do not (or at least not as much).

    3. SHIFT keys should be assigned an effort value. They are common and have one of the worst position on the keyboard. Without this, the effort algorithm is seriously understating pinky effort.

    • I think those are all very good points. Part of Workman’s design goals is to balance the load between the hands so I didn’t prefer the right to the left or vice versa. I think this is the right way to go because say if you preferred the right hand over the left. For right handed people it seems to make sense, however you have to remember that even if the right hand is their strongest, they use the right hand a lot more for other things (pushing buttons, mousing, etc.) so reducing the load slightly will still be helpful. You also get into the problem of left handed people having a more difficult time with it since you optimized the layout for their weaker hand. So I think balancing it out is a win win situation for everybody.

      Regarding the strain/difficulty map, I see what you’re saying about the bottom row and you’re correct. It does make a difference but I think it’s small and we’d have to go to a 1-10 scale maybe instead of 5 to more accurately reflect the minute differences. However, that would make it unnecessarily complicated in my opinion. The diagram was really intended to be more of an approximation to help in the design and it’s not the only consideration so I don’t think it’s a big deal. However you’re correct in your observation.

      Regarding the SHIFT key. Again, you’re correct. I took that into consideration designing Workman by trying to minimize the load on the pinkies as much as possible (in light of other factors) exactly for this reason. The pinkies despite being among the weakest are some of the hardest working fingers on the keyboard and I didn’t like that. However, on a standard keyboard, there really is no true layout solution. Like you said, you’d have to really use a different keyboard for a more complete solution.

      Thanks a lot for your constructive comments. I really appreciate it.

  14. Dear OJ Bucao, dear A Radley,

    overall outstanding results for Workman. Thank you for sharing it.

    No reason to stop… I am getting used to it…
    What I struggle most is o and i. I hit almost the other one…

    I am using gtypist, which is good for me as long as I use the rather advanced sessions.

    Best regards


    • @mdskinner Thank you very much and welcome aboard! Very glad to hear from you. I think an official site is a great idea. I’ll probably create one in a few months when I’m not too busy with other things. Regarding VIM, if you don’t mind, please let us know once you remap your keys so I can post a link here somewhere. I think a lot of people will find that extremely useful… including myself. :) Thanks again!

  15. I applaud your work on this. You are right that distance travelled is inadequate on its own as a measure of effort. However, I think it’s difficult to make accurate generalisations about what finger movements different people find easy or not. I suspect that whether people find the Workman layout better than Colemak is dependent on their hand anatomy.

    I agree that the asymmetric staggering of normal keyboards is ridiculous, but it does work in favour of the right hand, helping to prevent ulnar deviation. Kills the left hand though. I think the ideal keyboard would allow both wrists to stay straight with the fingers moving back/forward in line with the forearm. On a single-piece keyboard that means an inward stagger on both sides is needed. Unless the board is wide enough to place the hands at shoulder width.

    Take a look at the TrulyErgonomic keyboard. I think it handles this problem even better than the Typematrix boards. I’ll (try to) avoid making this sound like a sales pitch, but I think it’s a brilliant step forward. I’ve pre-ordered one and I really hope it successfully goes into production as planned.

    • @Rajagra That is indeed interesting. Thanks for the info.
      It looks like Workman would be great on it too.
      Unfortunately, I can’t afford to purchase one right now just to try it out.
      Let me know how it goes though. Thanks.

      Also, I agree with you when you mentioned that movement should be back/forward inline with the arm.
      This is exactly what Workman tries to maximize at the layout level.
      Thanks for taking your time to comment.

  16. Very interesting work. I have found recently about and alternative finger positioning (for the traditional QWERTY layout, see and wondered whether such an approach would be useful in other layouts like workman. Of course the finger distances and effort would change but perhaps this positioning (or an alternative one) would make these layouts even better. It seems that up to some point this approach can be comparable with a change of the keyboard itself (like using an ergonomic keyboard, because of the more natural finger positioning).

    I would like to know if you have any comments concerning this.

    • @bob, I think somebody has told me about this before but the person forgot where he saw it. It is a very interesting way of trying to mitigate the shortcomings of QWERTY. However, I find it a little confusing as to how you’re supposed to type with it i.e. which fingers to use for G and H and also B. Also the pinky finger ends up with more keys to worry about. In general I think the best way is to switch to a different layout rather than changing the method of typing. Thanks for the info though.

    • I’ll try test it and post the results when I get a chance. I have tried this before and it wasn’t that great. I found the typing flow very awkward. However, feel free to use Patrick’s analyzer and ARadley’s analyzer to do your own testing.

  17. @OJ Bucao and @A Radley

    Since I need to type in english and spanish, I have tried A Radley’s analysis tool with some texts in spanish like Cervante’s, El Quijote or García Marquez, Cien años de Soledad and have found that Workman layout is closely behind Colemak in finger distance, but is far better with respect to the effort imbalance measure. Actually the difference is larger than in english. Comparing with QWERTY (which is almost the same in spanish keyboards) Workman is twice as better. This makes Workman a great choice for spanish as well (it could probably be improved changing the position of h that is not used as often as in english but overall the distribution of keys seems to be still quite appropriate).

      • Yes, for day to day typing i use much more spanish (my mother language). Nevertheless I type in english more academic texts.

        • Hi,

          I speak English and Portuguese.
          What I find horrible with Colemak is that A and O are under the pinkies.
          This is too bad for latin language speakers.

          I find QGMLWY excellent because the most used vowels in Portuguese: E, A and O are very well located. In particular, no vowels under the pinkies.

          I’ve created some config files for Linux. You can find in the CarpalX website.
          I’ve also created an emulation config for the wonderful Miniguru keyboard.
          See post #26 here:

          I hope it helps

  18. I switched to workman, after a short stretch of dvorak, looking for a layout that would reduce stress in arms and shoulders. Being able to type blind made switching pretty easy! The first week is kinda frustrating, but after that it is a breeze, I am almost up to speed, though I still have to concentrate when typing.

    I started with repetitions on the home row – just an hour – followed by memorizing the full layout. And then I went cold turkey.

    It works great, even for programming. In fact, I remapped vim, essentially improving use by reducing the number of movements.

    Initially finding the ‘d’ was hard, for me, as well as ‘w’. I am not sure it is not better switching it with ‘w’, so the latter is in the qwerty location. ‘d’ is more common, so it would be more natural on the long middle finger. Currently I mistake ‘b’ and ‘v’ too often, and sometimes ‘j’. Note these are far away keys. But, really, that is all!

    It is worth the effort, considering I have at least 20 years of typing left.

    Thanks Lucian! Great job.

    • @Pjotr, hey welcome aboard! I am very glad it is working out for you. Just like you, I switched cold turkey and practiced the old fashioned way. It does take some patience but it eventually pays off. It took me about 3 weeks to get to my QWERTY speed which is around 75wpm. Keep up the good work! You’re doing a great job!

      Hopefully someday, we’ll have typing tutors available for Workman. I started working on one for KTouch but I had to put it off due to other responsibilities.

      Oh and by the way my name is OJ. ;)

    • FYI: I just released Workman-P (Workman for Programmers). Hopefully you’ll find it useful. I switch to it when I’m programming, then I switch back to regular Workman when I’m just doing normal typing.

  19. @ OJ Bucao. I have been trying Workman for the last three days. At the beginning the progress was very slow but i’m starting to see improvement and it really feels much more comfortable than QWERTY. Hopefully speed will improve in the coming weeks.

    I have a comment: Using Workman for Mac (downloaded past week) I noticed that when Cap’s Lock is active, the capital “I” key seems to be wrong and i get an “O”. It works OK if you only use I, though. I am not sure about other keys, I have not checked them all but they seem to be ok. Hope you can fix this.. btw the windows version works correctly.

    Great to know about Workman-P, I will give it a try with latex. Are you planning to release Mac/Windows versions?

    Thanks a lot!

    • Hey bob. Thanks for letting me know. Somebody else made the mac version since I don’t use a mac but I’ll go ahead and take a look when I get a chance. And yes, I’m planning on releasing Workman-P for Mac and Windows.

      Also, since you’re at it, could you test something for me? I noticed on my virtual machine that shortcuts for the Windows version are mapped to QWERTY instead of Workman. Is this happening for you?

      • Yes, you are right. I am using Windows XP and the shortcuts are mapped to QWERTY. I didn’t notice before since up to know I’m tryng Workman only to practice. But since my keyboard is QWERTY and fingers are used to the position of some shortcuts it seems appropriate to have the shortcuts mapped that way.

        I haven’t checked the shortcuts in the Mac version yet.

        • @bob It’s interesting that I haven’t gotten any complaints about it. I wonder if this is an “accidental feature” that people actually like i.e. having the shortcut keys mapped to QWERTY.

        • @bob Workman-Mac has been fixed. Thank you for finding this bug. I think what I will do about the Windows version is to create one that maps to Workman and leave the old one that maps to QWERTY and have people decide on which one they want. There might be people out there who actually likes the shortcuts mapped to QWERTY.

          • @OJ Bucao Thanks! Workman for Mac is OK now. Concerning the shortcuts I like them mapped to QWERTY (at least until I get very proficient in Workman or if I could change the keyboard labels, which by now is impossible). The problem is that for shortcuts I usually change the hand position (fingers at home row) used to type and is mainly in this position that I remember the Workman layout easily.

            Nevertheless the Mac version shortcuts are correctly mapped to Workman so I will see if its easy to get used to them.

  20. Your layout is very comfortable to type on so far, but I can’t accurately judge it until I have used it for a good 6 months. I suspect there will be some annoyances that creep up at higher typing speeds, but that is true of every layout. Anyway, I am looking forward to getting better acquainted with the Workman layout.

    For what it’s worth, I have become proficient at one time or another on 4 different keyboard layouts, getting to at least 60 WPM on each of them, and breaking 100 WPM one of them. Dvorak is my current layout, and have been typing it for about 4 years.

    It would be nice to see a dedicated website for the Workman and Workman-P layouts. A blog makes it harder to take seriously, and having a forum would be quite inspiring to others who want to learn the layout because people can post their progress and successes there.

    Thanks your your great work on this layout.

    • @bsdhacker Wow 4 layouts is quite an accomplishment. What you said is true about all layouts having problems. I have made a conscious decision on the sacrifices that I was willing to give up on Workman in exchange for benefits that I felt outweighed the disadvantages. I hope that it will work out for your needs in the same way that it does for me.
      Thank you for your suggestion about a website and a forum. I am taking all these suggestions seriously.

      • @OJ Bucao: Excellent! For the time being, I’ll just post my progress (or lack thereof) in this blog. Out of curiousity, how long have you been typing Workman, and what is your average typing speed? And don’t worry about me making conclusions based on your results. It took me a full year before I felt perfectly comfortable with Dvorak. It’s not easy learning a new layout, especially if you’ve been typing on the same layout for decades.

        • @bsdhacker No problem. I’ve been using it full-time for about 2 months now. Last time I tested myself (about 2 weeks ago), I was able to get 72wpm. I think I hover around 60-70 wpm. I think my old QWERTY speed was around the same. I used to be able to reach 80 if I forced myself. I don’t use QWERTY anymore at all.

          • Wow, 70 WPM after only 2 months is impressive. I don’t think I’ve picked up any layout that quickly.

            As of today (Day 1) I’m hovering at about 20 wpm on Workman. I hope to increase that speed by an average of 6 wpm per week.

          • Lol thanks. I’m not going anywhere though since I’ve already reached my plateau. Let us know how it goes for you. Btw, are you using bsd for your os?

      • Hi,
        I’m a 70+ year old, ex-UK, two finger typist, wanting to learn touch typing for the fourth time (beginning with real typewriters). So I start by researching everything I can find about keyboard layouts and their ergonomics and efficiencies/speeds.

        Question 1: Any comments on the Maltron mapping, which was supposed to to beat Dvorak in speed as well as ergonomics, but was pre-Workman/Colemak?

        Question 2: Has anyone tried any ‘mind games’ (psycho-cybernetics?) for experimenting with alternate layouts? If you wanted to be able to switch layouts freely (while measuring your progress in each), bsdhacker and others could try a very different keyboard for each layout, as opposed to a re-mapping, have each keyboard a different color, deliberately use a different chair, or chair settings, or desk position, room lighting/color, play different music, burn different incense, stick your left foot in cold water for qwerty (!), etc. etc. That’s kind of like Pavlov’s dog. After you did that for a while, I think your brain would not need those external stimuli. Has anyone done that before, maybe for practicing other parallel skill sets?

  21. I use FreeBSD on my laptop and my home server. I use Arch Linux everywhere else. I love them both, but for very different reasons.

  22. Progress update:
    Top speed: 36 wpm
    Avg speed{ 32 wpm

    (End of day 3) It appears I am making good progress despite coming from Dvorak. I am liking the layout more and more. Now I just need a good sofution for vim. The placement of the ‘J’ key makes it hard to use vim without remapping keys. Maybe I’ll create a completely custom mapping.

  23. Wow, what a huge amount of work here. Excellent job. Of all the ‘alt’ keyboards this is the one I’d actually try!

  24. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to practice much the past few days (due to work), so my skills have regressed slightly, but I am still going.

    I am really happy with how well balanced the finger load is. Unlike layouts like Colemak, the index fingers aren’t overloaded. I believe this will work in favor of faster typing speeds – you won’t get bottle-necked on the index fingers.

  25. @arne Thank you very much for the invitation. Unfortunately I will not be able to participate due to my lack of the following: spare time, knowledge of python, knowledge of German. I’m leaving your comment up in case others are interested. Best of luck to you guys!

  26. For sample Vietnamese with Telex input, Workman has an advantage over Dvorak and Colemak.

    An analysis of what you typed seems to indicate that the best layout for you is: Workman*

    Distance Your Fingers Traveled While Typing

    Layout Name Meters

    Workman 258.5497
    Dvorak (Simplified) 260.5964
    Colemak 275.9800
    Capewell 273.9979
    Arensito (Simplified) 276.9887
    Personalized Layout (see below) 232.0206

  27. I tried creating a “programmer’s” version of the layout using Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator 1.4 but was able to only intorchange the numbers with the symbols – CANNOT interchange the square with the curly brackets.
    Could you please create a Windows version of the “programmer’s” layout.

  28. Q:0.095 W:2.360 F:2.228 P:1.929 G:2.015 J:0.153 L:4.025 U:2.758 Y:1.974
    A:8.167 R:5.987 S:6.327 T:9.056 D:4.253 H:6.094 N:6.749 E:12.702 I:6.966 O:7.507
    Z:0.074 X:0.150 C:2.782 V:0.978 B:1.492 K:0.772 M:2.406

    8.336 8.497 11.337 11.963 7.760 7.019 13.180 15.460 8.940 7.507
    (19.723) (20.199)
    (47.893) (52.106)

    (52.236) (47.763)
    (18.683) (15.901)
    8.336 10.730 14.487 14.198 4.485 2.899 13.002 15.460 9.436 6.966

    Q:0.095 D:4.253 R:5.987 W:2.360 B:1.492 J:0.153 F:2.228 U:2.758 P:1.929
    A:8.167 S:6.327 H:6.094 T:9.056 G:2.015 Y:1.974 N:6.749 E:12.702 O:7.507 I:6.966
    Z:0.074 X:0.150 M:2.406 C:2.782 V:0.978 K:0.772 L:4.025


  29. Just want to comment and say that this layout looks very promising. I’ve been trying to learn Colemak but it’s hurting my right wrist a little bit already. Perhaps it’s the pinky use (O) that I never had in QWERTY( I use ring finger for p most of the time).

    I agree 100% about index finger folding vs ring finger stretching. I’ve been making a WASD FPS controller and that is a key part of the design. I’ll be watching closely to see how people progress with Workman.

  30. Workman is turning out very positively for me so far. I’ve been typing Workman an home and Dvorak at work, in an attempt to maintain my Dvorak muscle memory, but it has made my Workman progress a bit slower. My highest so far is 49 WPM on a 2-minute test at While my Dvorak speeds have taken a hit, I still clock in over 80 WPM (previously peaked at 105 WPM).

    By the time I got this far into each of the other layouts I have learned, several glaring problems had surfaced. So far, I haven’t found any in Workman that really bother me… a good sign.

  31. @OJ Bucao:

    We really need a good wiki and forumn set up for the Workman layouts. I’d be happy to host one if you would like.

    • :D We will. And thanks for the offer to host. I think I’m gonna decline but I’ll let you know if I change my mind. And thanks for your enthusiasm.

  32. Just to tell I am happy with Workman and left QWERTY in the bin. It feels very comfortable and typing speed is at the same level after a month. Together with a Maxim split keyboard my arms and shoulders are less stressed when typing text, or programming.

    Not looking back, and thanks again.

  33. I started looking around seriously for another keyboard lay-out in the last few days. I started studying IT since half a year and I believe that I will use a laptop for several hours a day.

    For this reason I wouldn’t believe it is smart to stay at the QWERTY-layout and start digging up information about other lay-outs on the internet. The first I met was Dvorak, and I directly printed out a paper with the key layout on it and started typing. After an hour I got myself up from 4-5 to 10-12 WPM. I looked around some more to get some help on starting to learn a new lay-out and also came across Colemak and Workman, both of these sound a lot better for me then either Dvorak or QWERTY.

    I would really like to know what would be better to go for speed-typing, are there any results out there from the possiblities of Workman.

    In QWERTY, which i still use at the moment I reach an avarage of 90-100 with peaks of 120 WPM, I think I will learn a new lay-out quickly but wonder if it is possible to accumulate such results with Workman, because else I don’t think it is worth to invest the time to learn it.

    • I personally think that the layout is not what hinders speed. I think it’s more cognitive. QWERTY is a very inefficient layout so you would think that people will type slower but there’s a lot that do type extremely fast. I think it will be up to you to get fast on a new layout. What has helped me is forgetting QWERTY and using only Workman. I now type as fast on Workman as I did with QWERTY. I think the most important difference is even though I type as fast, my hands are less tired.

      • With a lot of reading on the inet I decided to go for Colemak, I started 2 days ago and now reach 25-30 WPM, there are still some words who don’t feel natural at all to type (ex. you) which do look easier in Workman. I’ve bookmarked this page and will check once in a while to see any news which might convince me to learn it.

  34. Thanks for conducting this study so i dont have to:) Assigning a finger-key difficulty grade is a good approach, but I was wondering if you researched the nerves that sense the pain it the arm/hand and consider it in the grading.

    This is important because if you manage to hurt the pinky you would feel pain in the ring finger as well. You can probably attest to this considering your difficulty of frequently typing “you” on Colemak.

    In short, I would’ve graded the outside keys on the home row a bit higher, maybe adding 0.5 to each. Would that affect the final layout?

    • One of the challenges of designing a great keyboard layout is choosing which assumptions you feel will benefit you (and as many other people as possible) the most. Mr. OJBucao decided that horizontal stretching is what causes people the most strain, and designed the layout to minimize lateral movement. Keyboard layouts are extremely subjective. What is good for one person, may not be so great for another. You may want to look at the CarpalX project. It will let you create an “optimal” keyboard layout based on several parameters, one of which is a weighted key stroke effort by finger or key.

    • @olegmeister Hey thanks for checking out workman. I must say that I didn’t research the nerves in the arm/hand since I dont have any medical background. However I did take into consideration the fact that the load must be reduced for the pinky and the ring finger. As you would see the finger load tapers as the fingers get weaker. I dont think the layout will change much as it is constrained by other factors. Even if we further reduced the load on the pinky or ring finger, other things will have to be sacrificed. As I’ve said before, it’s much like playing with a water balloon. You squeeze on one side, it bulges on another. The trick is to balance things out. I think workman is as balanced as it could be taking all the factors into consideration.

    • Also my recommended solution to further reduce the load on the pinky is to get a different keyboard altogether. I personally use a typematrix where the backspace and enter keys are in the middle. This greatly reduced the load on the pinky for me.

  35. What would happen if you added a button that would toggle the keyboard layout on the fly? Perhaps if the space bar was split in two and you could use the left thumb to switch the layout, you would have access to sixteen keys on the home keys. A footpedal may be better.

    • @atosci Hey there. Some keyboards actually do this already. I know that the Typematrix does it for Dvorak. Hopefully someday, they’ll do it for Workman. :) There are also keyboards that are programmable so you can program whatever layout you want and then toggle it with a press of a button.

  36. This is a very interesting looking layout. I’ve been using Dvorak for over 6 months now. I find it more comfortable and the fact that it is bundled with every OS means I can (almost) always switch to it when on someone else’s computer. I haven’t tried your layout files yet, but does it require admin rights on Mac/Linux/Windows to use them? If so, a portable flash drive version might be useful (I have heard that something like that can be done with AutoHotkey for Windows, but I’m not sure about Mac/Linux, which are my main OSes). I would love to give Workman a go, but without portability, I’m not sure I could really commit to it.

    Regardless of whether or not I use it, excellent job with all the work you put into it.

  37. Interesting layout. Looks like you put a lot of effort into it. Unfortunately, I absolutely loathed using Colemak and found it very uncomfortable and with Workman based on it, I am very hesitant to try it.

    I never learned how to touch type qwerty with any real speed so when I learned Dvorak I didn’t have to relearn any keys and the closeness to qwerty that Colemak and and some other alternate layouts have were of no use to me. I use custom gestures on my trackpad for cut/copy/paste so when I don’t have my hands on the keyboard it makes no difference where the keys are to me and when I am touch typing the zxcv layout was of no use to me.

    Honestly I don’t think rating layouts by meters is as important a measure since not all the distance traveled by the fingers will be equal in the stress they cause. I love the feel of Dvorak with its alternating, almost rolling motion and can type all day with no discomfort but that is my own experience and while I do some coding, I am mostly writing english.

    That said, it is a personal preference and I understand not everyone will have the same experience. The important thing is that people use a keyboard layout, regardless of what it is, that was designed with actual effective, fast and ergonomic typing in mind and doesn’t do stupid things like waste a home row key on a freaking semi-colon.

  38. Is there still an active forum for this somewhere? The link listed is dead. I’m a fan and new Workman user and would love to connect to the community. Thanks for all of your work on this.

    • Hey beknoll. Unfortunately, I had to kill the forum. It was up for several months but there was only a handful of comments from a couple of people and it got inundated with spam. It got more spam per day than I could manage effectively. Maybe someday in the future we’ll try again when I have more time to spend on it. In the meantime, i hope you enjoy Workman. I use it everyday and I’m very happy with it.

  39. Hi,
    How long have you been using your layout, and what is your current speed? Also how do you rate your layout in terms of comfortableness especially when you get started, and when you one reaches his average speed?

    • Hey Jack. I haven’t tested myself recently. Last time I did so was about 4 – 6 weeks into it and I was doing 70 – 80 wpm. I think I slowed down a bit now since I no longer type long paragraphs on a regular basis.

  40. I am a programmer with ~100 WPM on QWERTY (obviously hoping for faster) and I’ve decided to commit to trying out the Workman. I’m using an autohotkey virtual keyboard to help learn.
    The downside to the Workman for my purposes is that it is not available by default on Windows or Linux (maybe it’s too new and not marketed whereas Dvorak is accessible.) I think it would be a good idea if there was an autohotkey script for this so installation is not required; Colemak is distributed this way too.

    For some reason when I use Control + C, V, etc the QWERTY keys are being used. Is this the intention of the installation or specific to my Dell Windows?

    I will be keeping track of my progress.

    • Firstly, the QWERTY distance for all the books combined is wrong?

      I’ve been using predominantly Workman for close to 3 months now. I make quite a lot of mistakes when type racing, but in a proper test my best is ~80 WPM with very few mistakes.
      I practise on
      Switching between Qwerty and Workman immediately is not a problem with casual tasks like browsing and terminal commands, but trying to use both for fast typing within a small time period doesn’t work (for me, at least so far) – my hands/brain get confused and I mix up the layouts when I don’t type a word completely from muscle memory.
      For example, after my 3-minute 82 WPM test with Workman, I couldn’t get more than 70 WPM on Qwerty within 10 minutes (then I gave up).

      I’ve been used QWERTY for maybe 8 years (and I am still a teenager), so I do think its possible for my Workman to get to 100 WPM if I keep using it predominantly – I have a lot of muscle memory to learn yet. Given I started at 100 WPM with Qwerty, I’d want 120 WPM from any alternative layout – Here’s where I have doubts for Workman:
      - Workman’s distance analysis is about the same as Dvorak and Colemak. While distance is related to work/effort, I don’t believe it’s highly correlated with speed. In particular, Workman has a high SHU (supposedly justified by having more sweeping combos), whereas Dvorak has high hand alteration so you can prepare one hand while the other types. I have no evidence whatsoever as I only know Qwerty/Workman, but from heuristics I suspect that high hand alteration is actually superior for typing speed: I can explain my reasoning but its by no means impressive; the short version is just that high hand alteration is consistent, whereas combos overall impede speed when the SHU isn’t a sweep. An example: formal (reliable) typing tests have a lot of grammer and capitals in them – when they appear consistently you can’t get a continuous flow and you may never get bursts of 120 WPM to bring your slower parts to an average of 100 WPM. Consistency may be favourable here. Another example could be when you’re typing a random sequence.
      - Workman has emphasis on reducing stress/work when typing. With some common reasoning as above, Dvorak could indeed require more work, more stress, more awkwardness. But that doesn’t actually make it slower. Reducing the middle column for example is not a design that I would say improves speed. I’m also still not used to Workman’s left hand ring finger emphasis, it makes my hand tired sometimes. That said, if stress/effort was the most important factor (it isn’t for me because I’m young) then Workman might still be superior to Qwerty on speed.

      Maybe my hope of achieving 120 WPM is just unnecessary and unrealistic.

      • Thank you very much for your thoughtful analysis. I think i agree with your assessment in that layouts do not matter in speed. This is proven by all the Qwerty speed record holders. I’ve been typing on Workman exclusively for a full year now and i can say that i am not faster than when i typed in qwerty. However i can also say with full certainty that it has been a lot easier on my hands and wrists. I used to require wearing wrist braces everyday but ever since i switched to Workman I have never needdd it. My wrist pains are completely gone. The reduction of middle movement was in order to provide wrist relief and not speed. I think it is possible to achieve similar speeds on any layout but the strain on your hands will be different. Regarding the left ring finger, i felt the same as you in the beginning but I don’t notice it anymore. Dvorak has very high right ring finger utilization but users end up getting used to it. In all Workman’s advantage is really on ergonomics because you can be as fast on any layout if you really go for it. (typed on qwerty via my mobile)

  41. Hi OJ Bucao

    You had me convinced and I’m trying your layout now.

    I’ve tried dvorak, but I really couldn’t bare with the L, S, F and punctuations.

    Let see how it goes.

    Problem with Workman on Windows 7 64 bits:
    Ctrl+C – it works like Ctrl+V
    Ctrl+V – does something else.

    • Hi

      I’ve just switched from Dvorak (after nearly 5 years) to Workman as of yesterday. I also had this issue (using Win7 64-bit also, though I don’t think it’s specific to that) which I resolved last night. I made my own keyboard layout using the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator (MSKLC) and mapped all the keys over but that program does not move over the virtual key assignments. Once I had created and installed the layout DLL file with MSKLC, I used KLM32 to make the virtual key assignment match the new letters, so shortcuts like Ctrl-V and Win-E work again.

      On a related note, I also kept the plus/minus and bracket keys swapped like Dvorak, as this seems better to me (minus is then closer to real keys, as it used in normal text, and then all bracket type functions are grouped together). I swapped the shift states for braces and numbers (I *never* use the number row to type numbers), and mapped the vast majority of non-keyboard symbols to the alt-grip function of most keys. May as well have as much at my finger-tips as possible. Sure beats holding down alt and entering ASCII codes!

  42. Ok, I wrote the… bitching, for lack of a more accurate term, about the ‘Difficulty Map’ first and the suggestions second. Then I reordered it before posting. Figured it would go over better if you read the suggestions first.

    Suggestion 1: Provide a portable solution. Colemak already has files for Portable Keyboard Layout (, and a online Qwerty to Colemak converter. Nothing sucks more than switching layouts, then being forced to use a qwerty locked machine.

    Suggestion 2: Workman + Wide Mod. We discussed the wide mod for Colemak a while back at the Colemak forum. ( The purpose is to give a bit more space between the hands on the keyboard. It looks something like this. (home keys capped)

    qdrwb jfup;[]
    ASHTg yNEOI’
    zxmcv kl,./

    Workman + Wide Mod:
    qdrwb [ jfup;'
    ASHTg ] yNEOI
    zxmcv / kl,.

    Ideas have been tossed around since then though. Not sure what the currently accepted Wide Mod layout is right now, to be honest.

    Bitching: I swear, you have come up with the strangest difficulty/strain mapping that I have ever seen. Granted they are very subjective by nature, but I think that it is still, in part, due to overlooking the impact of qwerty training on typists.

    Most people start with qwerty. As such, the frequency map on the qwerty keyboard is also a good indication of what keys and fingers have the most developed muscle motion. For instance, according to your map, W gets a 2 and R gets a 3. Using the ‘grandmix’ test data from the codesharp keyboard layout analyser, the letter frequency of W is 1.44%, and R is 4.67%. Meaning I type the R key about three and a quarter times more more often than I type W. On qwerty, the left ring finger has the second lowest finger frequency of all fingers (6.7%) on the keyboard, and the LOWEST calculated effort placed on it (4.7%). It is basically the slacker in the digits family. The left index finger, by comparison, has both the highest key frequency (17.1%, about 2.5 times greater than that of L.Ring) AND highest calculated effort (19.9%, about 4.23 times greater than that of L.Ring). And you are trying to tell me that my left ring finger, after all these years of having it easy and ring fingers in general being perhaps the least nimble fingers to begin with, has an easier time reaching that W, than the strongest, most flexible and most used typing finger has hitting the R, which I use more than three times as often? … really? I’m sure you have a bridge you’d like to sell me as well.

    The long and the short of it is, even disregarding which finger it is, I am better trained, and thus require less effort, to type R than W. The best example I can come up with for this is comparing the qwerty A and ; positions. I bet, if you asked most touch typists, they would probably say that typing in qwerty they find typing A easier than ;. Getting a hold of a chart that shows your slowest keys when typing in qwerty might be helpful when designing your next layout.

    Last point I’d like to make is that you might want to rethink that ‘proper fingering’ on the lower left. It is a disaster that should be discouraged. If wrist angle is to be maintained (again, using qwerty), C should be typed by the index, X by the middle, and Z by the ring. V is a monster in disguise, closer to a 4.5 than a 2. It lies just close enough to stretch, and not quite far enough to float. I tend to attack it by shifting my hand slightly clockwise to make it more of a horizontal stretch and less diagonal. … Not that it is particularly important, just saying, you know.

    Conclusion: That all said, Workman has made quite a spash. Seems you’ve created something helped a whole bunch of people, so good job on that. Me? Nah, I still like CarpalQ. Most of the results, with the least amount of fuss and adjustment. Assuming you can find a way to wrangle the system to accept it. Bloody alphasmart Neo…

    • @cevgar: What is CarpalQ? Before I start wrangling my system to accept it, I should find it somewhere. Do you have any suggestions as to keywords I should use in my search?

        • Hi OJ. Thank you for all the work you put into this keyboard design while attending grad school. The Workman is based on very logical concepts, especially regarding greatly reducing the possibilty of RSI and CT. Your idea of speed seems right on too, when, as you say, considering how many WPM some can type on a design like QWERTY. After comparing more than 20 layouts with your design, I’ve decided to use the Workman layout on an ergonomic keyboard, probably an ortho-linear. Going back 2 Years to your reply to Sitbon on Oct. 4, 2012, you stated that for T and H the other factors involved outweighed the benefit of inboard flow, especially since you believe those benefits lessen with the stronger fingers. I am very interested to know what the other factors are that outweighted that benefit. Also, would you give your thoughts, pros and cons, on switching A and S, considering the generally regarded approximate order of English letters frequency (from your reply on Oct. 25,2012), since A, used more often than S, is typed by the left pinky. I really hope you can find time to respond. Again, thank you. P.S. Is a typing program available now for the Workman?

          • Hi. Thank you so much. Inboard flow is most advantageous to the little and ring fingers but less so for the middle and index fingers. Switching the T and H to accommodate inboard flow results in very high same finger repeats which i thought was unacceptable. The same is for the A and S.

  43. Hello there! I’m currently learning the Workman layout and I’d like to contribute my implementation to a free software portable keyboard layout switcher called PKL. Could you please clarify the copyright status of the layout?

  44. Pingback: My Strategy for Learning Colemak | Ian Daniel Stewart

  45. Hi there, I’m just wondering why there isn’t a section about “how-to-learn” workman. :D I randomly stumbled upon the idea of changing the way I type — it had never crossed my mind that there were other ways to type than “qwerty”… [which is an interesting social phenomenon in its own right] After researching Dvorak, Colemak, and Workman, it seems like this might be the most logical from the goal of reduced finger-stress. I actually use a personally-evolved typing method because I never learned “touch-typing”, however, I am eager to learn now!

    Perhaps a section on how to learn Workman would be in order if you want it to be accessible to the most people! I am eager to start learning right away!!!

    Cheers, Jonathan

    • Hi there. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to update this blog or do anything Workman related as I am in grad school. But in terms of learning the layout, I did it old school in that I typed “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” over and over again. This gives you all the letters of the alphabet. Once i was a little proficient i moved on to copying articles from wikipedia or news sites. Hopefully that helps. Good luck!

      • Thanks for your suggestion. I started a few hours ago and am getting better at memorizing that phrase and am hoping to start copying real texts soon! :D Shall I post again later when I make some serious progress? And also, are there any typing “tutor” programs that can help me get faster with Workman?

  46. So, you’re article is outstanding. Very good and well written. I am 27 and have been in front of a keyboard since probably 8th grade and I often think of the same issue… The keyboard layout is getting pretty old. I’ve also thought of a solution but I don’t find a great issue with the qwerty style.

    To me, in my mind, I feel that the keyboard itself is the problem and not the layout. What I mean is, if I could redesign the keyboard, why can’t we ditch the whole “board” concept all together? I mean think about this for a minute, While typing, you use your fingers a lot but your thumbs are only there to serve 1 function and that is spacing. Why can’t the thumbs be used as an alternator? In my mind I imagine something like a game contoller, designed to place keys under the finger tips in 3 rows thus keeping the footprint relatively small. Then the thumbs have access to a few alternate keys which change what the keys represent per hand (depending on which thumb button is pressed.) This solves a lot of ergonomic issues. The other end to that is the actual controller or keyboard, whatever it ends up being referred to (it pretty much would no longer be a keyboard) could be different sizes for different size hands and fingers. It would take some learning but why be constrained to just putting keys on a board in the first place anyway? We have the technology to improve greatly and we don’t really need to rely on the original design for a typewriter…

    What do you think? I’d really enjoy your opinion…

    • See or if you are really radical,

      I have three Kinesis keyboards; while I have my complaints (squishy function keys, not enough keys, buggy firmware) but overall they’ve allowed me to keep my hands in reasonable shape over bazillions of keystrokes. With the foot pedal you can offload shifting as well.

      So that this comment is not completely irrelevant to the current discussion: every key on the Kinesis can be remapped, so you can convert it to Workman layout pretty easily. One warning is that unlike traditional keyboard, the different keys are different shapes and thus not interchangeable. (They do sell a set of Dvorak keycaps.)

  47. I just found this a few days ago after 20+ years of QWERTY and about three weeks of Dvorak. That started out promisingly enough, but I wasn’t loving the pinkie workout. I was looking for ways to improve the layout and started reading about Colemak when I found this web page.

    I couldn’t agree more about the need to reduce traffic in the center columns, and in general I think your strain/difficulty grading of the keyboard keys is spot-on. My index fingers do not like moving sideways, and extending them is not as easy as it is for the middle fingers. I’m enthusiastic about making the switch.

    After loading Workman, I have modified my keymap so that
    • hyphen is at shift-comma,
    • question mark is at shift-period,
     • backslash is at shift-slash (solidus),
    and moved some other symbols around, and so far that is working out pretty well. I use those symbols much more than the others, and now my hand doesn’t have to move for them.

    We could really use a discussion forum, so I went ahead and created a Google Group. I hope other interested folks will join up at

    • So now it’s been a week, and things have been going pretty well. I’m getting about 25-30wpm, though I’m slower whenever I actually have to think while typing.

      However, I have mucked some more with the layout. Windows programs are not consistent about how the control keys are implemented; in some apps you get the Workman mappings and in others, you get qwerty. This was driving me crazy, so I modified the layout to restore CV to their qwerty positions. With M displaced now, I moved it back “home” as well and moved L one to the left. The new position for L improves the bigram LY, especially on a standard keyboard, which OJ had mentioned as a minor problem with Workman. On an ortho-linear this new L may not be as good.

      I could have also moved K over one, but I put B there instead, so it’s also back to qwerty position. Once you have improved the positions of the top 10 keys, which was done very well in Workman, you have gained most of the possible improvement. At that point the choices for the other letters don’t matter so much, and can be governed by other needs, like the control key compatibility or reduced differences from qwerty.

      I also made more punctuation changes, which are much better for both English prose and most programming languages. I recommend it for all layouts, whether Workman, Colemak, or CarpalX. The most important change is to put hyphen closer and unshifted, but check out the parens too. Here is the full layout:

      `~ 1! 2@ 3# 4$ 5% 6^ 7& 8* 9{ 0} =
      qQ dD rR wW kK jJ fF uU pP ([ )] / _|
      aA sS hH tT gG yY nN eE oO iI ‘”
      zZ xX cC vV bB lL mM ,; .: -?

      I can make the Windows layout files available, but first I need a name. When it was just punctuation changes, I was calling it Workman++, but with the letter changes I would be open to suggestions for a new name (Workmak? hmmmaybe not.)

      • in the keyboard layout above, the WordPress system filtered the end of the first line. It should be

        `~ 1! 2@ 3# 4$ 5% 6^ 7& 8* 9{ 0} “=”


  48. Does the Workman layout have any “international/multilingual” letter support like Colemak? I’m from Sweden and we use the letters “å, ä, ö, é and ü” apart from the “normal” English ones. Colemak makes those accessible with “AltGr” key combinations, does Workman use the same solution?


  49. Hi OJ Bucao,

    I want to say thank you for inventing the workman keyboard layout.

    I have been used workman for 3 months. It takes me a lot of effort to switch, but it worth. I am a programmer, and now I am using it in my daily work, with my favorite Kinesis Advantages kayboard.

    I just want to let you know there is one more workman-P user in the world, and thanks again.


  50. Hi, found this interesting.(Currently a qwerty plucker with nothing other than curiosity to consider changing.)

    What happens if you move the left hand to the qwerty g and stick multiple unused keys to the far left? Q would obviously become some symbol but …

    Have to get back to work. thanks for the interesting diversion though.

  51. Pingback: A Better Keyboard Layout for Kinesis Contoured Keyboards

  52. I think that the layout is cool and good for new people formerly using qwerty. However, in my opinion, same finger combos aren’t that good except fol one handed typing. But I use dvorak anyways…

  53. Hi. Very interesting post!

    I have years ago tried to covert to dvorak, however the massive brain rewiring gave me headaches. In my opinion the popularity of qwerty is still high because it overall is quite good.
    One can always try to improve under constraints such as:
    * maximize the middle row use and non-consecutive finger (dvorak),
    * maximize the middle row, minimize pinky use and easy transition from QWERTY (colemak)
    * minimize translation and optimize favorite finger use (workman)
    but I don’t think it is realistic any of these will ever be popularity, simply because of the hundreds of hours it takes for the brain to rewire from QWERTY.

    Based on all of your great ideas I have played with the idea of creating a keyboard with super easy transition from QWERTY, which in my view is the most important constraint. Now consider the “workman key score” (see above) on QWERTY and the Wikipedia list of the most used english letters: “etaoin shrdlu cmfwyp vbgkjq xz”. I noticed only a few letters which didn’t really fit the grade:
    Most used: T (4), N (3), H (3), R(3)
    Least used: J (1), K (1), F (1)
    The easy solution to these few problems are remapping of: T F, N J, H K. So only six keys are moved – no keys shifts hand – only H-K shifts finger.
    A minor tweak could be D R, but as they are used almost equally it wouldn’t gain much reduced finger distance and it is at the cost of shifting finger. Another tweak I found neat is shifting of Y with J, because it is used much more. Note that the keys don’t change finger.

    I therefore propose QWERFJ, which is heavily based on QWERTY so an easy transition is possible.
    T F
    H K
    N -> J -> Y -> (QWERTY N).
    Only seven keys are moved – no keys shifts hand – only H-K shifts finger. The whole map looks like:
    Q W E R F J U I O P
    A S D T G K N H L
    Z X C V B Y M ; :

    I’m currently using it and I’m impressed with how easy it is (my speed is currently about half after only a couple of hours). I planning to write my thesis using it in the near future.

    So what do you think about it?

    • Hey if it works for you, go for it. It really depends on your level of desperation. ;-) For me i was pretty desperate due to my wrist pain so switching layouts was not a problem. I actually started off creating Workman the way you’re doing it. I was trying to make as little change as possible but i needed to in order to get the best metrics.

      • Hi, OJ. Thank you for your reply a few days ago. I’m wondering, is there a typing tutorial available now or will there be in the future? Thank you in advance for your reply. GZ530

        • Hi. Unfortunately there isn’t one at this moment unless somebody decides to contribute one. I originally planned on making one for one of those linux typing apps but I never got a chance to do it. I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity to do so in the foreseeable future. I trained using the ancient method of typing “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” over and over again. Then when I was proficient enough, I started copying news articles. Hope that helps.

      • No problem. There is a very high probability that it will get approved. The Xorg project is known for accepting new layouts easily, so long as they know someone is using it.

        I also submitted your layout to the Klavaro typing tutor project, which is a layout-independent typing tutor for LInux/Windows/Mac. In the mean time, you can still use Klavaro by adding the layout manually. Simply create a file called “workman_us.kbd” and place it in “C:Program Files (x86)Klavaro-1.9.4/share/klavaro/workman_us.kbd”

        Copy and paste the following into the file, then save it.


        Now when you open up Klavaro, you can select USA / Workman and all of the tutorials will be useful.

        Anyway, I hope this becomes useful to a few people.

        • By the way, the Klavaro project leader emailed me back and said he’d be happy to add in Workman for the next release. I don’t know when that will be, but it will include Workman!

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