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perfect keyboard

This is my own little scratch space for ideas about how to make the perfect keyboard -- because let's face it: computer keyboards all suck, to varying extents. My favorite is the typematrix, but it is not perfect. And when I say "perfect," I mean perfect to me. If I could create my perfect keyboard, it just might turn out to be everyone's perfect keyboard -- but I doubt it.

I hope that one day I will somehow be able to actually manufacture this perfect keyboard, but who knows. I might not even care by then.

This page is, and probably always will be, a work in progress.

update: Actually, I never really got around to adding to this page.


While there is no perfect keyboard, there are plenty of good ideas in various existing keyboards that can be recycled. I imagine that patents might be a problem if I were to try and sell my perfect keyboard.

The following are some keyboards that have already taken their stab at being the perfect keyboard, and what interesting features they have come up with:

Kinesis Contoured Keyboard


Interesting bits

  • hands apart
  • keys in straight columns
  • color-coded home row keys
  • emphasis on DIY layouts, although the implementation (firmware in the keyboard, and some funky real-mode program for manipulating it, I believe) seems cumbersome and problematic
  • concave hand "bowls"
  • little constellations of buttons for the thumbs; actually letting the thumbs make a significant contribution to typing

note: many more keyboards will be added eventually, this takes time

My features

Ok, so let's figure out what the perfect keyboard should and should not do.

Goodbye typewriter

If a feature stems from being a necessity on typewriters, it should probably not be used on a computer keyboard. This includes staggered key columns, a monolithic layout, qwerty keymap, and I'm sure other things that I can't think of. But qwerty vs. dvorak is a whole other argument altogether.

Chording - I don't know

Chording is a really nifty concept, but I don't know if the perfect keyboard should use it. It would likely complicate the design a lot, and I don't know whether I would even like using a chording keyboard on a day to day basis.

Hands apart

I think this is pretty important. I think the best way to go is to have the keyboard split into two parts; this would also let you stick your mouse in the middle (I'm not sure if I'd like that or not), and have a comfortable stance while typing.


The keys should be like laptop keys -- really nice laptop keys. Very solid feeling; not plasticky or rubbery feeling, not floppy feeling. And a quiet but nice sound. They need to be durable: anyone who cares this much about a computer keyboard will probably be using them a lot.

For labels, I like the Kinesis guy's idea: do what cash registers do (at least I think it's cash registers that do it). The top of the key would be transparent plastic, and you would slide little pieces of paper/plastic/whatever into the side/top/bottom/whatever of the keys, which would then show through the top. The letters become immune to wear; they are very easy to change; and when you do change them, they don't look like crap (like magic marker or labels do); and you don't have the key size compatability problems you have when you try to physically move keys around. The downsides could possibly be: added complexity/cost to the keys themselves, and limitations on key design/shape/etc (they might need to be thicker, for example).

Layout of modifier and whitespace keys

It's fairly obvious how to lay out the alpha (and to a lesser extent, numeric) keys, but where to put modifier and whitespace keys is not so obvious, and IMO, has been screwed up over and over.

First off, the only duplicate modifier key should be the shift key, since there is a legitimate need to shift with one hand while typing a letter with the other hand. But two tab keys (typematrix)? Two backspaces (typematrix)? Two controls, alts, and supers? A space bar that is the size of 5+ keys?

Each thumb should have its own job -- or better yet, multiple jobs. For example, one thumb could handle space, tab, and enter, and the other thumb could handle control, alt, super, etc. (this is just one of nearly infinite possible examples.) In fact, the keys that bug my left pinky the most are control, tab, and shift. I think it's pretty stupid for me to stress my pinky by reaching over to them, while my right thumb just sits there doing *nothing*.


Colors should definitely be used for distinguishing key "types" or key "groups." But no stupid colors, like the ugly blue on the kinesis, or the ridiculous red on the typematrix's delete key. And the keyboard should be grey, or silver, or black, or something other than the boring and fairly butt-ugly white or off-white used on most keyboards. Wood or metal would also rock (aesthetically as well as "feel"-wise), but that might not be feasible.

Another problem with the typematrix is the wimpy orange used for the dvorak labels -- it's nearly impossible to read them in many normal lighting conditions. Even in good lighting, they are still harder to read than dark labels.


Nick Welch <nick@incise.org> · github