Where should the "6" key be?

Where should the "6" key be?

Some of you have told us that we're doing it wrong, because the "6" key should really be on the right keyboard half, not on the left. In reality, the situation is more complicated than that.

For US people, it's a natural assumption because they're taught to press the "6" key with the right index finger, but not all countries are created equal. For example, in Hungary, we're taught to press "6" with our left index finger. Go figure!

Let's investigate this issue from an ergonomic standpoint. On the following picture, the keys of the home row on which our fingers reside are painted in red. There's a bright red line exactly between the left and right block of these keys. The "6" key is painted blue. As you can see the bright red line is rightwards of the center of the "6" key which means that given its position, it should be more ergonomic to press it with the left hand.

'6' key ergonomics

Now let's take a look from an aesthetic standpoint. Here's the actual UHK layout where the "6" key is on the left keyboard half.

symmetric version

And here's the alternate layout where the "6" key is featured on the right keyboard half.

asymmetric version

It's apparent that the former layout is way more symmetric.

Of course, there's a lot more to this. You're welcome to read the relevant thread on Deskthority which I started a while back when thinking about this issue. Those folks know a thing or two about the ergonomics and history of keyboards.

By |2019-01-19T13:34:24+00:002015-08-14 18:09|design|31 Comments
Increase your productivity by never leaving the home row. Improve your posture by typing on two, separate keyboard halves. Remap keys in any way you want. Experience how a keyboard can be different, yet familiar.

31 Comments

  1. IzK August 15, 2015 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    I was looking at the 4 different keymaps and I realize that none of them includes a numpad on the right hand.
    Is that right? Will be no numpad available? It could be a good idea to use it with the Fn key and remap the media keys to another keys?

    • László Monda August 15, 2015 at 6:06 pm - Reply

      Interesting idea, this could be quite practical! I guess multiple layouts should be tested by our testers, including yours to figure out what works and what doesn't in practice. In any case, you'll be able to configure the UHK as suggested but this could be a reasonable default. Thanks for the idea!

  2. stephen August 17, 2015 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    Why not both?

    • László Monda August 17, 2015 at 12:51 pm - Reply

      It would be quite hard to merge the two keyboard halves if both featured a "6" key. :)

      • Cefiar August 22, 2015 at 12:23 pm - Reply

        How about making the 6 key its own detachable block, with a retaining hex screw to solidly connect it to the side of the keyboard you want? Just need to make sure the electronics will handle it when both sides are joined together, but that shouldn't be difficult.

        • László Monda August 22, 2015 at 3:14 pm - Reply

          It's a very interesting idea and it shouldn't be difficult electronically, indeed. Unfortunately, it'd cause quite a hassle mechanically because one of the steel guides that hold the two keyboard halves together is just below the "6" key.

          • David August 25, 2015 at 8:38 pm

            Another possibility I would find extremely useful is an "extra" column for each keyboard half. They would only be used when the keyboard was split and would let you add one more column to each side. So a column of 7yhn for the left and 6tgb for the right. That would let you have the 6 on both sides if you want, and might avoid the mechanical issues.

          • László Monda August 25, 2015 at 11:00 pm

            I can see the use of an extra column module and we could make it happen but this seems extremely niche to me. Sounds like a significant development effort with no return of investment. Sorry, but this is my honest opinion.

  3. Yuri Khan August 22, 2015 at 5:41 am - Reply

    I was directed here via Slashdot and the answer to your question is “Mu”[1].

    [1]: http://catb.org/esr/jargon/html/M/mu.html

    The question arises from the premise that keyboard rows need to be staggered. However, that stagger is a historical artifact of the mechanical typewriter, where its purpose was to allow levers to go from each key to the typing mechanism without intersecting.

    In this era of electronic key switches, there is no reason for staggering the rows. However, there is a big reason to stagger columns to account for differences in finger lengths.

    In the context of a matrix physical layout, the question becomes “What digit aligns with R, F and V — 4 or 5?” And, of course, for a keyboard that carries the words “ultimate” and “hacking” in its name, the answer is “you can configure it either way”.

    • László Monda August 22, 2015 at 10:51 am - Reply

      Well said! We're also aware of the advantages of columnar layouts and plan to design a columnar version eventually.

      • Carl August 22, 2015 at 3:13 pm - Reply

        So this keyboard is not "ultimate" (you've planned another with obvious advantages), and it's not "a more natural typing posture" (split keyboards and keypad-less keyboards are already very common).

        Get the basics right, and you don't need gimmicks. What I see here is yet another backwards-compatibility keyboard designed for old people who learned to type on typewriters.

        I complain about keyboards a lot, but I've never once said "I wish I could buy a keyboard that's pretty much like every other split keyboard in the world, but that let me push the halves together and tighten it with a wrench! That's more important to me than little things like where the keys are located."

        • László Monda August 22, 2015 at 4:03 pm - Reply

          I think that our current, staggered version is a definite ergonomic improvement over non-split keyboards. Also, it's hardly like every other split keyboards out there. There aren't that many truly split keyboards on the market to begin with, let alone 60%, truly split, mechanical keyboards that are fully reconfigurable and reprogrammable.

          This version can be great for users who are not into the columnar keyboards that are harder to get used to.

  4. bob August 22, 2015 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    never mind the 6, the B should be on the left.

    • Carl August 22, 2015 at 3:18 pm - Reply

      In the actual product photos, it is on the left — which really calls into question the aesthetic argument here.

      • László Monda August 22, 2015 at 4:15 pm - Reply

        The idea is to follow tradition whenever possible and fall back to ergonomics. In the case of the "B" key the tradition is universal. In the case of the "6" key the tradition is fragmented and so we lean towards ergonomics and aesthetics.

        • John Y. August 22, 2015 at 7:24 pm - Reply

          But Carl's point is that the "aesthetic argument" of the blog post rests on having the 'B' key on the right, as indicated by the images in the blog post. Yet the 'B' key is in fact on the left, so at the very least, you need to correct the images in the blog post. Once the images in the blog post are corrected, you may or may not need to revisit your conclusions about symmetry and aesthetics.

          • László Monda August 22, 2015 at 9:21 pm

            Oh, thank you for pointing out to this error! Given the crazy amount of visitors of today, it's striking that others haven't noticed it. Just fixed.

            My reasoning above still holds holds true despite the original, erroneous images.

  5. Steve August 24, 2015 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Interesting. I use a Matias Ergo Pro, which is a split keyboard with the 6 on the left. However I think your ergonomic reasoning is correct and the having on left does make more sense. That said, it's kind of a minor issue, it would not be a major hardship to adapt to is on either side, 6 being not a particularly common key.

    • Steve August 24, 2015 at 9:32 am - Reply

      Correction: I meant Ergo Pro has 6 on the right.

      • László Monda August 24, 2015 at 9:35 am - Reply

        Thanks for you comment, Steve. I agree that having the "6" key on one half or the other shouldn't be a major hardship. It's just a little thing but we tend to think a lot about these little things. :)

  6. Mike August 25, 2015 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    I've been using Microsoft natural keyboards for many years and the 6 key has always been on the left. Its never been a problem, and frankly it never occurred to me that it could go anywhere else.

  7. ao2 August 26, 2015 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Hi, in the past I experimented with both variants of split-layouts using a cardboard divider, and the having the 6 on the left side looked more comfortable.

    Here is my cardboard divider: http://ao2.it/it/blog/2009/12/29/keyboard-split-typing-speed

    Ciao,
    Antonio

    • László Monda August 26, 2015 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Hi Antonio,

      Looks like you put some heavy work into this. Well done, and thanks for your blog post! Great resource!

  8. Paul J August 30, 2015 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    I was born and raised in the U.S.and I always use my left index finger to touch the 6 key, if you use your right index finger for that then you have to reach farther. Do not listen to these fools!!! ;) Keep it the way it is its perfect. The only suggestion I would make is to put a mouse roller on the board, that would make me advertise the fuck out of them relentlessly!!

  9. cousteau August 8, 2016 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Left. Definitely left. I tried to type & (which is shift-6 on my (Spanish) layout rather than shift-7) and my hands went directly to right-shift, 6-with-left. I repeated this experiment several times with the same outcome. I even tried to force myself to left-shift, 6-with-right and my hands were like "Nope!".

    Maybe I'm biased by the fact that my left shift is tinier than normal (silly ISO keyboards), so I might try to avoid using it at all. Or maybe I'm just used to this subconsciously… although I don't think I type 6 or & that often.

    (I know I'm like one year late to the poll, but I just wanted to point out that you made the right choice by choosing left.)

  10. Phillip Harrington November 3, 2016 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. I'm so frustrated with all ergonomic keyboards being split with the 6 in on the wrong side. Forget aesthetics; my fingers don't have eyes. I'm tempted to find a manufacture and market my own keyboard; that's how bad it's been finding a keyboard that gets it right.

    • Tammy February 21, 2017 at 7:56 pm - Reply

      Amen! Those of us who learned to 'type by touch' on old manual typewriters NEED that 6 key to be on the right. Anything that disrupts the rhythm of the tappity-tap slows us down. The number pad on the right? I never use it, only because there wasn't one on the IBM Correcting Selectric that I learned to type on. I'm faster using the numbers across the top of the keyboard, but only when the 6 is on the correct (right) side. :-)

      We could make everyone happy – put two 6's on there. One on each side.

      • László Monda February 21, 2017 at 7:58 pm - Reply

        We could make everyone happy – put two 6's on there. One on each side.

        But then, it'd be quite a challenge to merge the two keyboard halves. :)

  11. MikeR July 17, 2017 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    I prefer it on the right. When it is on the left, the left index finger has to type 4, 5, and 6. The right index finger only types 7. For me it's much easier and more natural that neither finger has to choose between three possibilities.

  12. N. January 24, 2018 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    If we are trained to use our right index finger to strike the 6 we're old? Get serious. We are the best and fastest typist and these stupid keyboards are slowing us down. 6 isn't used frequently? Try doing an inventory with lots of serial numbers and tell me that again! There's a significant slowdown when you make me look at my keyboard. And I am better at the keyboard number keys than I am with the 10-key, so don't go there.

    So there's REALLY NOT a 6-on-the-right keyboard for normal money? OMG how lame to base a keyboard on the aesthetics of non-touch-typists' end users. WhatEv.

  13. Scott Robison March 16, 2018 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    Since the most recent comment is less than two months old, I'll go ahead and chime in.

    I was taught to touch type on IBM electric typewriters in the early to mid 1980s. I was taught to use the right index finger to type 6 and never questioned it until I started using Microsoft Natural keyboards. At that point, I did the same thing explained above, I measured the center line of normal keyboards and observed that six is closer to the left index finger. It didn't take much time to change, though it's been 20 to 25 years ago and I couldn't tell you how long it really took.

    I was also taught to double space after a period. I also was able to break that habit. :)

    I understand and agree that changing long ingrained habits is hard. Ultimately, 6 on the left does make more sense, and changing habits shouldn't be too difficult if you want to use this keyboard for other reasons. Otherwise, no one is forcing anyone to purchase it.

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