Ever found yourself looking at a keyboard and wondering why is it laid out in QWERTY format? The BBC wrote an article on this subject today to promote the first episode of a new series. Here’s the link:

Why do we all use Qwerty keyboards?

It got me thinking, I wonder if anyone has attempted to break away from the standard keyboard as we all know it…

The predictable answer is ‘yes’…for example, the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. Here’s a blog post about 5 alternative keyboards to the standard – some of them for specialist uses, or maybe just for fun. Here’s another alternative: The Colemak keyboard layout, which looks like this:


keyboard


No doubt there are others too…

Is this a case of something so familiar in terms of asthetics and design that to change it significantly is to defeat the purpose of what the design has become – universally accepted. It could be argued that a design (whether graphic or product) doesn’t have to be perfect or even right in order to become established or ‘the standard’. All this prompts the questions: Why does something become universally accepted, and who decides / how is it decided?

When something is universally accepted, it is by default more difficult to change since there is at very least more likely to be resistance and feeling of unfamiliarity. Universal acceptance does not always indicate a ‘perfect’ design. Perhaps it is that universal acceptance in our modern world of global communication, travel and interaction often needs to involve design compromises and change.

In past history the world was less connected and the need for universal design was not such an issue as each culture developed its own unique designs independently and without so much knowledge of other cultures. Yet even then some inventions and designs were destined to become truely globally universal perhaps because it was and remains simply the best design to solve the problem.

Are all universally adopted designs, whether national or international, great designs or inventions? What about those things which have become so familiar to us as if they’ve ‘always been there’? Perhaps it can’t be quantified so. Many universal designs have gradually evolved over time and perhaps out of other ideas which have since fallen away. In the case of the keyboard, it’s used with computers these days, but it was used with typewriters before that.

Should something which has become universally accepted always continue to be universally accepted without ever being seriously reconsidered? Is it because there is nothing thus far as good to challenge it, that this becomes the very reason that makes something universally accepted? Would the situation be changed if a challenge were made – even if the challenger was better designed? Can it become less about design and more about emotions / familiarity and association of things?