In this post, I would like to introduce another product with optimal human factor / ergonomics-knowledge-based design. This is the ergonomic keyboard. Prior to doing related research, I actually never know that this type of weird-looking keyboards existed. I know that there are keyboards designed specifically for gamers and perhaps programmers but at least in my impression, those still have designs of a traditional-formed keyboard, which is a basic rectangle layout. In terms of the keys, except for on a laptop, it will usually be asymmetrical with the alphabetic part of to the left and a numeric keypad to the right. This suggests that if the user aligns the center of the keyboard with the center of their body, they will be typing with the right hand more bent, and therefore constantly in a strange posture, as the alphabetic part of the keyboard will be to the left of their body.
So for the sake of users with the intensive frequency of using the keyboard, they ought to align the alphabetic part of the keyboard with their body. We can discover that according to most keyboard layout, that means aligning the ‘H’ key with the center of the body. Another thing worth noticing is that the angle of the traditional keyboard is not relatively correspondent to the natural angle of the wrist. Most keyboards slope upwards from front to back, (which doesn’t happen for laptops but that fact that the keyboard is still on a machine with thickness above the table and this height differences also required the hand to bent), and this means that users bend their hands upwards when they are typing on the keyboard:usually people place their wrists on the table and lift their hands to type, which induce quite severe fatigue and muscle stress if typing for a long time. This posture is called wrist extension, and it is a source of injury risk for the wrist. Once the hand is extended beyond about a minor (15°) upward angle, there will be a very significant increase in the compression of the median nerve and other structures inside the wrist. So it is better to type with the hands as flat as possible. The best way of achieving this with a standard keyboard is to place the keyboard on a height adjustable, downward tilting keyboard tray, which I believe I have seen in many offices where I had a chance to visit. The alternatives are also keyboards with a wrist supporter, which is incorporated in many designs of ergonomic keyboards.
Interestingly, is keeping the hand flat when typing the only available improvement an ergonomics keyboard had inputted? Obviously no! Judging only from the visual presentation of the designs, many keyboards have a rather divided layout comparing to a traditional keyboard, meaning that there will be a clear gap in the design as if it is designating the areas the left hand and the right hand to enter. The curves on the wrist supporter seem to further determine the optimal angle where the hand should be placed when typing. One Microsoft-produced ergonomic keyboard (see picture above) also smartly implemented the scroll wheel and the buttons of a mice on a keyboard, considering that people will experience trouble when they intend to extend their hand to reach for the mouse in the middle of operation and technically such an action will reduce efficiency but cause unnecessary stress to the shoulder.
In fact, many ergonomic keyboards are actually designed as two physically-split modules, basically, two pieces serving the purpose of one traditional keyboard with half of the keys on each piece. Why would such design be a potentially better approach compared to having an intact one? It can certainly reduce discomfort and risks for wrist injuries, but there is more. According to Dr. Hargreaves, people can do a little experience to see if they can get used to the separated keyboard: try “play typing” with your forearms extended straight in front of your shoulders, then compare that to making a “V” with your hands together while your wrists are straight. If you opt for total separation, determine how far apart your fingers are when positioned for typing. The particular design can lift stress for the wrist, neck and should not need too much adaption since users can choose any distance as the gap that gives them the most comfort. Isn’t this very interesting? I, as a college student who types every single day, would love to give them a try!
Computer Keyboard Design, Cornell University Ergonomics Web, http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/ahtutorials/ckd.htm
William R. Hargreaves, Ph.D., “Comfort by Design: Selecting an Ergonomic Keyboard”, Ergoweb. Inc., 2008. https://www.kinesis-ergo.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/comfort_by_design.pdf