Custom Keyboard Configurations: Why and How to Use Them

Custom Keyboard Configurations: Why and How to Use Them by Peggy Carouthers for Das Keyboard
photo credit: nayukim via photopin cc

Did you know that the QWERTY keyboard set-up traditionally found in the US isn’t the only option?

Why would you use a different configuration?

If your fingers are frequently cramping from typing or you have wrist pain, you might find that an alternative layout works better for you. Some studies like this one conducted by the Assistive Technology Research Institute at Misericordia University seem to support the claim that alternative layouts can improve typing speeds and are more ergonomically and energy efficient. This is because unlike QWERTY, which was designed for typewriters, other configurations are designed to place the most frequently used letters in English on the home row of keys to minimize movement and hand strain.

Types of Non-QWERTY Layouts

Popular configurations include Dvorak, which places vowels under the left hand on the home row and frequently used consonants on the right; and Colemak, which also places the most used keys on the home row, but only has 17 changes from the standard QWERTY layout to make the transition easier. While these are two of the most popular layouts, there are plenty of others that are optimized for various types of usage, such as typing in other languages or coding, so you can choose a configuration that fits how you use your keyboard.

How do I change my configuration?

The good news is that if you’re considering a new configuration, you don’t have to buy a new keyboard. While your keyboard may be set-up as a QWERTY keyboard when you open the box, you can easily change the settings on your computer to suit you. Many computers already have these alternate keyboard set-ups preloaded making changing your configuration as simple as a single click within your keyboard settings in your control panel or preferences. You can also use software like AutoHotKey to create a whole new custom set-up or just create new shortcuts.


You also aren’t stuck with mislabeled keys. Keycaps for mechanical keyboards are made to be replaceable, so you can switch your caps as needed or order new ones if you want to further personalize your keyboard. You can also order blank keycaps if you want to train yourself not to look at keys to improve your speed. Of course, you don’t have to change your configuration if you’re happy with QWERTY. Learning a keyboard layout can be frustrating, as it may take several months of practice to type at your old QWERTY speed. Ultimately the decision is a matter of personal preference, but if you think an alternative layout might improve your health or speed, why not give it a shot? Do you currently use an alternative keyboard configuration, or do you plan to? Tell us what you think in the comments below.


  1. Colemak is definitely the best.

  2. I started using the dvorak layout about twenty years ago when I was worried that I was developing carpal tunnel syndrome or some other RSI in my wrists. They burned in the joints when I used my keyboard very much. So I got a Kensington trackball and switched to dvorak. The pain went away and I never developed any problems, even though I work at a keyboard eight hours a day, minimum, five days a week.

    I bought Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, practiced at it for about four days, and made the switch. Within a couple of weeks I was “fluent” in dvorak and approaching my qwerty typing speed.

    Now with a das keyboard I’m even more accurate and type faster still. The switches in my first one were browns. It was great, but not quite right. I bought another one with blues and type even better on it. Eventually I bought an Ultimate with blues and it seems a bit clickier than my other keyboard, but maybe it’s because it’s newer.

    One benefit that I never thought of until I got the Ultimate is that a blank keyboard and the dvorak layout means that NO ONE will ever be able to mess with my computer. It’s almost as if I don’t even have a keyboard attached to my machine.

  3. I like to customise my keyboard layout but for a different reason than the one in this article.

    I often write technical documents which require the use of the Ω symbol or the µ symbol etc. For these I like to set up keyboard shortcuts which give easy access to certain greek characters that I like to use.

    On Windows there is a really nice option here; Microsoft make it possible to completely customise your keyboard layout with their layout editor (link at the bottom of this comment). Once you’ve taken the time to create a custom layout you can take the resulting layout file with you to other Windows machines and install it for use on them as well.

    I haven’t yet got around to looking at the options for custom layout on Linux, but there is another option which is pretty universal; you can type in the unicode to give you the symbol that you want. Most operating systems allow this but the process in terms of which keys to press may be different. On Ubuntu Linux you can type a unicode sequence by holding down SHIFT->CTRL->u. Then you type in the code and press enter. For example, the unicode for µ is U+00b5. So to make that character I hold down the above combination, then type 00b5, then press enter. All you have to do then is memorise the unicode for certain characters that you like to use, which is either a pleasure or a bind depending on your personality 😉

    Microsoft layout editor:
    A place to search unicodes:

  4. Is it possible to use the volume wheel on das Keyboard 4 as a mouse wheel for scrolling etc.?

  5. Unfortunately, it is not possible to reconfigure the volume wheel our our keyboard as a mouse wheel. Our current keyboards do not have the firmware to be made programmable.

  6. I understand you have a few layouts other than standard US available nowadays. I couldn’t find a list of those. If Das Keyboard 4 Professional was available with Canadian-French I’d buy one right away. I know I could also buy a blank one and put stickers on it but it would be a shame to do that on such a sleek (an expensive) keyboard.

    I’d be great if you could widen your offer of standard layouts. Is that something you plan to do?

  7. We typically offer US, UK, Nordic, and German layouts. You can purchase keycap sets with different layouts, but make sure they match the stems on the switches of your keyboard.

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