In the days before electric cars were as common as they are now, many Automobile manufacturers would jump on the ‘Green bandwagon’ by stating that their gasoline consumption was so slight, it effectively made their models greener than others. The same can be said these days for ergonomic keyboards. Although there are plenty of keyboards available today that state they are ‘Ergonomic’, for the most part this is purely Marketing. While manufacturers can claim that their keyboards a ‘more ergonomic’, this really means that they are better for you to use than their competition. It is a business claim, not a health claim. So how do you know that stating that a keyboard is ergonomic is a fact, rather than a cool design and hype?
Firstly, what makes a keyboard ergonomic?
Ergonomics is defined as: “a science that deals with designing and arranging things so that people can use them easily and safely”: says the Merriam-Webster dictionary (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ergonomics). From a keyboard point-of-view, this means a tool designed to avoid any movement or positioning of the hand and wrist that is awkward, cocked, or causes any discomfort. By working in a position that is comfortable, users can help avoid Carpel Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) in the first place, and relieve any current symptoms they are experiencing. In fact, simply keeping the wrists flat, and ensuring that the hand is extended comfortably over a keyboard, makes it ergonomic.
Until the day comes when all keyboards promote this simple working, gaming, and communicating posture, there are actually very few ergonomic choices on the market for you.
How can you see an Ergonomic design?
The major difference between ergonomic keyboards and regular ones are the staggered alignment of the keys. Look at the keyboard in front of you, and if you have to flex your wrists to either direction to reach keys, then it is not an ergonomic keyboard. Even a millimeter from straight will cause your wrists to bend in awkward ways and users are forced into an unhealthy posture putting strains on their body when used repeatedly. So why are keyboards laid out in this uncomfortable fashion?
The regular keyboard’s staggered key layout is based on 19th century Typewriters. Originally typewriter keys had to be offset due to the position of the levers that the keys moved and operated the hammer onto the carbon roll. Originators of the typewriter (Which goes back to the 1860’s!) found that it was impossible to have these levers on a grid format, so designed space in between them, which led to a staggered keyboard. This easily mass-produced design became the norm, and soon everyone just accepted that this was how keyboards operated. In fact, even today, keyboard users are simply accustomed to twisting their wrists to operate a regular keyboard, which leads to discomfort, injury, and pain over a working lifetime.
A flat keyboard, therefore, with a straight format of keys is the only purely ergonomic tool that users should be looking for.