case studies · random · usability

who moved my @ key?

UK Keyboard
I’m making more typos than ever these days, and this is what I’m blaming – UK keyboards. They’re driving me mad.
It wasn’t that long ago I started trying to make myself become proficient with a Wacom tablet. At first, I felt like I had the motor skills of a very young (pre-Playstation) child and struggled to bend it to my will. It didn’t take long, maybe a few hours, and I had it pretty much under control. (Although, my ‘double clicks’ are still pretty haphazard, and I’m not always 100% sure how to activate the ‘right click’).
I’ve been in the UK over a month now and using their crazy keyboards for most of that time, and for the life of me I still forget that the @ symbol is not above the number 2 (where it belongs!), but moved right across and down the keyboard where the double quote (“) should be. And where is the double quote? On above the 2.
Why oh why?
Now, I know, there is an extra ‘important’ symbol that needs to be fitted into the UK version of the keyboard – the Pound (£), of course. From my initial observations… there doesn’t really seem to be much other excuse for the ABSOLUTE WHOLESALE REDESIGN of the arrangement of the symbols on the keyboard.
Perhaps someone can explain to me what this symbol is: ¬ and why it is so important that it scores the top LH key, replacing the much more useful (IMHO) ~ symbol which is, funnily enough, now moved down near the @ (eh. I made three mistakes trying to type that symbol just now and I’m writing about how annoyingly hard it is to find… that’s not funny).
Did whoever is responsible for this design have some belief that the spot down near the LHS shift key is a more ergonomic place for frequently used symbols, perhaps? Why else would the @ and ” be swapped around like that? (and @ is, I assume, a relatively recent addition to the keyboard, so it can’t have happened all that long ago, could it?)
Not to mention the # key. Now, at least it has the excuse of being replaced by the £ symbol which seems somewhat inexcusable, but according to the source of the image above, whoever designed UK keyboards for Macs dispensed with the poor old hash key altogether! Now, that’s utter madness. Surely the # symbol is one of the more useful symbols on the keyboard (especially in these wiki editing days!). I certainly use it more than, say the ^ or {} or definitely ¬ keys!
Ironically, it was just the other day when I sat in on a discussion about the QWERTY keyboard and it’s design flaws and historical legacy. Eh. I’m quite happy with QWERTY I have to say… I can’t really think much faster than I can type at the moment anyways… but is there any chance we might all have one QWERTY keyboard… or am I being overly demanding? (and Anglo-centric?)

9 thoughts on “who moved my @ key?

  1. Yes, the unnecessarily huge differences are so annoying, though I’ve obviously experienced them the other way round. Just wait until you try the various varieties of European keyboard with the various accent keys replacing other keys though… I’ve had to resort to copying and pasting @ signs on occasions when I’ve been abroad in desperation!

    I think it must be historical – our keyboards were set out like that in the days when the @ symbol was very uncommon. And now everybody’s used to it I guess – I know I certainly am and can type an @ as quickly as a £ sign.

  2. You think you have problems?

    When I was growing up, every new computer meant a new keyboard mapping.

    I went from a ZX80 to a Vic20, C64 to an Amiga 1000, vt102 terminals, Mac 128k and finally PC all in about 8 years.

    Crazy thing is, a few weeks ago I played with a c64 emulator. My brain still knew where the ” key was, by reflex.

  3. eh. Lela – I should consult with you before I write any of my titles I think :)

    James – yes, I think I have vague recollections of having all different kinds of keyboards back in the ‘olden days’… but I think my typing was sufficiently hopeless that it didn’t make too much different.

    it’s really interesting that you still had a reflex memory of the location of that key, given that your muscle memory should have (one would have thought) been over-written with what you’ve been using for the past few years… I wonder what the cognative theory behind that would be! :)

    and yes – I’m kind of looking forward to the challenges of some European keyboards (will give me more to whinge about I suspect). At least there seems like some kind of logical rationale for making changes there… more than just the £ at any rate! :)

  4. Good luck with using European keyboards. In Belgium, for some daft reason, we use azerty as in France (although 60% of the population here speaks Dutch). Germany has different variations of qwertz apparently. The Dutch use qwerty but have superscript 2 where the @ should be if you believe it!
    I’ve solved it by getting a basic US qwerty and taping the alt codes next to my display. I’ve become quite proficient in memorizing them by now :p
    What I have always wondered, though, is: why do the keys show captials while what you actually type is the underscore?

  5. hey Napfisk :)

    I don’t think I’m doing myself any favours by using an ‘Australian’ keyboard layout half of the time and UK the other half… I’m still making plenty of mistakes (interestingly, still only on the UK one… I guess I’ll probably start making mistakes on both keyboards soon!)

    that’s a great question re: why the show capitals when they actually type lower case…. I’d never thought of that before. As a first guess I’d say perhaps upper case is clearer/more easily recognised? More differentiation between each of the letters (I’m thinking about things like h and n, but I’m not sure if that’s just true for handwriting…. ).

    maybe it’s because the capitals are bigger so they take longer to wear off? ;)

  6. I read your comments with interest, having found this page in a desperate attempt to establish which @[email protected] and I am leaving the ampersand’s in intentionally (cos they should not be above my no.2) decided a)that swapping the ampersand and quote keys was a good idea ( the missing hash and ‘pound sign – havent found it yet, are also a tad irritating – and b)how I can put them back where they are meant to be. So, I ask you, having established that it is the American market that is at fault here, what the heck were you thinking of? Seriously, it appears to be a universal problem and quite possibly answered by the fact that in the UK we use the ‘pound’ sign, therefore as it is our major currency it will have a place of easy access – usually. The ampersand has always been on the r/h of the keyboard, cunningly positioned for ease of use when typing, on the UK keyboards, maybe we just use them more than other countries. Its certainly not a new invention and, being an aged type have used it regularly over the last 30 years in both work and leisure – written, word processed and wait for it….typed on a manual typewriter – WooHoo!. So can someone please tell me how do i put it all right, and if i cannot, where my pound sign is likely to be because it has not been swapped with the # key, it it’s stead, I have a \.

Comments are closed.