Committed to Past Constraints: QWERTY

Something I’ve never thought of reading before: the history of the QWERTY keyboard:

With the assistance of […] Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule, [Christopher Sholes] built an early writing machine for which a patent application was filed in October 1867. However, Sholes’ “Type Writer” had many defects, [including] the tendency of the typebars to clash and jam if struck in rapid succession.

Sholes struggled for the next six years to perfect his invention, making many trial-and-error rearrangements of the original machine’s alphabetical key arrangement in an effort to reduce the frequency of typebar clashes. Eventually he arrived at a four-row, upper case keyboard approaching the modern QWERTY standard.

As Donald Norman says in The Psychology/Design of Everyday Things, “We are committed to it, even though it was designed to satisfy constraints that no longer apply, was based on a style of typing no longer used, and is difficult to learn.”

It made me think: what other ‘everyday things’ are committed to past constraints, and in my work do I design to any?

1 thought on “Committed to Past Constraints: QWERTY

  1. Simon Bostock

    Weird. Just working on the next Januarist piece and came across this piece twice. Once through the Google and once in my RSS reader.

    Mildly obsessed with past constraints ever since I read The Fountainhead and discovered that Doric columns are based on the properties of wood (or something like that, it was a long time ago…)

    There’s some neat pictures of typewriters here: It’s amazing how much they’ve aged. Did you see the recent Cormac McCarthy typewriter auction?

    And you’ve already seen this: But the comparison is startling, I think.

    Are you old enough to remember Dennis Norden and the Microwriter? I suspect not.

Comments are closed.