Idea for future UHK: key arrangement in symmetrical stagger (instead of columnar stagger)

The UHK has some strong points and a few unique ones. One of the advantages (and disadvantages at the same time) is the standard row stagger. That means the keyboard will be largely compatible to other keyboards, but has the drawbacks of a row staggered keyboard. Columnar stagger would resolve those drawbacks, but will be very different from a standard keyboard. I think a unique value proposition of a future UHK could be offering a layout close to a standard keyboard, but still getting rid of the row stagger problems. So in a perfect world UHK would offer three versions: row stagger, symmetrical stagger and columnar stagger.

A symmetrical stagger would allow to have almost a standard key arrangement, but just get rid of the row stagger. This would be highly beneficial as it makes switching between the UHK and standard keyboards more seamless. An ideal symmetrical stagger would consider ANSI and ISO layouts and would also allow to keep the number 6 on the left side or move it to the right side.

There is a website dedicated to symmetrical stagger. Their idea is like that.

I think that is the way to go in general, but I would fine-tune the number of keys and the stagger on the number row (likely to have no stagger on the number row, because that is closer to a standard keyboard and also natural to reach). Note that in the example the stagger is only 1/4 key width for the bottom row, which I think is better, then the default 1/2 key offset.

When there is interest to discuss that idea in more detail I will make a suggestion for a complete key arrangement and possibly also make a video demonstrating why that is potentially a great solution.

P.S.: I am aware of the X-Bows keyboard, which is a nice concept, but IMO gets it wrong in several places – mainly the too large distance between the fanned keys and some strange key sizes as well.

But why (horizontal) stagger at all instead of ortholinear or columnar stagger?

(What I am perplexed by is why none of the mainstream manufacturers makes a regular-stagger keyboard - a keyboard that would still have similar stagger to standard so that it is easy to transition to, but each row shifted just by 1/4 w.r.t its neighbour, instead of the standard idiotic-irregular +1/2, -1/4, -3/4.)


We’ll release UHKs of different layouts, and I’ve decided on the exact layouts, but feel free to discuss, guys.

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There are three reasons. First because horizontal stagger is in fact also ergonomic in that way that the right hand can keep a straight line, without needed to kink the wrist sideways. So it is IMO better than ortholinear. And second it is closer to a standard keyboard. So more “compatible” in that sense. That is a huge plus point for the UHK or similar standard split keyboards. You can have the benefits of an ergo key arrangement together with a much higher compatibility. I have a columnar stagger keyboard (model 100) and much prefer the overall typing experience of the UHK, except for the left hand top row (qwerty), which is really annoying. Many people think that columnar stagger would be better and it would take less efforts to reach keys. That is wrong as a general statement. Sure, some keys will be easier to reach, but others will be harder to reach. That is just logical. You can not get all keys closer to the fingers. When you move some keys in better positions, others will have to make place (partly) for those! So I am not against a columnar layout, but it is not the holy grail the current marketing claims tell us. There is no perfect solution. It is always just a different balancing of trade-offs. And a symmetrical stagger can be an interesting option with unique advantages (also more compact, when two halves are together, but still allow a better hand angle!)

That is a question I also have. That would already be a bit better. Microsoft actually did not use the standard spacing for their ergo boards – which was a clever way to get closer to better key arrangements, while still not changing too much too disturb people.

Honestly, when there is zero chance to consider that for future products I do not see a reason to discuss that. I am sure that there are serious benefits over offering another whatever-type of columnar staggered key arrangement. There are many too choose from and still IMO they miss the boat regarding the thumb cluster, which is not universal enough. Therefore as a third point the wide(er) space key is a big plus (by coincidence) of a standard keyboard and the existing UHK, which almost everyone seems to overlook. That would be another benefit of a symmetrical stagger keyboard – it will fit to different hand sizes and positions better than what is available now mostly in the different so called ergo-boards.

IMO thumb clusters are not only overrated and also not well enough developed on most current keyboards (to be more or less universal good for different people). See the article here. That matches my experience. The thumb keys on the Model 100 are in a position, where my thumb would want to be exactly between two existing keys, making use of the thumb keys less pleasant than using the good old (half) space bar.

First because horizontal stagger is in fact also ergonomic in that way that the right hand can keep a straight line, without needed to kink the wrist sideways. So it is IMO better than ortholinear.

I would take this for a single-piece keyboard. For a split I just don’t buy that.

And second it is closer to a standard keyboard. So more “compatible” in that sense.

Which applies only for the right half. Left half is on the contrary farther from a standard keyboard than ortholinear, isn’t it?

except for the left hand top row (qwerty), which is really annoying. Many people think that columnar stagger would be better and it would take less efforts to reach keys. That is wrong as a general statement.

Are you saying that you hate stretching pinky a bit, but don’t care about stretching your index finger super far?

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I am talking about potential UHK variants specifically. The UHK can be a single piece keyboard, so you can use it on your lap or in the bed or more easy on the train or other tight places! That is one of the unique selling points which AFAIK no other keyboard offers. The UHK can become a Atreus like board, which also would be a good option btw., but neither has the compatibility to standard boards, nor the outer key row you need/ want for German and other languages and does not have the cool features of the UHK (good mouse mode, mouse modules, macro language, splitable…)

No, you can design the symmetrical stagger key arrangement (plus the modifier keys) in such a way that is indeed closer to standard board than ortholinear. That btw. is a plus point to keep the half-width lower row stagger.

Where do you get that impression? All I say is that there can not be a perfect keyboard with all keys in perfect places. We need too many letters and some layer switches and some function keys (on layers or direct ones). As soon we optimize one position for a finger another position next to it will become worse for the same finger.

Finally. It is always a matter of some sort of “compatibility” for any keyboard you design. If that was not the case you would create your own keymap, optimize the position of the layer keys (shift and symbol layer), without constraints (considering other fingers than the pinky or thumb), would include the option of foot switches (not handy for laptop use on the go) and so on or look at different concepts like the Svalboard or other ones you would come up with.

My thinking is that there is a need and likely also a market for a very compatible key arrangement (to standard keyboards), while fixing the stagger problems and allowing to use the keyboard as close to a normal keyboard as wanted, but at the same time to offer the freedom to depart from that by using layers on the thumb and in non-standard places (for example on the CapsLock, '-key). Such a board would also allow to move keycaps to the wanted places (fully or at least to a certain degree). The UHK is by far in the best position to be that keyboard, because of some unique advantages it has. The only real non-compatibility needed is the movement of the 5 top-row keys (qwert) – fixing the only real problem a standard keyboard has!

A typical columnar stagger (with lesser keys for the modifiers and arrows) looses some of the advantages of the UHK and can be interesting as well for sure, but there are plenty of options out there already, but no single one offering the advantages I describe. I did not have a chance to try such a key arrangement and do not know how it will feel to use it and how much easier the switch to a standard keyboard would be, but my educated guess it might be worth it and would be a worthwhile option to explore.

When looking at alternative key layouts, I am not convinced that row stagger is important to keep. I agree with @kareltucek: as soon as you build a split keyboard, you can rotate those halves so that a columnar stagger fits your hands nicely.

(Side note about fitting the hands ‘nicely’: every hand is different. It’s hard to make a “one size fits all” call. If you want true customisation at the hardware level, you could go the ErgoGen route. See this YouTube video.)

I just had a very brief experiment with a columnar stagger keyboard at a friend’s place; I don’t own one myself (yet). But I am very willing to try.

It’s difficult to decide on a layout. There are just too many out there. So, I thought about some requirements that I would have:

  1. slight columnar stagger – not too extreme
  2. I want 6 columns per hand
  3. I don’t think I need a number row. I use a numpad layer already (hold tab), and I would create an additional layer for all the symbols normally on the number row.
  4. a few thumb keys (for convenient layer switching)
  5. keep traditional modifiers for Control, Win, Alt, because muscle memory. Eventually I might unlearn and relearn either home-row mods or using thumbs, but I want to keep some compatibility. I regularly work on traditional keyboards (laptop!), and I don’t want to stray too far away.

(Btw, thumb keys: the key cluster as well as the trackpad of the UHK modules are nice, but too far away for my natural thumb reach. I have to shift my hands to get to their real estate easily. It doesn’t feel natural, so I don’t use them too much. So for future thumb keys, I want them a bit closer.)

I’ve looked at Corne, Lily58, Iris etc. The Corne seems to be quite popular, and I could give it a go, but I feel it takes too many keys away. It matches a lot, but not all of my requirements (esp. #5 is missing).

You can also check out this split keyboard comparison tool that allows you to print out original size keyboards (or keyboard halves) on A4 paper. With that you can check how your hands fit various layouts.

What I found matches my requirements and my hands is the ErgoTravel. Now I am tempted to buy a kit and build one.

It’s close enough to the current keys available on the UHK (minus the number row), and has a bit more thumb keys. I think it would allow relearning quickly.

I’m kind of curious what @mlac has chosen for future layouts. I guess we’ll see… and of course I hope it matches many of my requirements :wink:

the Svalboard

Thanks for bringing this up, seriously considering buying one :sweat_smile:.

Not in general that is true. But for the compatible keyboard I think it would be a plus. 1. Stay as close to the standard keyboard as possible. 2. And second with the added benefit that you need to angle the keyboard less or you can use it as a one-piece keyboard. That is a great option of the UHK in general, but due the cramped feeling I do not use it often. If it would be wireless and would have symmetrical stagger it would work nicely I imagine.

I did not come up with a list what I would want exactly, but would follow your list mostly.

  1. columnar stagger – how much I am not sure. It depends if you try to make a layout compatible to standard keyboards or not.
  2. 6 columns is a must for me – no discussion at all
  3. number row – preferred to have one
  4. 2 or 3 thumb keys – I will not use them for layer switching, because you can not transfer that to a laptop keyboard. Very important is that the thumb keys are wider than a single key, so that different hand sizes and positions are possible and you can have the thumb exactly in the position which feels natural for you.
  5. traditional modifiers – I will not need those, when the bottom-row mods will work for me
  6. some extra keys for functions I use oft and want a one-press key: volume, mute, PrintScreen are my most used ones. I would prefer to have some extra above those 4 keys – if possible without too much downsides
  7. would still like arrow keys

6 and 7 means that for myself I would prefer to have a row with mod-keys and arrow keys. The mod keys I can assign to whatever I want as my quick one-press keys.

Glove80 fulfills most of my wishes, but the thumb cluster is likely too high and when one has bad luck not the keys will not be in the optimal position. There is no printable layout (projection view for example) from that available. So hard to tell. Also the keywell will make the keyboard higher, which is often unwanted.

I am surprised you would be willing to switch to thumb layers, because that will screw up your laptop option.

I already have thumb keys: two space keys and two fn keys. Plus the leftmost key on the key cluster module, which is in reasonable reach for my thumb.

Mouse layer: don’t need it on laptop with trackpad.

Fn layer = Media control: laptop has keys for that.

Number layer and Symbol layer: laptop has number row for that.

Summarising: I think what I want to do is achievable. Layers for the missing number row via thumb keys. If the thumb keys aren’t there, there will be a number row. That, combined with columnar stagger ortho layout should be enough that I can differentiate it in my mind.

Anyone have any experience with something like this? Looks interesting-

The idea is mind blowing! But does it works for Linux? Is it open-source? Looks like for both questions the answer is no.

Of course it looks like it’s got some pretty awful flaws, but that’s a huge leap as far as modular ergonomics goes.

I wish I could get one as a loaner for a month or so. Try out which layout I want, experiment with it, and when I know exactly where I want my keys, then create an actual board with exactly that layout and have it manufactured (plates, pcb etc.). Return the loaner; next person can use it.

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I wouldn’t doubt a whole lot of people bought it specifically for that reason. Prototyping design heaven.

Just sayin’

Would be great to type on and would be close to a standard layout, would allow two Fn keys (one on each side, relatively easy to reach with the thumb) would offer arrows, all standard modifiers, and have some extra keys for whatever one wants (Media control, PrintScreen, Hyper, Macros…).

I think that this would be a unique offer to the market and allow significant easier adaption than typical columnar stagger keys with thumb keys in places, where you are forced to keep your thumb in the position the keyboard dictates, instead of giving the room the two half space keys offer. So different hand sizes will not have a problem and also different positioning of the two halves will work for all people. Where you place the keyboard and how you angle it, has influence on the position where the thumb naturally will fall.

Another advantage is the compact layout in the depth, which allows to either attach a palm rest or if preferred to keep the keyboard close to the front of the table without a palm rest, or when using it in one piece on the lap.

P.S.: The keys: 6, 7, G and H could also be 1u keys, but then leave a small gap, which I would not mind, when the halves are connected. But then one could swap keys – especially the numbers – much easier. Some will prefer to keep the numbers on the standard position, while others will want to split after the 5 and not the 6 possibly. The middle extra key could also be omitted, depending on the connection of the two halves. The extra key left of left Shift would change position for ISO-boards, or one could just make an ISO-version and people can assign Shift to the 1u key or their ISO-character.

Changes to a standard stagger are 0.25u shift of the number row to a bit better position and to be symmetrical. Also Space is shifted inwards 0.25u and the lower character row has only 0.25u stagger instead of 0.5u, the 0.25u stagger for top and bottom row feels better to have them equal.