Keyboard Layouts: The Definitive Guide

Guide, Keyboard

Most likely you’re using a QWERTY keyboard, which is named after the first six letters of the keyboard:

Deck Francium keyboard with QWERTY layout

But did you know that there are many other types of keyboards that have completely different arrangement of keys?

In this article we’ll go over the basics of keyboard layouts and check out different types of layouts across the world.

Physical Layout

Physical layout is the shape and size of the keys. These are the three most common physical layouts.


The most common layout in the United States is ANSI, which has a backslash ( \ ) key above Enter:

ANSI keyboard layout. Source: Wikimedia


ISO keyboard layout, which is common in the United Kingdom and Europe, has a vertical Enter key to make room for an additional key to the left. Left Shift key is also smaller to make room for another key to the right:

ISO keyboard layout. Source: Wikimedia


The JIS keyboard layout is widely used in Japanese keyboards, that has smaller Right Shift key to make room for another key on the left. The Backspace key is also smaller for one more key to the left. The Spacebar key is about half the size in order to put three more keys:

JIS keyboard layout. Source: Wikimedia

Visual Layout

Visual layout refers to what letters, numbers and symbols are printed on the keycaps.

For example here is an ANSI keyboard with Japanese letters:

Source: Wikimedia

Just because it has Japanese letters on the keycaps, that does not mean your computer will print Japanese when you type. Visual layout is only referring to the letters that are physically printed on the keycaps.

Functional Layouts

Functional layout is how each key functions when pressed.

Usually when a key is pressed, the letter that is written on the keycap is printed on the computer.

But that is not always the case. For example, you can easily change the language settings to print Korean letters, even though there are no Korean characters printed on the keycaps.

Or a user may customize the keyboard with a software. You can change your A key to print Z, for example.

QWERTY is the most popular layout by far. However, there are a lot more layouts that exist in the world.


AZERTY layout is used in French-speaking countries like France, Belgium, Algeria, etc.:

Source: Wikimedia

As you may have guessed, the name comes from the first six letters of the keyboard. The Q key is swapped with A, W with Z, and M with semi-colon( ; ). All other keys are in the same location.


In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, QWERTZ keyboard is widely used where the Z and Y are swapped:


While we only saw minor changes so far, there are other layouts that are very different, such as Dvorak. It has the keys arranged like this:

The inventor, August Dvorak, created this layout to increase type speed and comfort level, while reducing typos. Dvorak keyboards showed 4% better results, according to a study by Santa Fe Institute.

That’s possible because the most commonly used letters are placed in the home row, which is where your fingers rest naturally on a keyboard.

As a comparison, 70% of the typing on Dvorak keyboard are done in the home row, while only 32% in a QWERTY keyboard are done in the home row.

For people who are already used to QWERTY, adjusting to Dvorak layout may take a long time.


A lot of people like the Colemak layout because it’s more similar to QWERTY:

Source: Wikimedia

Just like Dvorak, Colemak improves typing by having more common letters in the home row, while keeping frequently used shortcut keys like Z, X, C, V, B, etc.

As you can see, there is no Caps Lock key in Colemak layout. Instead there is an additional Backspace key in that location.

You can try the Colemak layout using a software in Windows.


Malt is the layout that is mostly known for the Maltron ergonomic keyboard:

As you can see, the physical layout is completely different from any of the layouts that we’ve seen so far.

The alphanumeric keys are divided into two, with a numpad and functional keys in the middle. And the “E” key is in the bottom left position.

Source: Wikimedia

Most people who have not seen keyboards in other countries may not even know that other keyboard layouts exist. But as you can see, there are many layouts that are completely different from each other.

We hope this article helped you learn something. Let us know in the comment section what keyboard layout you’re using!

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Andrew is a lifetime gamer and a former amateur esports player. He has worked as the manager for teams such as the New York Excelsior and the Los Angeles Gladiators. Andrew has been mentioned in ESPN, Inven, The Ringer and other esports magazines and journals.

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