NIOSH finds keyboard design has little effect

The results of a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggest that computer keyboard design has little or no effect on the comfort and fatigue of workers. The findings may be significant in light of the many keyboard variations currently marketed as more "natural" and "ergonomically designed."

Researchers have theorized that changes in keyboard configuration can protect users from musculoskeletal disorders of the wrist, arm, and back. So far, few studies have examined the actual effect of the alternative keyboards .

The NIOSH study involved 50 female clerical workers typing on either a conventional keyboard or one of three alternative designs.1 The alternative designs featured a split keyboard with keys for the left hand and right hand on separate panels at various angles.

After three days studying the keyboards, the researchers concluded that there was "minimal impact of the keyboard design features examined here on productivity, comfort, and self-reported fatigue." They also say that "even keyboard design features/adjustments that addressed purported upper extremity postural risks for VDT work-related discomfort . . . did not appear to decrease or eliminate discomfort among these subjects."

The NIOSH researchers point out, however, that reported levels of discomfort and fatigue were low for all of the study subjects. They also note that the study only involved asymptomatic workers using the new keyboard designs for a short period. The keyboards could have an effect on workers already experiencing substantial discomfort and fatigue from typing, they say.


1. Swanson NG, Galinsky TL, Cole LL, et al. The impact of keyboard design on comfort and productivity in a text-entry task. Applied Ergonomics 1997; 28:9-16. t