Compressing Your Keyboard
This article is about switching to a smaller keyboard (with fewer keys), why you might want to, and how to reintroduce the functions of missing keys in a way that capitalises on your own muscle memory.
When talking about computer keyboards, there are two main ways to subdivide or categorise what’s available: layout, and size. While these are overlapping concepts, it’s easy enough to understand the differences by way of examples.
Layouts are, broadly speaking, how the keys are arranged — QWERTY being a popular layout for most people who’ll read this, whether in its US-style ANSI arrangement or the international ISO style instead. There are many more layouts, including AZERTY, DVORAK, COLEMAK, WORKMAN, and so on. These all intersect to varying degrees with the needed key layouts for languages other than English (such as JIS), creating a rich matrix of possibilities. It’s the other primary categorisation that I really want to talk about here, though; that of size.
Some Common Keyboard Sizes
You’ll encounter a small set of terminology in this area. The standard big keyboard that has both a dedicated number pad and also a cluster of navigational keys (Home, End, Page Up, etc at the top, and an inverted-T arrangement of arrow/cursor keys below) is just called a full-sized keyboard. Everything else is relative to this, using very approximate percentages; the approximation being necessary because of the huge variation in the actual number of keys needed for assorted layouts and languages.
Closest to the full-size version we have the set of keyboards which remove the number pad only. These are called TenKeyLess or TKL, or sometimes 80% keyboards. They often have between 80 and 90% of the keys on a standard board.
Next, the 75% takes most of the navigation cluster and tucks in into the right of the main area of the keyboard, resulting in a rectangular layout that’s only slightly wider than the alphanumeric area without sacrificing cursor keys. Not a popular choice, but it can make sense for people who need a smaller footprint that retains cursors and the function row. Just beware of finding replacement keycaps sets, because this size isn’t particularly well catered for.
Now we jump down to the size I’d recommend to most people who don’t need a dedicated numpad: the 65%. It’s essentially just the main section of a full-size keyboard, but swapping out the right-hand modifiers for cursor keys and tweaking key sizes to make everything fit. It also removes the function row entirely, but retains the number row along the top. If you want maximum compactness without giving up your number row or cursor keys, this would be your best bet. There are plenty of options. Indeed, if you don’t need a dedicated function row, numpad, or separate navigation cluster but do want arrow keys, and you don’t know which size to go for, this is the one I’d advise you to try first.
Second-last, the 60% size, which is very well-represented in the mechanical keyboard world. It’s easy to understand: it’s a full-size keyboard without the function row, and without anything to the right of the Enter key — so no navigation cluster or numpad either. You’ll typically have one or more Fn modifier keys to give access to those missing functions, like on a laptop keyboard. These keys act in the same way that the Shift key does, changing which character or function is sent when another key is pressed while the modifier key is held.
Finally, we have the everything-else category, which prominently includes 40% keyboards (no number row either), and all manner of uniquely-sized and -shaped keyboards with dramatically few keys.
There are plenty of in-between sizes, manufacturer-specific arrangements, task-centric keyboards (including thousands of gaming boards) and so on, but those mentioned above are most of the main ones.
Why Go Smaller?
This is all well and good, but it naturally raises the question of why you should care. If you’re a user of Apple devices, you’re probably using a kind-of 60 to 65% keyboard, in the form of either a MacBook or an external compact Magic Keyboard, or an iPad Magic Keyboard or Keyboard Folio case. It’s pretty much a 60% that swaps the right group of bottom-row modifiers for a set of four cursor keys squeezed into three key units. It was my favourite keyboard for many years, and I still love it. If you’re a more general PC desktop user, you’re probably using something closer to a full-size keyboard, though that’s probably too broad a generalisation these days. And whatever you use, you’re likely to be happy enough with it. Why would you think about changing?
There are a few reasons to consider reducing the size of your keyboard, and the first is ergonomics. We can split this into two specific aspects: finger-reaching and arm-reaching.
Smaller keyboards, while they require an increasing amount of modifier-key usage as the total number of keys decreases (to access the “missing” functions), do however require less stretching of the fingers away from the home row. That’s trivially, obviously true — you can’t stretch over to keys that don’t exist, after all. Smaller keyboards reduce the number of “hot” areas: those which require either extreme stretches of the fingers, and/or the use of fingers and positions which for the human hand are weak and thus comparatively difficult and potentially damaging. This includes virtually any keypress that involves your pinky fingers having to move from their resting position at all.
Second, arm-reaching. Anyone who’s a right-handed mouse user (which is more than eighty percent of mouse users, statistically) will know the cumulative irritation and fatigue caused by the mouse being so far away from the main alphanumeric section of the keyboard. The right hand has to be moved up and over the navigation cluster and the number pad to reach the mouse, and then back again to type. It’s no coincidence that gaming key configurations for mouse-centric games minimise the use of any key on the right half of the keyboard. Boards which have no numpad and/or navigation cluster allow the mouse to be physically closer to the main section of the keyboard, requiring much less lateral arm movement when repositioning the right hand between the keyboard and mouse. It’s worth noting that keyboards with numpads on the left of the alphanumeric block do indeed exist, which may be very helpful to some people, but the point still stands.
Another factor in choosing a smaller keyboard, inevitably, is aesthetics. The look of a desk setup is very important to some people and of no importance to others, and either opinion is fine, but there’s no denying that a more minimal or intentional look can have a striking effect. Third-party keyboards are also notoriously customisable in every respect, from keycaps to key switches to casing, lighting, and cables, offering an opportunity to create a unified or branded appearance that some people will be more than willing to invest money and adjustment time for.
This brings us to a final important factor in favour of choosing a smaller keyboard, which is software customisation. I’m not referring to apps or utilities which are installed on a computer to change a keyboard’s behaviour while those apps or utilities are running; rather, I’m talking about customisation on the keyboard itself, in its own internal firmware. It follows logically that the fewer keys a keyboard has, the further it deviates from the standard we’re all accustomed to: that most functions or characters have their own key, and any which require a modifier are in a limited and ubiquitous (for each layout and language!) set. Accordingly, extensive customisation becomes not only increasingly advantageous, but indeed essential as the number of keys is reduced.
Thus we come to the purpose of this article, viz: a strategy for customising a smaller keyboard than you’re used to, with the goal of optimising its intuitiveness for you.
Towards A Tailored Compressed Keyboard
Let me briefly outline my own situation. I’ve mostly used Apple devices for the last twenty-five years, but with regular stints on Windows and Unix machines. For the last five years, I’ve near-exclusively used an iPad as my computer, with an assortment of Apple and third-party laptop-style keyboards, and also mechanical keyboards. Most of the former were in the 65% range, and the latter have run the gamut from TKL down to 60%.
My current keyboard, however, is different. It’s a Planck, which I wrote about previously; a 40% keyboard (47 keys) that’s also ortholinear, which means that the keys are in a straight grid rather than the more usual staggered rows. It does have a dedicated inverted-T cursor key cluster, but of course no right modifiers, no numpad, no navigation cluster, no function row, and indeed no number row either.
I was attracted to it for various reasons, which did include ergonomics though I don’t tend to suffer problems in that regard, but mainly the lure of tinkering and customisation — plus the aesthetic aspect. I have no pointing device on my desk at all, unless you count the iPad’s touch-screen, though the keyboard itself does emulate a mouse on a particular layer. I appreciate the look of having only a small keyboard in the horizontal centre of my desk, and the sense of focus and the primacy of words, since I’m a writer.
As you can imagine, I’ve had an adaption period where I got used to not only the ortholinear arrangement of the keys (which you’d adjust to faster than you think), but also the dramatically reduced number of them. It’s been an instructive process, and I think that some of the things I’ve learned can generalise.
The first thing I’d advise is to let your mistakes, rather than your intentions, be the primary driver in customising your keyboard. Mistakes in this context, when made persistently, indicate what your muscle memory expects to happen: they show where the most glaring and annoying differences lie between what you have now and what you were used to before. Mistakes are a huge hint about what you should do next, as is often the case.
My second tip is that, on most sub-65% boards these days, layers aren’t your only option for accessing additional functionality. Layers are the concept I mentioned earlier, whereby you hold a particular key, and it changes the functions of other keys while you keep the original key held; examples include the Shift key, or keyboard shortcuts which involve holding modifiers while tapping another key. Layers can sometimes also act as toggles, whereby the keyboard is put into an alternate mode until you explicitly change it back again; examples of this would include Caps Lock, Num Lock, and so on. The etymology is obvious: these special modes effectively superimpose a different “layer” of functions or characters onto the physical keys of your keyboard.
There’s no question that layers are useful, and are indeed the primary means by which smaller keyboards retain full functionality, but they’re only one of the tools at your disposal. Customisable keyboards make use of interactions which are found only rarely in conventional keyboard usage, often in the realm of accessibility or assistive technology, or as part of custom macro utilities or input modification apps. The primary concepts I’m referring to here are those of not just tapping keys, but also of holding them down, quickly double-tapping, or tapping and then holding. Suitably configured, a single key can have at least four different functions without resorting to layers at all — and that’s without considering the idea of chording, which is the simultaneous pressing of multiple keys to trigger particular functions.
My initial feeling was that it would be too confusing to use multi-tap or hold-based interactions as a way to restore lost keys on a smaller keyboard. I assumed that layers would be a superior option in terms of predictability, even though some relearning was involved. That may be true for some people, but it absolutely wasn’t for me. What I learned was that my brain didn’t seem to care much about whether I had to tap or hold a key to trigger a given function or character; what really mattered was where the physical key was.
Apparently, and I can only speak for myself here but you should consider whether this might apply to you too, my brain sees hold functions in particular as much easier and more intuitive to trigger a given lost key as long as the physical key I’m using is in the right place.
This probably seems obvious in retrospect; spatial memory is powerful and fundamental, whereas the mechanics of an interaction are comparatively incidental, and we’ve all already had to adapt to daily switching back and forth between pressing physical keys down and tapping capacitive glass. However, it does raise the interesting question of where exactly the right place for a key actually is. I found that the answer is: it depends.
There seem to be three main cases, in terms of how my brain expresses its knowledge and thus expectations of where a given key is, and each of those cases are based on relative physical positions. Since I’m working with a 40% keyboard that retains a full alphabetic QWERTY layout, my customisation needs are mostly related to providing missing functions from keys beyond that cluster. I seem to respond to three different things:
- Position relative to alphabetic keys.
- Position relative to the top edge of the keyboard.
- Position relative to the bottom edge.
These things overlap in some cases, but for each particular key I might consider, my brain seems to have an almost unshakeable opinion on where that key lives with regard to other keys. I think that I only have the core QWERTY layout in my mind as a discrete unit, and everything else is a sort of directional lookup with respect to either that unit, or the physical boundaries of the keyboard peripheral or area itself. Which makes sense when you think about it, since the alphabetic cluster is the one near-constant across all the keyboards I’ve ever used.
I’ll discuss some examples in a moment, but let’s make the obvious conclusion up front: this relative muscle memory immediately suggests a strategy for how to re-incorporate excised keys’ functions into a smaller keyboard. I’d summarise that strategy as follows:
- Determine where your brain expects a key to be, in terms of which physical boundary or key it’s positioned relative to. This is most easily seen when you try to type the key without looking, and thus make an error on an unfamiliar keyboard.
- Put the key there on your smaller keyboard, using an alternate interaction trigger that feels most natural to you. For me, that’s the hold interaction.
I’ve found that this approach yields vastly superior results in terms of speed of learning and lack of errors, compared to creating a new (and presumably layer-based) arrangement of the missing keys, no matter how logical or well-categorised that layer might be.
It’s worth noting, of course, that this is all of primary relevance to keys you use frequently enough that you’ll find it immediately annoying when they’re not present on your new and smaller keyboard. If a key was rarely useful to you before, I see little point in replicating its position purely on principle, but that’s up to you. Now, to some examples.
Escape, Tab, and Caps Lock
Perhaps the most immediately noticeable thing about my own keyboard’s layout, other than the profound lack of keys, is that the top-leftmost key is Tab, with Escape below it. This is the inverse of the usual arrangement, but it’s also the default for this Planck keyboard.
My first attempted customisation was to put those two keys back in the conventional order, and I immediately regretted it. I discovered that my perception of where Tab lives is relative to the alphabetic cluster: I expect it to be to the left of Q. By contrast, I don’t really seem to expect Escape to be anywhere at all, for the twin reasons that I use it much more rarely than Tab, and that on iPadOS it’s more common to press Command+. to cancel dialogs and so on. Not wanting to lose Escape entirely, though, I quickly realised the wisdom of the Planck’s default arrangement.
Caps Lock is a strange key. I never use it, at least for its original function. There are times when I’ve used it to switch input languages between English and Mandarin, but that can be accomplished with Control+Shift+Space instead. I have no need of a Caps Lock key, so it’s the obvious key to lose entirely, and a convenient place to put my occasional-use Escape key.
The backspace key usually lives at the far right of the numbers row, after hyphen and equals. It’s the top-right key of a keyboard if you exclude the function row, and I could feel straightaway that it made sense to put it as far to the top and right as I could; i.e. in the upper right corner. Even though it’s conceptually one row further down than before, I’ve had absolutely no issues with inaccuracy in hitting it. I think my mental model of a keyboard lacks a function row entirely, which I’ll explain in a moment.
As I said, I’ve been an Apple devices user for a very long time, and function keys on Macs or iPads or iPhones don’t really work the same way they do on PCs. Outside of the Apple ecosystem, F1 to F-whatever are first class keys, with dedicated functions that people know about and use. They reload web pages, and participate in system keyboard shortcuts. That’s not the case on a Mac. Apple keyboards are pretty much always toggled into a special function-keys layer whereby those keys all control hardware features, media, or window management — and their actual functions are different on separate generations of Macs. Whether a given fkey will change keyboard backlight brightness, or toggle Exposé, or mute sound, depends on factors like whether it’s a built-in keyboard on a laptop, and when the laptop was made. The glyphs on the keys are virtually always accurate, but if you wait a few years and then upgrade to a new MacBook Pro, your fkeys are going to do different things than you’re used to. It’s just always been that way.
You certainly can choose to use F1 etc as those actual keys, but it’s by no means the usual way that people use their Macs. It’s more common to use Fn+F1 (the physical key) to get F1 (the keycode sent to the computer). For that reason, I never built up any persistent concept of what the function row does. When I got a new Mac I’d check where a few necessary features were — usually volume and media control — and ignore the rest of the top row until I needed something, at which point I’d just look for it. I knew that the next Mac I used would probably subtly alter the arrangement anyway. In a way, the function row was a separate and transient thing more like the Touch Bar, rather than part of the keyboard proper. Thus, unsurprisingly, I had no issues at all with losing it entirely.
In the pretty unlikely event of needing to type F1 and so on, I simply have the first twelve F-keys on a layer, in two rows of six. They’re not at the top of the keyboard, because that’s too valuable a place for keys I don’t actually need. For the system and media functions I want, I have dedicated logical clusters on layers that make sense to me. I’ve never had an association between those functions and the topmost row of keys. And I’ve never had any association for the weird, vaguely Windows-like F1 etc keys.
This is an interesting one. I’m of course most used to numbers along the row that for me is the real top of the keyboard: the row above Q-P. But I’ve also always hated having to type more than a single digit from there, because I’d often make off-by-one errors in the positions. Those errors, coupled with the fact that numeric entry can’t be automatically validated in the same way that spellchecking validates your typed letters, and the potential for numerical errors to have significant repercussions, has always made me feel that the number row is awkward, precarious, and stressful to use.
I have, inevitably, replicated the number row nonetheless, in the expected place: on the top row, taking the place of Q-P via a layer — but I’ve also done something much better and created a dedicated number pad layout on a different layer, reusing the positions of 7-9 and filling in the rest of the standard numpad below them. This makes so much more sense to my brain and my fingers, and I eagerly switch to my numpad for entering even two-digit numbers. My error rate with it is virtually zero, even though my keycaps have no printed number glyphs anywhere. The 789/456/123/0 layout is just quicker and more stable, and vastly superior in terms of finger and hand movement too.
I’d even go so far as to say that the ability to superimpose a true numpad without needing to lift my hands from the home row is probably my favourite customisation. I feel relief and even a bit of glee every time I use it — and all without taking up any extra space on my desk.
Enter and Right Shift
Similar to the situation on the left side of my keyboard, I have only four keys in my rightmost column. That might not seem like much of a problem — after all, an ISO keyboard without a function row often has only four keys in the right column: backspace, the double-height Enter key, right Shift, and usually right-arrow. But remember that my keyboard has only twelve columns too, which adds a bit of complexity.
Compared to a larger keyboard, my four positions in the right column might be claimed by any combination of Backspace, backslash/pipe, quote, Enter, right Shift, right-arrow, equals, right-bracket, and maybe even slash/question-mark. A tougher situation to handle at first glance, but actually simpler than it seems.
The top-right position of course belongs to Backspace. The bottom-right is for right-arrow, and that’ll be true whether you have an inverted-T cursor arrangement or a linear (left, down, up, right) one. That leaves only two positions. As a writer, there’s no way I’m going to sacrifice my quote key, so it stays in its traditional position beside semicolon. That leaves a single position, in the right column and the second-bottom row, which logically would be occupied by the essential Enter key.
But that position is actually the proper place for two keys at once, according to my brain. Relative to the top edge of the keyboard, it’s the third row down, so it’s clearly Enter. But relative to the bottom edge of the keyboard, it’s the second row up, and is thus clearly right Shift. My fingers expect to find both keys there, as they indicate to me a hundred times a day — so that’s how my keyboard works. Enter is a key that you tap, and Shift is a key that you hold while pressing other keys. On my keyboard, it just so happens that they’re the same key.
Hyphen and Equals
I’ve always thought of these keys as minus and plus, even though those characters are the keys’ shifted variants, but you know which ones I mean anyway. On a larger keyboard, they come immediately after the zero key in the number row, just before Backspace. For my no-function-row mental model, they’re clearly top row keys, and they’re also strongly associated with being the two keys just to the left of Backspace. This makes it trivial to decide where to place them.
The two keys to the left of Backspace on my keyboard are (usually) O and P, but that doesn’t actually matter. If I hold O for 200 milliseconds, it’s hyphen instead. Similarly, P becomes equals. Those two keys also give me minus, plus, underscore, en-dash, and em-dash… as well as O and P themselves, in lowercase and uppercase. Everything is where my brain expects it to be, and it turns out that consistent position is about 90% of what I instinctively define as familiarity in a keyboard layout. My brain doesn’t care at all that it has to hold a key for a fifth of a second instead of just tapping it.
Brackets and Braces
A brief note on terminology: brackets are the square, boxy ones; braces are the squiggly ones that come to a little point in the middle. The ones that are used in parenthetical remarks (like this) are called parentheses, even though a lot of people use the term brackets in a more general way to refer to any of these marks, and to parentheses in particular.
Ahem. Following the pattern of hyphen and equals, I discovered that my brain’s map for the brackets/braces key was just “they’re below hyphen and equals”. It didn’t care in the least that the brackets are actually to the right of P on most keyboards I’ve used, and to the left of Enter on those boards that have ISO layouts. It just knew them relative to the punctuation in the row above. This immediately suggests the most logical place to put them: as hold functions on my L and semicolon keys, which are just beneath O and P (and indeed directly beneath, since this keyboard is ortholinear).
The most satisfying aspect of this approach for me is that it’s based entirely on feel, and where I subconsciously want things to be. I’m adapting an input device based on what seems right to me, rather than adapting myself to the device.
Cursor Keys, and the Consequent Question Mark
No key has had more wars fought over it than the humble up-arrow. Whether it’s in the bottom row and third from the right, in the second-bottom row and second from the right, in a navigation cluster somewhere, or on another layer entirely and superimposed upon W, or I, or something even more exotic, people care deeply about it. It’s the anchor point of the cursors, and I think that one of the fundamental divisions between keyboard users is whether or not you can bear to sacrifice dedicated, always-available, first-class cursor keys.
I can’t. I tried; really, I did. I tried having them on WASD, and on IJKL. I tried having them as momentary tap functions on a 60% board. I tried having them as primary functions on that size too. I tried keeping them as dedicated 1-unit keys but in a linear arrangement along the bottom right. And I just couldn’t live with any of those configurations.
I’m a writer, and I navigate through text a lot. I think that people who write, but who use a pointing device to move their cursor to edit their work are absolutely insane. I think those people were put upon the Earth to psychically injure me every time I see their monstrous flailing. I think they’re eating soup with a fork. I think that to look into their eyes would be to gaze into the stygian vortex of madness. I mean, if I saw such a person in the street, I’m not even sure I’d brake.
Ahem again. Suffice it to say, then, that cursor keys are important to me. I’m forever twiddling left by a character, or by a whole word via the Option modifier. I’ll add the Shift key to select as I go. If I use Command with the horizontal cursors, I can be at the beginning or end of a line faster than any man alive, and most certainly faster than a pointer-nudging troglodyte. I’m just going to take a breath now, because I’m getting worked up about this pointer thing. Let’s take a paragraph break.
OK. Now we’re fine. Cursor keys. Important to people! I really couldn’t tolerate anything except a tried-and-true inverted-T layout, at the very bottom-right of the board. And since there’s no-one here who would dare to stop me, that’s what I did — but it created a problem. I’m a writer, as I’ve mentioned often enough for you to wonder whether I’m insecure about it, and writers write dialogue. In dialogue, because we’re social and interrogatory creatures and because life is full of uncertainty and confusion, we regularly ask questions, and questions require question-marks. Yes, they do. Don’t start me.
The proper place for a question-mark, so says my brain, is to the left of the right Shift key. My brain won’t accept it anywhere else, and thus we have a conflict. On my 40% keyboard, we just added an inverted-T cursor layout to the bottom right, which means that the key to the left of my right Shift key (which also happens to be my Enter key, as you’ll recall) is the most war-provoking key of them all: the humble up-arrow. Now, by this point you already know where I’m going with this.
My brain doesn’t care how I trigger a question-mark; it just absolutely insists that it be in the second-bottom row, second from the right, i.e. the same place where it also absolutely insists I have an up-arrow. The solution is just a slight spin on what I did for hyphen and all the rest: holding the up-arrow for a fifth of a second will produce a question-mark directly. Note that I don’t mean a forward-slash which I can then Shift into a question-mark; this is a single keypress (well, a single key-hold, I suppose).
Weirdly, it seems like in this context, my brain equates the “extra thing” it had to do to get the question-mark before (hold down a Shift key) with the “extra thing” of holding down the up-arrow key for a fraction of a second longer than usual. It doesn’t want a forward-slash there. I never use a forward-slash. My brain is glad to be rid of the obstruction. The two holds just make sense as echoes of each other.
I did, however, move the physical slash/question-mark keycap and function to the now-vacant position left open by my rearrangement of the cursor keys from their Planck-default linear arrangement, i.e. the fourth key from the right on the bottom row. I expect that I’ll remap it entirely in future for something that’s more useful to me, though I do have occasional call for a forward-slash when using the command line to do things on my server.
There are some keys from my usual Apple UK ISO 65% layouts that I just have no use for, or at least use so rarely as to not even know where they keys are on the board without having to look. These are actually blessings in disguise, since they can readily be excised from the base layer to make room for their more needed cousins, and the orphans can still find homes on other layers in case they’re required at some point.
First amongst those is the aforementioned backslash/pipe key, which has virtually no use for me outside of the command line — and iOS terminal apps tend to have extra utility rows above the software keyboard (or instead of it) with quick access buttons for shell-related characters anyway. I’ve moved that key to another layer, and have yet to miss it. Even less useful is the section/plus-minus key, which to my knowledge I’ve never used at all. I don’t even have it configured on any layer.
Last of the removed keys from my erstwhile keyboards is the backtick/tilde key, which does very occasionally come in handy for either Markdown writing or again in a terminal. It’s usual position on my past UK ISO Apple keyboards is to the right of the left Shift key, but I’ve instead put those characters on the Tab key at the top-left, split across the Lower and Raise layers. This makes sense to me since backtick on Apple devices is closely related to Tab with regard to keyboard shortcuts: Command+Tab cycles between apps, and Command+backtick cycles between the windows with an app. The latter shortcut doesn’t currently exist on iOS or iPadOS, but I like the logical consistency.
All other keys from the boards I’m used to are accounted for physically on this Planck.
Earlier in life, I went through a lengthy period of resisting customisation of my digital workspace. I clung to stock apps supplied with the OS, standard input devices, and as much as possible to default configurations. My feeling was that by doing so, I wouldn’t be beholden to anything beyond the minimum that would always be available, and thus could enjoy the true freedom of machine- and setup-agnosticism.
Looking back, there’s a certain sadness and pessimism about that view, even though I still understand the motivations behind it. I think that perhaps I was conflating a sort of minimalism — not wanting to be burdened or distracted by superfluous things — with the similar but distinct idea of having only what I needed.
I think it’s alright to need, or at least to want, things beyond the bare minimum. I think it’s certainly alright to want things to work the way you want them to work, and that the mere fact of wanting is sufficient justification. Indeed, if you’re to have few things overall, I think they ought to be as well-suited to you as possible. Minimalism proper tends to agree with this; it’s about excising not just the unnecessary, but that which lacks meaning and value for you. The corollary is that what you do keep ought to be valuable.
In keeping with that shift in perspective, I’ve allowed myself to have things that aren’t stock, or default. I’ve allowed myself to choose from the options I’m given, and to not just make that choice but to re-evaluate it whenever I wish. I set up my few things to be as tailored to me as I can make them, and I allow myself to indulge in having some of the best of those things too. There’s freedom in that, too.
A computer keyboard may not be an exciting thing, and surely not worth writing a screed such as this, but as I approach a frankly ludicrous six thousand words on the topic, I find myself without any impulse to apologise. I find it very difficult to list my interests, perhaps in a social media profile page, because I think the set is potentially infinite. Find me someone who speaks passionately and articulately on a topic — and there will always be such a person — and I guarantee that I’ll care deeply about it too, within minutes of beginning to read. I once read an article on cargo containers and the shipping logistics thereof that was presented with such unalloyed enthusiasm that I was moved to spend a portion of one evening on holiday surveying a container port, and I damned well enjoyed it.
I can’t help but form an emotional attachment to, and many Manly Opinions on, a device that lets me communicate in the way I want to. A keyboard is my voice for the written word, and it’s how I primarily access and control my computer, and thus a gateway to social media, news, and everything else. I spend hours with each each day. It’s an instrument in every sense. Why would I want the same one as anyone else?
You might not give much of a damn about where the question-mark lives, and that’s OK. You may instead promote the exclamation-mark to a first-class key on the base layer, due to how frequently you use it. I personally find that possibility horrifying, but I salute your commitment. Keyboards are intensely personal, but by and large we tend to stop at choosing a colour, and a shape, and a set of hardware specifications. There’s always a deeper level to the rabbit hole, and I’d invite you to explore it.
The beauty of small and customisable keyboards is that, quite contrary to sacrificing the functionality you’re used to, you can actually smooth over many of the rough edges of adaption by introducing consistency and thus comfort that’s unique to your own needs, expectations, and muscle memory. That’s a delightful thing, and something you ought to avail yourself of.
Indeed, it’s the minimum you ought to demand.
Thank you for reading.