My next keyboard will be brown


Interaction design starts with a switch. The user understands how it works, it has purpose and at an engineering level it is I/O. In every user oriented interaction there will be a switch, or an array of switches, that are reactive to user input. At a high level a keyboard is just an array of switches, no different to turning on a light, the user interaction is intent driven and cognitively-trained to understand how it will react. The design opportunity here is to create an experience around that interaction, *how does it feel*.

Keyboards have greatly evolved since their first introduction in the typewriter. Learning to type was then, a skill, but a surge in computing in the last decade has transformed this perception of typing from an art to an unavoidable practicality. The familiar QWERTY layout is seen to be widely implemented as an exclusive input method for writing; and it’s not going away anytime soon.

So how do we make it better?

With the evolution of technology now heading quickly into the “post-PC” era, many designers and engineers have attempted to re-imagine what input methods could look like. Tablets, phones and more recently wearables have an underlaying requirement for text input methods. For the first time, devices would not ship with physical input keys, and it was scary.

Along side the mobile and tablet keyboard [r]evolution, desktop and laptop computing also moved to a new technology called membrane. It allows for quieter, thinner and cheaper keyboards to be shipped with the same 87 key layout that PC/Mac users are familiar with. Typing on these keyboards works: it’s familiar, you press a key and the letters are inputed, but that’s it. The once art of typing is lost in the practicality of thiner, lighter and cheaper input design.

The real opportunity here is the user experience. How can a keyboard provide a familiar layout that it both practical and enjoyable to use; designing a keyboard that pays homage to the art of typing.

The solution here is cherryMX.

CherryMX is nothing new, in-fact its roots started with the conception of mechanical keyboards. These keyboards treat every key as an individual, each press is unique and understand the input should feel that way. There are two layers that make up this experience, the visual layout of the key caps, and the tactical/audible response from the switches.

Imagine typing on a keyboard that had no letters, numbers or symbols on it: these are called blanks and the design starts here. Consider the colour of the blanks, are they black or white or is each key a different colour to indicate shortcuts or modifiers. Then what do we print onto the keys, (letters of course!) *but how*. Considering the font, positioning and point size all change the experience the user will have during the interaction. The visual elements are intended to compliment the intent behind each key, like using iconography to save space and communicate that keys function. Does the user have a PC, Mac or something else; the configuration will greatly change and no keyboard will be universal for everyones needs. The visual language of the keycaps is the first interaction that users have with this input method, it’s imperative to make them understand.

The next level of interaction is the switches, which have three variables: force, tactile feedback (a bump), and sound. These different styles of switch are classed under colour categories.

Red: Light, no sound, no bump;

Blue: Light, click sound, bump;

Brown: Light, no sound, bump;

There are also green, black, white, and some more unique ones (like clear) that offer different configurations to the three widely used ones. My next keyboard will be brown, switching from the loud **clackity-clack** blues to the quieter browns will probably distract my colleagues less. The importance here is the tactile feedback.

Considering the feedback the switch provides the user, in combination with the visual design of the caps, each mechanical keyboard creates a unique experience to type with. Mechanical keyboards pay tribute the once art of typing, a different experience that is is honest in treating the keyboard as it is, just an array of switches.

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