These red cherries certainly will improve your ergonomic program. No, we are not talking about fruit. We are talking about the little keyboard switches manufactured by Cherry known as Cherry MX Black, Brown, Red and Blue.
Before we jump into what keyboard switches are, let’s talk about why they are important to an ergonomic program. Keyboards themselves are input devices and most people in today use a keyboard in both a home and office setting. That equals a lot of typing and typing is a leading cause of carpal tunnel. Ergonomics is about fitting the equipment or job to the person. It is also about reducing risk factors that increase the chances of developing cumulative traumas. One of those risk factors is “force”. The more force you have to use to move something the more strain your are placing on your muscles to get the job done. And that is where the little keyboard switches come into play.
What are keyboard switches?
They are the actual mechanism underneath the plastic key with the little letter on it. It is the internal workings of the key that sends the signal to the computer so that the little letters show up on your screen. Keyboard switches, just like any other mechanism are built in varying levels of quality and performance. Gamers have known this for years, but somehow egronomists have missed the boat when they developed the fancy ergonomic keyboards. Sure they got the correct angle on the keyboard, they split keyboards, moved the 10-key to the left and so on. But just about every erognomic keyboard on the market has missed the one really important factor that every keyboard should look at – “actuation force.”
Let’s face it. As typists we will strike a key millions of times over the course of our career. Standard keyboards are designed for 10 million key strikes and I have already worn out 5 or 6 boards over the last 10 years. All those little strikes add up. And the more force you have to use to strike a key to get it to activate means more force on the fingers and more chance of developing carpal tunnel. So how much force are we talking about?
Types of keyboard switches
There are two types of keyboard switches – mechanical and membrane. Membrane key switches use the little rubber dome and mechanical switches use a solid part with a spring attached. Membrane keyboards typically require between 65 grams and 80 grams of force to activate the signal. This is where mechanical switches take the lead. The Cherry MX Red only requires 40 grams of force to activate the signal and it does it in 2mm of travel versus the standard 3.5 to 4mm of travel of a membrane key switch. So what does that mean?
A quote from ergocanda.com
“Mechanical keyswitches are more intricate and of higher quality than either of the types of membrane keyboards. Each key has its own independent keyswitch mechanism that will register when a key is pressed. For example on the mechanical keyswitch at right the keycap rests on top of the blue plunger mechanism which depresses into the unit. In most cases the key is actuated (that is the keystroke is generated and sent to the computer) halfway through the key travel distance. For example, the key may be capable of travelling 4 mm before hitting the bottom of the keywell, but the keystroke is generated after 2 mm. This means that as a touch typist, you need not press keys fully down, reducing the constant jarring action on your fingertips and unnecessary muscle action. In addition, keys often offer increasing resistance after the keystroke is generated, encouraging you to release and move on to the next keystroke. Finally, keys snap back to ready position quicker, allowing for faster typing speeds.
All these features means there is both audible (clicks) and tactile (feel) feedback when you have successfully actuated a keystroke, and whether you are an experienced touch typist or learning to touch type, this will improve your speed, accuracy and eliminate the wasted time spent looking at the screen to ensure that you have typed accurately. About the only person that doesn’t benefit from a mechanical keyboard is a hunt and peck typist (a person who hovers their fingers several inches above the keyboard and uses typically only the index finger on each hand to type).”
Benefits of mechanical key switches
Less force to activate means less force your fingers need to use. Mechanical switches also require less travel distance to activate than traditional membrane switches, so you don’t have to push as far or as long. Mechanical switches also provide feedback thru the use of sound and feel. Meaning that you will know when you have activated a key without having to look at the keyboard. This accounts for several things – first, typists who use mechanical keyboards tend to add 10 words per minute to their typing speed. This is done by reducing errors and faster activation of the keys. Reducing keying errors also means that you are not repeating keystrokes thereby reducing force and the number of movements. Both are good factors in lowering carpal tunnel risk.
Make sure you have red cherries in your ergo program
Sure mechanical keyboards with Cherry MX Red cost a little more, but they also are rated for 50 million keystrokes versus the standard 10 million of a membrane keyboard. They also increase productivity, reduce errors and ergonomic injuries. So take a hint from a gamer and look for a good quality mechanical gaming keyboard.