Among the many meatspace interactions that make me want to smash stuff on a daily basis, the problem

by admin

Among the many meatspace interactions that make me want to smash stuff on a daily basis, the problem designers seem to have laying out numbers on a keypad may be foremost.

Ten-digit keypads first appeared on adding machines around the turn of the century, with Wikipedia noting a ten-key manufactured by Dalton in 1902. The various images on Wikipedia suggest than an odd, QWERTY-esq layout (2,4,5,7,9/1,3,0,6,8) had become preeminant by the 1930s, ostensibly to avoid jamming.

By 1964, as the first desk-sized digital calculators were being assembled, Olivetti had created a sufficiently well-constructed machine with the now familiar 7,8,9 top row—whether this was done for speed or ease-of-use for untrained adders, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that around this time, a different group of engineers were working on the touch-tone phone.

Being engineers, they constructed a keypad layout that reflected the combined frequencies used by their phone—the “1” button combined the lowest tones, the “9” button combined the highest. Unfortunately, the phone guys and the calculator (and later computer) guys never seem to have compared notes—and thus the separate phone and computer standards we have today.

I’d almost be OK with this two-standard system (works for College Football, right?), except that designers are CONSTANTLY coming up with new devices that utterly ignore them, such as the security keypad and parking boot in the slideshow above. In both cases, there appears to be ample room for a standard set of numbers, but instead, they’ve managed to create two entirely different new arrangements.

While QWERTY may be an inefficient anachronism, it’s also—with small variations based on language—completely consistent. Anyone who’s ever typed can sit down at any keyboard and wail away.  I’d gladly take a world of dialing phone numbers on adding machine layout to save 15 seconds of confused hunt-and-peck each time I meet up with another one-off numerical mess.

(image sources: boot, phone, thing, calculator, wikipedia article, own work.)