Keyboard Design


#1

So, in my search for The Perfect Keyboard™, I stumbled upon a website that allows you to create your own keyboard layouts and prepare them for manufacture in a bunch of different ways. I’m now completely hooked on creating my ideal keyboard on it, something that I simply can’t find anywhere else: a Mac appropriate mechanical (alps) board which has the ten-key but isn’t anywhere near as huge as a full size keyboard.

The numberpad is actually really important to me, because I use Blender and having the pad there is amazingly convenient and one of the things I hate most about using Blender on my MacBook Pro.

So I’ve been messing around experimenting with a basic design, and tweaking it for hours.

My first design was just “get all the keys on the board” which was simple enough, but then I ended up with the cursor keys stuffed under the numberpad, and when it’s the only key on the board that is more than one row high, that Enter key is annoying me. I really like the idea of having a macro key to bring up the character and icon viewer, very handy for getting emoji or ascii symbols up.


The second and third design are almost identical but I decided to go crazy with the colours for the third one. The cursor keys have migrated somewhat, and I’ve faffed with the key placement so there’s no more having to double-up maths commands on the numberpad. I hadn’t thought of a use for the new extra key bottom right yet so it’s still just an extra equals for now.

Also new in this layout is the appearance of a dedicated Siri and Dictation key bottom left, since I never remember what key combination I set for dictation. The other benefit to this is that the control cluster is no longer stretched out like taffy, and I can get the oh-so-neat space bar that lines up with C and M that I love so much about Mac keyboards. No idea why, the spacing is just extra pleasing.

The last design I think nails it. There’s just enough colour to know when you’re hitting an important key, and I have found a use for the extra key on the numberpad. I have also changed it so that only alphanumerics are black, with all modifiers, controls, and punctuation in grey to differentiate at a glance. It also frames the keys rather nicely.

What do you guys think? Do you hate it and everything it stands for? Is having both power and eject flagrantly bourgeois enough? Is my blatant disregard for ANSI key placement making you itch?

And what will you guys make as your perfect layout?


#2

Oh hey, I found the actual plastics editor. So now I can choose accurate plastics colours.

Also yes, going back to black and grey was too boring after playing with colour before. I’ve chosen a muted palette, but I really like the results from it.

I also found out how to change the backplate to black, which is quite important. I’m seriously excited to see if I can get this made now, I’d happily part with my cash for this board.


#3

I like the double tall enter key for the keypad. I probably wouldn’t make the power button double wide, though. Maybe you could nestle the Siri key up there between the F15 and Eject? Double bonus, because I despise laptop keyboards that don’t have the Control key in the bottom left corner position.

Do Macs not have Home, End, PgUp, & Pg Dn? I know laptops designers move those around all the time - frequently spread out, which is not an improvement. I use the Insert/Home/PgUp/Delete/End/PgDn cluster with some regularity, so I’d likely miss it if it were missing.

I do like the refined color layout, though!


#4

They sure do, but they’re mapped to option-arrow keys: up gets page up, down page down, left gets home, and right gets end. I got used to this so continuing it just makes sense.

The double-wide power key is just so you can feel immediately that it’s different, same with escape. I like having tactile cues like that, probably why I made so many keys have homing tabs on them.


#5

Nice find!


#6

Also, my current Mac Keyboard (MacAlly cheap) has ‘normal’ Home/End/PgUp/PgDown a short space above the arrow keys.

I recently ordered a custom keyboard from WASD Keyboards combining their ‘retro Mac’ basic look with some color choices to make it look very retro. I’ll share pics when I get unboxed.

My MacAlly was cheap and the ‘A’ key is totally lacking markings, with the ‘S’ and others not far behind.


#7

I played with that idea, it also meant getting the double-wide numberpad zero back; but in the end I wanted it to be as compact as possible.

I like the WASD keyboards, I was pondering just making up one of their full ANSI boards (because screw you, double height return wasting space) with pretty colours, but full sized keyboards are huge and considering the husbear is getting himself a Happy Hacking, it would need to be stowed on a shelf half the time.


#8

Your keyboard would probably drive me crazy, and I say that considering my MacAlly I’m replacing has a couple Key Combos of Death in which hitting the F keys handles not-easily-fxable functions that often quits apps. But, hey, your keyboard, your problem. And probably less annoying than my issue…

I feel like on modern Mac the Power button is pretty secondary. My MacAlly has one, but I almost never use it.

Here’s the crappy MacAlly I’ve used since banishing one of the clear-plastic Apple keyboards. The clear Apple one was actually a good keyboard, but clear plastic means you see all the dust, hair, crumbs, etc. your keyboard picks up. That’s scary.


#9

Oh, you meant that MacAlly keyboard. Youch. I feel for your fingers. I like having the power button there especially since this is going to be for our shared workstation machine, and well unless it’s actually doing something it’s going to be powered off, or logging between our two accounts, both of which are mapped to power’s dialogue box. The only thing I really wish for is that it could turn on via USB keystroke and I know it’s possible, just not something that Mac motherboards seem wired for.

And I think I know which Apple keyboard you mean, the 2004-2008 Apple Keyboard With Crumb-Permeable Membrane™.
Crumb%20Storage
Funny thing is I actually rather liked this keyboard, as far as Apple’s USB keyboard offering goes it has one of the most pleasant experiences bar the original compact iMac keyboard. We used ours right up until its demise… orange juice can be washed out. Cat urine… yeah. No. It was ruined.


#10

Yeah, some friends lost a nice printer to cat urine.

I got my WASD Keyboard today! Like, just a few minutes ago! Won’t be able to try it for a day or two, but here’s some pics.

Here it is. Bit heavier than I’m used to:

Closeup showing the ‘retro Mac’ lettering and keycap color selection.

I think it’ll do the job.


#11

There’s not enough money in the world to support the keyboard habit I would very quickly develop.


#12

I was following the reddit mechanical keyboard subreddit and looking at some ‘retro’ keycap designs and such and realized that I’d end up spending several hundred dollars to get the keyboard I’d want and the keycaps.

For example, here’s a design I followed that has a definite ‘old PC’ styling:

WASD was a good compromise for me. Not cheap, but I think I would have spent a fortune on key caps and a base keyboard. I do want a numpad, which I notice a lot of mech keyboards skip, at least on the low end.

I literally got this in while WFH yesterday, so no time beyond opening the box and taking the pics I shared. I didn’t even confirm it has the required cables and that they’re long enough.

Oh, worth reading is http://blog.keyboard.io/ which is the blog of a guy who went through the whole process. IIRC, it started as “Let’s make my own keyboard!” then ended with “And we’re doing a kickstarter and traveling to China to work out manufacturing details!”


#13

So I was kinda bored and decided to make a keyboard that addresses my annoyance at the lack of symmetry. I also got rid of keys I never use, and consolidated a few keys to unique mappings that feel natural for me.

I know, it looks weird, but I really like this design. It feels more intuitive to how I use my computer… hence the new and funky parentheses keys, and recombined punctuation. Not too sure on the red for the keys, I’d rather it was darker but the designer doesn’t really have any dark reds in the plastics section.


#14

I like the function keys on one side and the number pad on the other.


#15

I know, right? It just feels so… Space Cadet-y…

But it’s better because it’s black, and has red highlights because damnit escape and delete should always be red! :laughing:


#16

Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Dino Diner, may I present for your consideration my final, idealised keyboard layout, the Mac Cadet Keyboard.

I’ve finally decided on a more muted appearance, especially since moving the backspace key meant the colouring was offset and annoying. The Cursor Keys still bump the Number Pad up but I have all the important keys present there, and now I have dedicated location keys on the bottom of the Function Pad, as well as a whole bunch of dedicated Function Keys for when I’m doing media stuff (feed, record and render on F1-3). Also, to promote left-handedness, the Function Keys are numbered backwards, mirroring the Number Pad.

I’m going to have to price up one of these Teensy keyboard controllers for the custom layout, but apart from that everything seems to be amazing.

Mind you, this thing is going to weigh a ton and be really wide… but to be honest it’s probably only as wide as a standard IBM board. The shortness I think adds somewhat to the width seeming bizarrely wide.

I can’t wait to build it. Due to money it won’t be for a few months at least but hey, maybe Christmas present for myself! :slight_smile:


#17

You had me until here.

I think the keys with three symbols freak me out. Just not sure about them.

EDIT: Oh, but, like, Groovy, eh! I like it overall.


#18

Yeah I slept on it and woke up thinking “how high was I?” haha. They’ve been reverted to standard order now.

Keys with three symbols or sometimes four happen when you’re on a Mac… virtually every key holds at least four characters, standard, shift, option, and option shift. I’ve just re-arranged them so I have all the relevant ones on the same keys. Obviously I’ve not included all of the alt-glyphs, because that would look awful and to be honest I don’t use most of them that often at all.

I’m really, really happy with this layout though. Can’t wait to see it in the flesh!


#19

For the record, I made it about two hours once I started using my retro-Mac Keyboard before ordering the noise-dampening rings, which I’ll have to install sometime soon. It’s a bit too loud. I’m surprised no one complained during my work call tonight.


#20

See, I like clacky keyboards. If I’m not annoying people five counties away, I’m not typing loud enough!