October 13, 2008 by Colin
This funky keyboard font is from the Bar Lock 4, a typewriter developed by Charles Spiro in the late 1800s. I came across it at a display in a corner of Terminal 3 of Toronto’s Pearson Airport (and you can find a lot of pictures of the display elsewhere).
Browsing through several dozen typewriters, it struck me that design and user experience was an uncertain goal in the development of each of these tools.
The input tools varied from simple keyboards (but necessarily the QWERTY keyboard that has become the standard) to notched dials, a combination of pointer and index plate, and tools that seem to have drawn much inspiration from the user experience of specialists more accustomed to eighteenth century cathedral organs.
A quick google search will reveal there are many, many more people that spend much, much more time on the design evolution of the typewriter. It strikes me, though, that early typewriter design was inspired by a combination of factors:
- an honest attempt to develop the fastest and most efficient input device
- a desire to differentiate your product from the rest of the emerging market
- an impulse to secure a patent for a remarkable and imaginative derivation of this new technology.
A final example is the Mignon 2 typewriter, which relied upon a pointer and index table, with the more unusual characters ringing the letters and numbers we use most frequently.