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The perfect ergonomic keyboard is here

The heaviest computer users accumulate up to 3 million keystrokes and 17 miles of mousing a year. Enter the Logitech ERGO K860.

Imagine your body is floating in a vertical tank. Your back would be straight instead of hunched over a desk. Your neck would be aligned with the rest of your spine instead of craned over a smartphone. And your arms, those are really the most interesting of all. Because your forearms would be floating. But your hands wouldn’t be parallel to the floor like you were playing piano. They would be turned roughly 45 degrees.

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Now, there’s a new computer keyboard for just this posture. The Logitech ERGO K860, $130 this month, is a curvy typing device that accommodates your body as it wants to be. It’s the company’s first keyboard that’s split in the middle, so the letters your left hand types are on the left, and the letters your right hand types are on the right. Your wrists rest almost as if they’re on two sides of a pyramid or a small wave, atop a firm yet soft, washable cushion. And after about a week of writing on the K860 at my standing desk—while using the quirky, vertical ergonomic mouse Logitech released in 2018 that allows a similar posture—my back never wants me to go back.

[Photo: Logitech]
In the past five years, Logitech has leveraged design to quadruple its profits and turn around the company. The K860 is just the latest example of this strategy.

The keyboard creates a buttery smooth experience for the fingertips, and my typing cruises along at a respectable 70 words per minute, which I bet will get faster with a bit more experience on it. Little did I know, I’d been incorrectly typing the “b” with my right hand for years.

Why did I ever give up the ergonomic keyboard I used from Microsoft back in the early aughts—a design that younger olds like me still pine over?

[Photo: Logitech]

Of course, I know why. I switched from the PC to a Mac, and Apple’s G4-era, semi-translucent keyboard won over my eyes even though every other part of my body hated it. Then I switched from desktops to Macbooks and gave up on my posture altogether. I increasingly needed the portability of the Macbook for reporting, and I also loved how its minimal footprint looked on my unfinished wood desk. But I, just like my peer Lebron, suffer from the toll my craft has taken on my body.

Lars Lauridsen, global product manager at Logitech, tells me this is common. In the company’s own studies, it has found that 15% of computer users have pain or discomfort in an upper limb, such as a shoulder, wrist, or arm, at least once a day. “If you look at how we interact with our devices, 10% of the heaviest computer users accumulate up to 3 million keystrokes a year, and 17 miles of mousing,” he says. “That’s why we believe at Logitech we have a role to play in this space.”

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[Photo: Logitech]
Logitech developed the K860 over the course of a few years. The company invited dozens of people into its lab and hooked their bodies up with electrodes to track muscle activity. Each test took 30 to 45 minutes, and it served to both validate Logitech’s own work and benchmark the quality of competitors on the market.

At the same time as the scientific validation, the team got to work designing concepts. Nick Jinkinson, the design director at Logitech who developed the company’s ergonomic mouse, holds a giant poster up to his webcam as we chat, which represents the 30 to 40 design directions the company considered when approaching the keyboard. “Based on talking to consumers, and insights we got from the past, we know there’s a pent-up demand for ergonomic solutions to reduce pain . . . [ but] some solutions take it too far; they tend to be strange contraptions rather than real products,” he says (right as he begins giving me a tour through all of the strange contraptions that Logitech developed along the way).

Knowing they would want to split the keyboard for optimal wrist positioning, the question was how to split it. The team tested cardboard models with key panels that articulated for each hand, magnetic palm rests that could be moved, and even a keyboard that had an accordion hinge in the middle.

[Photo: Logitech]

One design they began to like was a split keyboard that had no visual gap in the middle. The keys were shaped like a chevron. And the middle keys, such as the H, were angled like the roof of a house, so they could be typed by either hand. It was essentially an ergonomic keyboard for people who would be too afraid to commit to dedicated left-hand right-hand typing. But consumers hated it in early testing.

“The feedback we got was users didn’t want that. It was confusing to people, actually. A lot of people we talked to are usually touch typists, people with a high degree of skill with the keyboard, and it’s good for them to have a split, and a clear delineation. This was even more strange to them than having a split!” says Jinkinson. “That just goes to show the power of talking to people . . . they shoot down preconceptions you have as a designer.”

As Logitech figured out the core split key design, the project became a study on design language.

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[Photo: Logitech]

“One of the challenges with these keyboards with big palm wrists is, how do you break up the volumes so it doesn’t feel so intimidating on the desk?” says Jinkinson. That’s when they came up with a new sketch, the humbly named “Version 06b.” Its trick was simple: rounding the corners on both the keyboard and wrist rest broke up the otherwise large mass on your desk into two smaller pieces. As a result, the keyboard is still huge by modern standards, and yet, it doesn’t look as big as you’d fear.

From there, the design was 3D printed. The ergonomic shapes will often make strange lines that you can’t see in a computer rendering, Jinkinson says, so it took a lot of tweaking to get it right. They also had to solve big questions such as “What should the wrist rest be made of?” For this, the team took inspiration from the mattress industry, which uses, not one material, but a sandwich of foams with different densities. And of course, there was the question of key contour. Each key has a very specific dip, but particularly on the middle keys, the T, G, N, and H keys have been extended with a small shelf (a trick Microsoft developed in the past). These two-tier keys train you subconsciously. If you hit the lower edge, the key still strikes. But you get subtle, tactile feedback that teaches you to type with your hands in the proper alignment.

[Image: Logitech]

Following all this came more testing and validation in the lab. The commercial version is also independently certified by United States Ergonomics, which evaluates products and workplaces for their impact on posture.

The final product is an example of very capable industrial design. It builds upon the company’s inviting design aesthetics of the past few years, without caving to hyper minimalism at the cost of posture. It has techie creature comforts, such as batteries that last two years and a one-button interface to switch between different Bluetooth devices, so you can type on another computer, a phone, or tablet easily. And if you, too, find yourself wishing you were a bit more comfortable at your desk, trying the ERGO K860 for yourself really can’t hurt.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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