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Layouts - Extras (HHKB, WKL, Encoders, SteppedCaps)

What do you do when a standard is not enough and you let your imagination run wild? Well, there are two points of view on this matter. It can lead to fragmentation and incompatibility, as well as, bring innovation and more options to the market. Being in no position to judge what is the right and wrong decision, here are some examples of experimentation that stuck for one reason or another.

Tsangan/MX HHKB/HHKB/Winkeyless


60% tsangan keyboard layout

60% Tsangan Keyboard Layout


Quite shortly, Tsangan is a specific 60% layout thought of by a keyboard community member, of the same name. The major changes of the Tsangan layout come with the symmetrical bottom row, which utilizes various key sizes, as well as, a 7u-wide spacebar [1.5u,1u,1.5u,7u,1.5u,1u,1.5u] (pic xx). At the same time, the right shift is 1u narrower to accommodate the function key for switching layers. The layout usually utilizes a split backspace. Tsangan might not have been the first to use these design elements, however, he was the first to put them together into a single package and popularize the idea. Tsangan layout is also known as MX-style HHKB (short for Happy Hacking Keyboard).


MX HHKB Tsangan 60% keyboard layout

60% MX HHKB Tsangan Keyboard Layout


**Happy Hacking Keyboard is a brand of Japanese Topre switch/membrane keyboards designed by PFU Limited which utilize the aforementioned elements, nevertheless, the original HHKB doesn't use a symmetrical bottom row and comes with a 6u-wide spacebar. This has been done to improve the ergonomics of the HHKB keyboards, nevertheless, was not implemented into the Tsangan layout.**

Another influence for the Tsangan layout might have been the Winkeyless (WKL) layout element (Winkeyless = without windows/OS key). Since the original personal computers, did not have a use for a specific OS key, certain keyboard designers choose to introduce blocker elements and therefore separate the ALT and CTRL keys. With time the contemporary WKL layout took shape. Featuring the same 1.5u, 1u, 1.5u, 7u, 1.5u, 1u, 1.5u bottom row as presented previously, with blockers instead of the 1u Windows/OS keys. Today many users look for and design keyboards with the WKL option as it is quite visually pleasing, although, a bit impractical if you are used to using OS key on the regular. Therefore, the users tend to remap the function of the bottom row or other keys to get back this functionality.


WKL (Winkeyless) keyboard Layout on TKL keyboard

Winkeyless (TKL) Keyboard Layout

Stepped CapsLock

You might have come across the term "stepped caps" before on Reddit or some keyboard forum, not knowing what it is. Stepped CapsLock is another design element of keycaps that is supposed to help reduce the number of misclicks of CapsLock when users want to press the "A" key. By making the top portion of the CapsLock narrower, and introducing a lower-sitting step on the right side of the key, the gap between CapsLock and "A" keys is created. While the stepped caps are rarely to be seen on prebuild keyboards, many enthusiasts use them in their layouts for both practicality and visual distinction.

Rotary Encoders, Knobs, and OLED display

As you might have seen previously, rotary encoders and other types of knobs can be a part of a keyboard layout. Generally, they are used to control volume or in some cases can be programmed to operate a slider in specific software. At the same time, certain rotary encoders in addition to the rotation function, also support a click function. Therefore your knob can have up to three functions (click, rotation clockwise, rotation counter-clockwise). Some PCB designers also give the users a choice between a rotary encoder or a regular MX style switch, since the area required for both is very similar.

Probably not as common as the rotary encoders, OLED displays have found their way onto the keyboards in the past and are especially useful and utilized in the ergo boards, as well as, in many one-of-a-kind custom solutions. The OLED parts for tinkering are quite a commodity these days, therefore they are very easy to acquire. The widely used and popular custom keyboard firmware, QMK, has support for a few types of OLED screens. Needless to say, these screens are quite tiny and have a low resolution of pixels, therefore their primary use-case is the projection of contextual information about the keyboard layers, and other low-complexity tasks.

2% Milk Keyboard (source: Reddit.com)

Tenkey, Macropads, *insert random number*% layout

In the end, keyboards themself don't have to be always used for typing. Many users enjoy the tactility of a physical button and require many macros or shortcuts in their daily use. The great thing about the custom keyboard scene is the programmability of most of the products available, and therefore the use-cases for the keyboard-like peripherals are mostly limited just by the users’ imagination.

As mentioned before, some users might need a numpad for their work, however, that doesn't mean it has to take up space once the work is over. Numerous users choose to use a separate numpad, also known as tenkey, in conjunction with a smaller keyboard such as a 60 or 65%. Numpads commonly use a 4 by 6 grid layout, however, some keys can be 2u wide or long and therefore the number of keys varies from 21 to 24 keys. Of course, the grid size can be somewhat different between the various brands and manufacturers of numpads. full-size boards often utilize just 5 rows on a numpad cluster.

Another interesting part of the keyboard hobby is the utilization of macropads. The extensibility of keyboard firmware such as the QMK, enabled users to, with relative ease, create special functions for more than just typing letters and inserting text. We highly encourage you to visit the QMK firmware documentation to see and learn more about its features and capabilities at https://beta.docs.qmk.fm/. Macropads come in many shapes and sizes, as well as, hardware configurations. Some have OLEDs, others might feature multiple rotary encoders and many variations of grids. It's up to the user to pick the right one for them.


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Thank you for showing interest in our keyboard layout guide and we look forward to finding you here again. Let us know if you think we should add something to our guides as we strive to always improve.