Frustrations with a smaller “Enter” key

I  was recently in Hong Kong; my Chinese colleague had the same laptop as me, a Dell D610, yet using her machine caused no end of frustration.  whilst my laptop has a big “enter” key in the shape of an inverse L, her keyboard only has a small key the same size as the backspace key.  When I went to press Enter, more often than not I hit “\”.  There was probably a good reason for this design decision being made, but it breaks a fundamental usability concept – that of consistency.
chinese and english dell laptop keyboards


  1. Carlos Villela · Monday, 19 February, 2007

    Are you seriously asking for consistency among keyboard layouts?! You’ve just crossed the line between ‘usability expert’ and ‘usability nutter’ 🙂

    As far as I can tell, though, the UK is the inconsistent one: US, PT-BR and pretty much every other keyboard layout I’ve seen has a — or _| shaped Enter key. There are quite a few variations of the Brazilian Portuguese layout (ABNT, ABNT-2 and so on, plus the PT-PT ones), but the trick of resting your pinky slightly to the right of the keyboard works.

    Unless you’re using a Sony Vaio, in which case you’ll either hit PgUp, PgDown, Home or End, which is somewhat infuriating.

  2. Adam Vandenberg · Monday, 19 February, 2007

    I have a lot of US keyboards around here, and they ALL have the backslash over a single-row Enter key.

    Actually, I lied. I bought an iRocks keyboard that has the “Fat Enter” layout, and I can’t stand it. The Backspace key is only have as wide, and the backslash is where the other half of backspace goes.

    Which means that when I’m in a terminal, I kept hitting the top half of Enter instead of backslash, and backslash instead of backspace.

  3. Pat · Monday, 19 February, 2007

    Yes, I will agree with Carlos on this one. Keyboards are really hard to get consistent (especially with laptops). The US/UK keyboard layout is really frustrating (losing your backslash key if you switch your US keyboard to UK layout)

  4. matt · Monday, 19 February, 2007

    Try going to a german keyboard, to french keyboard then back to a US one!

    Actually the QWERTY layout is a feat of anti engineering. When typewritters where first invented they would get jammed if two adjacent keys where pressed simultaneously. So they figured out a layout that would slow down typists and prevent jamming. Of course once technology could handle rapid key presses in succession, the QWERTY was far to ingrained to new adopt a much more efficient keyboard layout though many have been created.

  5. matt · Monday, 19 February, 2007

    by the way…does the chinase language lack usability because it is not consistent with germanic origin languages like english. Sorry man but this is really not a case of a “bad usability experience”

  6. marc · Monday, 19 February, 2007

    So I was fishing for a “so what” to this observation and felt that consistency was the hook. My personal experience of using apparently the same device was inconsistent.

    My point, which was not at all well made, was that to this two-fingered typist the inconsistency between the devices caused a world of pain.

    We create mental models of how things behave, we have expectations… when things are inconsistent and do not conform to expectations they cause us frustration and annoyance. The different keyboards was a very tangible personal manifestation of this.

    A usability nutter? I hope not. I detest usability nutters!

  7. dancingmango » blog style · Monday, 19 February, 2007

    […] My latest post resulted in a comment accusing me (in jest I am sure) of being a usability nutter.  The comment was a fair one.  But it raises a couple of questions about blogging; […]

  8. Gino · Tuesday, 20 February, 2007

    I would agree with the rest of everyone, pretty much that the likelihood of a person from another country, a non-native using a HK/Chinese style QWERTY keyboard is fairly low, so let’s remember the triangle: users, contexts, content, that affordances are things we perceive, that others might not because they don’t live in a culture, and that things can be made usable despite flaws in design. For instance, teach yourself to put your watch on your left hand (if you’re right handed). People get used to all kinds of things.

  9. ninj · Wednesday, 21 February, 2007

    I agree with everyone else, UK keyboard tend to be the non-standard ones!

    Aside from the Enter key being different, god knows why UK layouts have got the @ and ” characters swapped around…

  10. Garrett Smith · Wednesday, 21 February, 2007

    So the Chinese keyboard layout should be changed to that of the UK?

    Wouldn’t that be inconsistent for the hundreds of millions of people in China that need to re-learn their keyboard?

  11. Owen · Thursday, 19 April, 2007

    The English/European keyboards were all reconfigured to allow an extra key UK key boards have 102 keys US only 101 it’s to do with the pound sign which doesn’t even appear on US key boards and the ALT GR which is used to create European accents on characters. Having said that I’ve just moved to NZ from the UK and found the change really hard. it’s just about second nature now, and on a plus side the Apple keyboards are all the same.

  12. Jon · Sunday, 22 February, 2009

    The small key is used mainly outside of Europe. Here in the US I can only use the small enter like in your China keyboard picture. On UK and some euro-style keyboards I tend to hit that extra # key. I has some luck using a UK keyboard by remapping # to enter, since that is where my pinky goes to press enter on a US keyboard.

    As for AltGr many of us in the US are using US-International layout so we can type things like “San José” or “Résumé”. So it’s not entirely true that we don’t have an AltGr key.

  13. Joe · Tuesday, 24 February, 2009

    it breaks a fundamental usability concept – that of consistency.

    The single row Enter key became close to standard with the IBM 101 key keyboard, specifically in the US but with the expected ripple effect worldwide. There’s a handful of US keyboards that have the larger L shaped one but they’re uncommon.

  14. Darr · Tuesday, 25 January, 2011

    Why do we need a huge backslash key? Isn’t the enter key the most dominantly needed key on the keyboard? Maybe some of you folk are just newcomers to computers, only familiar with the small enter?

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