60% Keyboards were my gateway drug into custom keyboards. I loved the small form-factor. I loved the simplicity. I loved how easy it was to throw in into a bag and take it with me. The main problem I had when first switching to a 60% keyboard was getting used to using function layers. My first 60% keyboard was the POK3R by Vortex. This was around 2013 or 2014 so that was pretty much the only option at the time.
Luckily, the Pok3r’s stock keycaps had front printed sub legends to help learn what function layers did what. I’m going to be honest, I never really learned these layouts and usually programmed my own. The programming on the Poker was pretty limited. I started off with the default FN key for a while but eventually read about using the Caps Lock key as a FN key and using WASD as arrows. This was life changing for me at the time. It meant that I didn’t have to use both hands to use the arrow keys on my keyboard. (Little side note. The default keymap for the Poker’s arrow keys is IJKL which I could never get used to so I used WASD which caused me to have to use both hands). Later in my arrow key journey I switched to the HHKB style arrow keys
[ ; ' /
I stuck with this layout for a while. Using split Right Shift / FN and the HHKB arrows. I was happy enough with it. In that time I had also remapped Caps Lock to ESC/Ctrl which is the optimal choice. After a few years I started using 65% keyboards and really started liking the extra keys. I stuck with 65% for a while but eventually wanted to try “split” or “ergo” style layouts. I got an SKErgo which ended up also having arrow keys too. I liked the layout so I decided to get a more premium style Alice style board so I got an MGA Standard from Sneakbox.
The MGA Standard is a classic Alice layout board which meant it had no arrow keys. So I did what I always do and setup the HHKB style arrow keys. But I started noticing fatigue when using this setup. So I switched my arrow keys back to WASD. Meaning I was using two hands for arrow keys again. I eventually got really interested in the 40s community and liked all the wacky, cursed shit they do over there. One of the less wacky things I noticed was people using the spacebar as a function key. And I don’t know if I just never saw the functionality in QMK when I was typing out layouts by hand pre-VIA/VIAL, but I didn’t know you could do that. So I started by making my left spacebar on my MGA space and function. I immediately loved it. It was almost perfect, but not quite. Using WASD for navigation in games makes perfect sense. It’s an inverted T layout like arrow keys so it’s easy for us to understand, and it’s close to all the modifier keys that are very important in video games. But when I’m just using my computer like normal it’s kind of awkward if my fingers are resting on the home row. I didn’t like shifting my hand over to use WASD so I switched it to ESDF and I truly believe this is the best placement of arrow keys for any keyboard that doesn’t have dedicated arrow keys. I actually like this setup so much that I’ve added it to all my keyboards. It’s just so much quicker than moving my hand over to use the dedicated keys.
Now there is one noticeable issue with this setup and it’s in gaming. In probably every single FPS game that allows you to jump, the default keybind being Space. Making Spacebar act as both Space and Function introduces a delay which is a real problem in FPS games. My solution for this is a separate “Gaming” layer where Spacebar acts normally. It also disables the left Windows key so I don’t accidentally press it during games. Now for the normal person using the standard QWERTY layout, having a separate gaming layer makes no sense. But I’m a weirdo Dvorak typist so I’ve actually had a gaming specific layer ever since I got annoyed having to remap every single key to the Dvorak equivalent. So maybe I’m the only person who would ever set up their keyboard like this. I don’t know. I have no idea if this is going to help anyone. I don’t know if anyone will ever even see it. This is a pretty niche thing in an already niche community. But if you are running a sub 65% keyboard I’d recommend at least giving it a try.
I’m going to stick with this setup for a while. I used to spend a lot of time tweaking keyboard layouts but as my collection grew, I just wanted something that worked with everything. I’m pretty happy with this and I’m sure I could use it more than just for my arrow keys but for now I’m happy.