Chinese Keyboard Layout Design Based on Polyphone Disambiguation and a Genetic Algorithm

Every computer user knows the QWERTY keyboard. However, it was firstly designed to decrease the input efficiency for the mechanical typewriter. "Can we make a change?" I began to think about it in 2011, and finished this project with Prof. Pilsung Choe in 2013. I programmed to count the letter frequencies of a six-million-Chinese-characters corpus if Pinyin IME was used. With this letter distribution, I used the generic algorithm to design an optimal keyboard layout for Chinese users.


This study suggests a new keyboard layout to efficiently type in Chinese characters. The layout was based on a statistical analysis of Chinese corpus and was derived from a genetic algorithm. In the semantic analysis, 6 million Chinese characters were transcribed into typing script. Macros of polyphone were disambiguated from either the context or the presence probabilities in the training data. Relative frequencies of single letter and letter pair were counted to investigate on tapping workload and sequence. In the genetic algorithm, five ergonomics criteria—tapping workload distribution, hand alternation, finger alternation, avoidance of big steps, and hit direction—were applied to evaluate keyboard layout alter- natives. The result showed that the proposed layout is 43% better than the QWERTY layout in terms of the weighted sum of the five ergonomic criteria. 

Nov. 2011 - Jan. 2013


For a detailed design process, you are kindly referred to the full-text paper in the publication section below.

Optimal Chinese keyboard design

Optimal Chinese keyboard design


Ideal tapping workload distribution of a keyboard layout

Optimal Chinese keyboard design Ideal tapping workload distribution of a keyboard layoutProcess chart to calculate Chinese linguistic statistics


1 Industrial Engineering student, 1 professor


  • Preliminary idea generation
  • Collection of the Chinese corpus
  • Programming to calculate the statistics of letter
  • Programming to design the new keyboard layout
  • Paper writing


Liao, C. & Choe, P. (2013). Chinese Keyboard Layout Design Based on Polyphone Disambiguation and a Genetic Algorithm. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 29(6), 391-403. Link

Full text pdf could be downloaded here.

Learnings & achievements

  • How to carry out an innovate usability design
  • Genetic algorithm in solving practical problems
  • How to code C#, especially the multi-threading feature
  • Knowledge about keyboard design, Chinese letter statistics
  • 1 SCI-indexed journal paper publication
  • Departmental scholarship for the paper

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© Chen Liao, Last update on May 19th, 2017