Kickstarter begins in February!

Shift Happens

A book about keyboards

Click to explore the book’s design details in 3D

Shift Happens tells the story of keyboards like no book ever before, covering 150 years from the early typewriters to the pixellated keyboards in our pockets.

It’s a book about typists competing during the Shift Wars of the 1880s; Nobel-prize winner Arthur Schawlow using a laser to build the best typo eraser; August Dvorak – and many others – trying to dethrone QWERTY; Margaret Longley and Lenore Fenton perfecting touch typing; Soviet agents listening to American keystrokes; women pouring into offices, eager to do more than typing and re-typing; people aspiring to make the best mechanical keyboard today by blending the past and the future.

This is the only book that connects the world of typewriters to the universe of computers. Whether you’re into vintage typewriters, classic clicky IBM keyboards, or modern mechanical wonders, it will have something for you. None of the above? Get ready to become a keyboard nerd anyway, and look at an everyday boring QWERTY slab with newfound respect.

You’ve never seen a book on technology like this. Shift Happens is full of stories – some never before told – interleaved with 1,000+ beautiful full-color photos across two volumes. This edition features an extra volume of additional illustrations and “making of” material, and everything comes wrapped in a slipcase. It’s a great gift for keyboard or typewriter aficionados, but also suits everyone who cares about design, the stories of everyday objects, or tech history.

Marcin Wichary

The book will be launched via a Kickstarter in February. The expected ship date is October 2023.

I’m really proud of these stats

* Plus a 100-page volume of extras in this edition

The list of chapters

Tap or hover over any chapter title to see what it’s about!

Volume one

  1. “No tocar, si us plau”
  2. The early years of mingled triumph and disaster
  3. The Shift Wars
  4. The machine you will eventually buy
  5. All the fingers or none
  6. Once mechanical, now digital
  7. The primitive tortureboard
  8. “The monster feels as if it had a certain will of its own.”
  9. Operated by keys alone
  10. The largest pinball machine in the world
  11. QWERTY’s second coming
  12. Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate
  13. When ten bells are not enough
  14. The birth of input
  15. Video killed the teletype star
  16. The flying walnut of 1961
  17. Nobody’s perfect
  18. Every typewriter its own betrayer
  19. Power to the people
  20. Get green on the screen
  21. Now is the time for all good men
  22. Any place except in an office

Volume two

  1. Like fondling a zombie
  2. Mr. Kildall goes flying
  3. God’s own keyboard
  4. An unnatural act to preserve compatibility
  5. How to put a slash in a cell in Excel
  6. The motherfucking Beethoven
  7. The Kangaroo Paw
  8. Delete with force and fury
  9. The tragic fable of the gray big-ass Enter
  10. Trains, planes, and space shuttles
  11. To type, just type
  12. Mavis Beacon is not a real person
  13. Maszynistki i programiści
  14. Perfect for Shrek
  15. To labor less & accomplish more
  16. “Susie has struck the keys once or twice.”
  17. For the love of keyboards
  18. Tracks in new-fallen snow
  19. The keyboard that landed on the Moon
  20. “That is interesting, please continue.”

About me

My name is Marcin Wichary. I’m a designer, writer, and engineer. You might know me as the person who stumbled upon a magical typewriter museum in Spain, obsessed about underlines while working at Medium, wrote about fonts at Figma, or put Pac-Man on Google’s homepage.

I started working on this book in 2016, inspired by the reception of my Medium posts about typewriters. Since then, I spent many hours interviewing, writing, photographing, typesetting, and… many other, sometimes rather unexpected things!

Read more about why I wrote this book and what it means to me

Can you arrange a keyboard from memory?

Chapter 30 talks about many interesting layouts. Can you arrange a keyboard from memory, quickly and without mistakes?

Cover your keyboard with a cloth so you can’t cheat, and then give it a shot!

  • Keys placed
  • Time
  • Accuracy
Drag me onto the keyboard!
Congratulations on finishing!

Master the Permutation Typograph

Chapter 36 covers chording keyboards. The first one ever? 1857’s Permutation Typograph, a pocket-sized typewriter with a unique mode of operation – six “finger-pieces” (today: “keys”) meant to be pressed simultaneously, and a simplified alphabet to match them.

Pocketability was one of the selling points. You could, in the words of one newspaper, “write without using one’s eye – in the dark, in the [train] cars, standing in a dense of and jostling crowd, and without attracting notice.”

The same article claimed “a single day is ample time for one of ordinary tact to master the art […] Some of the letters vary in their form from those in common use; but the variations are so slight that, with a very little practice, the writing is read with the greatest ease.” Let’s see if you agree in this Permutation Typograph simulator!

Type using your keyboard as you normally do, and get to know the Permutation Typographer’s unique alphabet.

Type by pressing a segment key one at a time – U, I, O and J, K, L – then press Enter to move on to the next letter!

Type by pressing all the matching segment keys together, like you would on the actual device. Note: This requires a keyboard that supports multiple key presses (“N-key rollover”). You can test this by pressing UIOJKL at the same time, and seeing whether ▔▁▏▕v^  appears.

Type by pressing all the matching segment keys together, like you would on the actual device, without any hints or preview! Note: This requires a keyboard that supports multiple key presses (“N-key rollover”). You can test this by pressing UIOJKL at the same time, and seeing whether ▔▁▏▕v^  appears.

Visit this page on a bigger screen for more

Make sure to visit this page on a desktop or a laptop (with a keyboard attached, natch) to see a few more things, including a few games!

Catch up on the newsletter

I started a newsletter documenting the book-writing process, and sharing more keyboard stories. You might like it. Please subscribe or read the best issues:

People helping with the project

I brought Glenn Fleishman onboard as the editor and the manager of the print production, crowdfunding, and fulfillment. Glenn managed several successfully fulfilled Kickstarter projects, including the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule and four books. He has also consulted as a friend, colleague, and paid adviser at early and late stages on dozens of crowdfunding projects that have collectively raised many millions of dollars. Glenn also has extensive experience in offset printing and technology writing. Read Glenn’s detailed bio or visit his website.

Scout Festa, a veteran editor and proofreader, has served as a proofreader on the book, and helped develop its style guide.

I also wanted to say thank you to Jacob Alexander, Erica Fischer, Martin Howard, Jake Knapp, Robin Rendle, Mike Sall, Robin Sloan, Dag Spicer, Jesse Vincent, Peter Weil, and many more for their time and support.

The book will be launched via a Kickstarter in February. The expected ship date is October 2023.