Font of wisdom: A new typeface called ‘Sans Forgetica’ boosts memory

October 5, 2018

Does your memory serve you well? If so, then you probably have what it takes to succeed in school and in many business specialties—where retaining facts, rules, and ideas is an essential skill.  However, if you need a GPS to get down memory lane, then you just might be interested in the latest research findings out of Australia.

At Melbourne-based RMIT University , academics from different disciplines announced on October 3 that they have collaborated on the development, and testing of a text font called Sans Forgetica that is scientifically designed to help readers remember their study notes.

About 400 RMIT students recently participated in a study of fonts that found a small increase in the amount of material they retained, depending upon how it appeared on the page57% of text written in Sans Forgetica compared with 50% in a plain Arial.

Stephen Banham, an RMIT lecturer in Typography, said in a university release, “It was great working on a project that combined research from typography and Psychology; as well as the experts from the university‘s Behavioural Business Lab.

“This cross pollination of thinking has led to the creation of a new font that is fundamentally different from all other font. It is also a clear application of theory into practice, something we strive for at RMIT,” he said.

The new font slants to the left and has gaps in each letter—creating a level of difficulty that jogs the memory. Indeed, the font was developed using a learning principle called ‘desirable difficulty’, in which an obstruction is added to the learning process that requires readers to put in just enough effort, leading to better memory retention to promote deeper cognitive processing.

Senior Marketing Lecturer (Experimental Methods and Design Thinking) and founding member of the RMIT Behavioural Business Lab Dr. Janneke Blijlevens said typical fonts were very familiar.

“Readers often glance over them and no memory trace is created,” she noted.

However, if a font is too different, the brain can’t process it and the information is not retained.

“Sans Forgetica lies at a sweet spot where just enough obstruction has been added to create that memory retention.”

She notes that Sans Forgetica has varying degrees of ‘distinctiveness’ built in that subvert many of the design principles normally associated with conventional typography.

These degrees of distinctiveness cause readers to dwell longer on each word, giving the brain more time to engage in deeper cognitive processing, to enhance information retention.

Banham, who has created about 20 fonts, told the Guardian that the typeface would be best used for short texts.

“God no, you wouldn’t want novels printed in it, it would probably induce a headache,” he said.

The font took about six months to develop and there were three different versions tested.

Now, the university said, Sans Forgetica is available free to download as a font and Chrome browser extension at sansforgetica.rmit.

Research contact: stephen.banham@rmit.edu.au

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