Research shows that we retain only a fraction of the information we read.
In an effort to help students boost that percentage, a team from RMIT University created a new typeface that uses clever tricks to enhance recall. Sans Forgetica is purposefully hard to decipher, forcing the reader to focus and promote deeper cognitive processing.
By Peter Riches
Why would anyone design a font that is deliberately difficult to read? The answer is simple: to help people retain the information they are reading. A team of designers and behavioural scientists at RMIT University has created a new font for the specific purpose of aiding memory retention.
By employing design elements that make the letters more difficult to discern – such as back-slanting and leaving gaps in each letter – the Sans Forgetica font forces the reader’s brain to work harder, making the text more memorable. It may seem counterintuitive, but, in the words of the team at RMIT, "it uses a learning principle called 'desirable difficulty' to add an obstruction to the learning process in order to promote deeper cognitive processing, which results in better memory retention".
In developing this new font, the key was to find the sweet spot between making a font that is easy to read and one that is so difficult that the brain simply can’t process the information. The researchers conducted memory tests with over 100 students to find out which one of their designs resulted in the highest level of memory retention.
RMIT's website suggests the font is ‘scientifically designed to help you remember your study notes’. There are certain to be other applications for the Sans Forgetica font, but its very nature will also limit how useful it can be.
This conundrum was one encountered in the use of the Comic Sans font. While people might have a greater level of comprehension of text presented in a difficult-to-read font, they are also much less likely to read it in the first place.
Sans Forgetica is specifically designed to be annoying, so if you're not particularly invested in the text, you're likely to just give up. One of the font's inventors, typography lecturer Stephen Banham conceded that while it might be useful for "highlighting important facts that need to be recalled in an exam … you would certainly never set an entire novel in it".
To conduct your own memory retention experiment with Sans Forgetica, download the font from the RMIT website.
About the author
Peter is the Managing Director and Principal Consultant of Red Pony which he established in 2006 to provide quality writing, editing and communications consultancy services to business and government. As a writer and editor, he has produced content for websites, social media platforms, tenders, proposals, reports and technical documentation.
Peter is a well-respected advocate for the industry, presenting at numerous conferences and professional forums, and is an occasional guest lecturer at the University of Melbourne.
Peter is a member of the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), the Australian Society for Technical Communication (ASTC) and the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with Honours in English Literature.