Funky font, serious function – Sans Forgetica

I love this. Researchers  at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia have produced a font designed to aid recall: Sans Forgetica.

I think I’ve wittered many times (mostly on the Burning Pine blog) about  how a little cognitive “friction” can aid learning and recall. The challenge in an commercial writing has been to get clients to accept the idea that hard equals good. The risk-averse always prefer muzak.

However, the science is well described in books like Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, and Carmen Simon’s Impossible to Ignore.

The Times reports

It is designed to boost memory retention by disrupting a person’s usual reading patterns. Reading Sans Forgetica requires extra effort, unlike traditional fonts that many readers are able to scan without creating a “memory trace”.

This process, the font’s creators say, boosts engagement with the words and deepens cognitive processing, adhering to the psychological principle of “desirable difficulty”.

“It should be difficult enough, but not too difficult or too easy,” Janneke Blijlevens, an RMIT lecturer in experimental methods who also worked on the project, said. “There is an optimal level of difficulty to read which leads to the highest memory retention.”

He said that the font was ideal for highlighting important facts that might need to be recalled during an exam, such as dates, historical events and quotes. “You would certainly never set an entire novel in it,” he said. “I like to think of it as blue cheese, it works very well in small portions.”

The researchers recruited 400 students to test a range of memorable fonts and Sans Forgetica was the clear winner subverting the right amount of design rules without becoming completely unreadable. It was then tested alongside a more conventional font in a simulated exam. Students remembered 57 per cent of a section of text in Sans Forgetica, compared with 50 per cent of the text written in Arial.

A font that works like blue cheese. Perfect.

Image: my first play with Sans Forgetica. The lyric is, of course, Warren Zevon’s They Moved the Moon from the Transverse City album. Out of interest, that track features Jerry Garcia on guitar.

Author: Andrew Munro

A writer, communicator and sovereign professional.

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