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We’ve all been there: the night before a test, furiously reading over textbooks we should’ve read weeks earlier only to realise we’ve skimmed over too much and haven’t absorbed a thing.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the weird font you’ve just read above might be able to help.
Enter Sans Forgetica. It’s a font created by researchers at RMIT’s Behavioural Business Lab and School of Design to help readers memorise information more efficiently.
Lead designer Stephen Banham has created typefaces for the film Lion, the Melbourne Now exhibition at Melbourne's NGV, and a Tourism Victoria advertising campaign. He says Sans Forgetica is unlike anything he’s ever made – or seen – before.
The font works through a process called “desirable difficultly”, where an obstruction is added to the learning process to challenge the brain and trigger memory retention. Basic fonts offer very little to no challenge, and more complex typefaces can be too difficult to trigger any retention.
"We actually tested typefaces that were incredibly conventional,” Banham says. “And then we tested typefaces that were ridiculously fractured and disrupted, completely hard to read, and we had Sans Forgetica that was pretty much in the middle of that spectrum."
Sans Forgetica is made up of two main design elements, chosen to throw readers off – but not too much. The first component is a backward slant of eight degrees.
"Italics normally face in the direction of the reader which is of course towards the right in the western world,” says Banham. "The only time you see [the back slant] commonly used is on maps, where they indicate the position of a river. It's quite rare for people to see a back slant.”
The second element is a series of small sections missing from the linework of the lettering.
“Your brain instantaneously tries to complete shapes, that's just what we're hardwired to do,” Banham says. “So by having gaps in there it almost creates like a little puzzle, a tiny little puzzle for the brain to process and that then triggers memory.”
The researchers asked more than 400 students to complete a test where source information was written in either Arial or Sans Forgetica. They found that the test subjects memorised an average of 57 per cent of text written in Sans Forgetica, and 50 per cent when written in Arial. They also found, though, that Sans Forgetica took the students slightly longer to read.
Banham advises people use the font sparingly to bring out key elements embedded in a body of information and create a visual hierarchy, rather than attempt to remember large blocks of text.
“[Use it] as a highlight typeface that'll force you to remember single quotes or sentences,” he says.
Sans Forgetica is compatible with both Mac and PC, and as a Chrome Extension. Download it for free from the RMIT website.
This article was updated on March 6, 2019.