Remember all those classics you devoured in comp-lit class? Neither do we. Research shows that we retain an embarrassingly small sliver of what we read. In an effort to help college students boost that percentage, a team made up of a designer, a psychologist, and a behavioral economist at Australia’s RMIT University recently introduced a new typeface, Sans Forgetica, that uses clever tricks to lodge information in your brain. The font-makers drew on the psychological theory of “desirable difficulty”—that is, we learn better when we actively overcome an obstruction. (It’s why flash cards create stronger neural connections in the brain and are a better method for recalling facts than passively studying notes.) Sans Forgetica is purposefully hard to decipher, forcing the reader to focus. One study found that students recalled 57 percent of what they read in Sans Forgetica, compared with 50 percent of the material in Arial, a significant difference. No word yet on the retention rate of Comic Sans.
Mind the Gap
When presented with incomplete visual information, like the random gaps in Sans Forgetica’s characters, our brain fills in the missing bits. “They pique your attention and slow down the reading process,” says Stephen Banham, one of the font’s developers.
While breaking some design rules creates desirable difficulty without sacrificing legibility, further futzing with the font—like one early prototype that incorporated back-slant, gaps, and asymmetrical letters—caused recall rates to plummet.
Your brain isn’t used to seeing sentences tilt to the left—it’s a typographic faux pas. It takes you a split second longer to recognize words in Sans Forgetica’s 8-degree back-slant, triggering deeper cognitive processing.
Reading an entire textbook in Sans Forgetica would be migraine-inducing. Instead, the font is meant to be used like a highlighter to emphasize important bits of information. A Chrome Extension lets you transform any section of online text into the typeface.
Make an Impression
Though Sans Forgetica was originally devised to give students an edge on exams, it’s since been sought out by brands—like an ad campaign for a Hungarian pharmaceutical company—to more effectively worm information into your brain.
This article appears in the January issue. Subscribe now.
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