Mind the gap
Have you ever watched someone deliver an inspiring slideshow presentation, only to forget most of the bullet points once you walked out the door? Or maybe you’ve typed notes in a classroom or meeting, but find you have to revisit them several times before you truly remember the information? Could the right choice of typeface be a solution to these problems?
A multidisciplinary team at Melbourne’s RMIT University, made up of a designer, a behavioural economist and a psychologist, have developed a new typeface, “Sans Forgetica”, which they claim aids memory retention through cognitive tricks. Fundamentally, Sans Forgetica is purposefully a bit harder to read than the average typeface and it causes the reader to focus.
The letterforms have gaps in them, making them barely recognisable at first glance. However, enough is left of them that the brain can perceive the letters as being whole, thereby demonstrating the Gestalt Law of Closure. It creates an effect known as “desirable difficulty” as readers have to dwell a bit longer on each word. According to the researchers, this causes the brain to engage in deeper cognitive processing which, they claim, results in more effective retention of the text in question.
To inform the design of Sans Forgetica, the researchers tested a number of prototypes with over a hundred university students. Each prototype, above, broke progressively more design principles. The aim was to find a balance of legibility and distinctiveness that would leave the greatest “memory trace” in the mind. A font with gapping and an unconventional backslant, now known as Sans Forgetica, offered the most promising results. The researchers claim that 57% of text written in Sans Forgetica was remembered by participants, compared to 50% of text in Arial.
While the typeface was originally intended to help students remember their study notes, Dr Janneke Blijlevens of the RMIT Behavioural Business Lab believes its applications can extend far beyond the classroom. For example, it may help people studying foreign languages or elderly people dealing with memory loss. You wouldn’t set a whole textbook or novel in it, though. Like other display typefaces, Sans Forgetica is too eccentric to make for a comfortable reading experience over extended passages of text. It makes me wonder whether other existing display typefaces would perform just as well in similar memory tests.
To learn more about the design and science behind Sans Forgetica, and to download it as a font or Chrome browser extension, go to the microsite here.