RMIT University created Sans Forgetica, a rare, completely new font, to promote engaged reading, and increase retention. Here’s how they did it.
A new font is a rare bird. Sure, new free variations of fonts come out left and right, but a new font is something altogether different. Creating a set of letterforms, from descender to baseline to ascender, with its own philosophy and intended use is something special.
Sans Forgetica, a font created by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, is a really great example of fresh thinking in font design. Tech publication Wired had a very nice write-up on the new font. In their own words:
“Sans Forgetica is a typeface scientifically designed to help you remember your study materials and other written information.”
Some highlights of the construction of Sans Forgetica include the following:
- Random gaps in the characters cause our brains to fill in the missing spaces. According to Stephen Banham of the development team, “They pique your attention and slow down the reading process.”
- Sans Forgetica uses a typographic faux pas: right-leaning text. The 8-degree slant, opposite to italic, aims to trigger deeper cognitive processing.
- The font works like a highlighter to emphasize important bits of information — not entire blocks of copy.
Before going any further, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the wordplay in the name. Sans Forgetica is a sans serif typeface by name. But also . . . Sans (“without”) Forgetica (to forget). That gives us Without Forget — because it was designed to help you better retain what you read.
Using Psychological Research for Font Design
“Sans Forgetica is more difficult to read than most typefaces — and that’s by design. The ‘desirable difficulty’ you experience when reading information formatted in Sans Forgetica prompts your brain to engage in deeper processing.”
The psychological theory of “desirable difficulty” posits that placing certain difficulties, or obstacles, in the learning process can aid in the long-term retention of the material.
“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.”
After working with the experts from RMIT’s Behavioural Business Lab, RMIT lecturer in typography and industry leader Stephen Banham had the following to say:
“This cross pollination of thinking has led to the creation of a new font that is fundamentally different from all other fonts. It is also a clear application of theory into practice, something we strive for at RMIT.”
Free Download and Google Chrome Extension
In addition to offering the font as a free download, RMIT is also giving us a really handy extension called “Study Mode” for the Google Chrome browser. This changes the text on a webpage to Sans Forgetica in order to highlight certain important passages.
“Sans Forgetica: Study Mode is easy to use. Simply activate the Chrome extension in your browser, then highlight any on screen text that you wish to retain in memory. Sans Forgetica is best used as a highlighting tool for particular phrases, rather than whole texts.”
This reinforces the fact that, more than a font used for body copy, this is a font for specific pieces of information (i.e. the font creates a more engaged reading experience for the information you really want to remember).
All images courtesy RMIT.
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