Cramming for exams, learning new languages, and remembering your to-do list can be tough — but a team of Australian researchers think they can help. They've developed a font called “Sans Forgetica” that uses the principles of cognitive science to help readers better remember their typed notes.
The typeface's unusual look is deliberately designed to be a challenge to read, according to Janneke Blijlevens, a professor of design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) who worked on the font’s development.
“The principle behind this font is called ‘desirable difficulty’,” Blijlevens told NBC News MACH in an email. The half-finished letters that make up the Sans Forgetica alphabet force forces people to read more slowly and thoughtfully, she added. “This makes us more engaged with what we’re reading, which will increase memory retention.”
And it works, at least according to a preliminary study. Blijlevens teamed with Stephan Banham, an RMIT typography lecturer, to test how the font affected the memory capabilities of about 400 of the university's students. Those who read notes written in Sans Forgetica remembered, on average, about 7 percent more text than students who read notes in a more familiar font, like Arial.
The creation of Sans Forgetica builds on previous research looking into the relationship between hard-to-read fonts and human memory. Daniel Oppenheimer, a Carnegie Mellon psychologist, showed this in 2012 with a study that found students were able to study more effectively when reading a font that was bold or italicized. "Our fonts weren't as 'optimized for learning' as Sans Forgetica is," he said in an email to NBC News MACH, but even a slight typeface tweak led to a "significant gain in learning across a number of classrooms."
Though fonts like Sans Forgetica have only been tested thus far, its creators are confident that it could be useful for other groups looking to absorb a set of important facts in a short time.
“I hope that in the future we will see more focused use by educators, students, and perhaps clinical psychologists as a memory aid,” Banham told NBC News MACH in an email. “But for the latter we’d like to do a bit more research. Maybe we’ll even see this pop up in some memory apps!”
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