A special typeface called Sans Forgetica was recently created by a multidisciplinary team of behavioral scientists and designers from RMIT University. Would you believe that it can help you remember your notes taken during class or a meeting?
You might be scratching your head in disbelief, so we have to clarify that this is for typed notes only. The idea is, if someone wants to remember their notes, they must actually type their notes in the new font, Sans Forgetica, instead of the commonly used fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri or Verdana.
It is probable that you have experienced a time when you take down notes during a meeting, conference, seminar or while attending class, and quickly forget about them right after. Given this premise, is it really possible to use Sans Forgetica and find a solution to a temporary memory lapse?
Sans Forgetica, a product of research
The downloadable typeface is a creation of researchers from the RMIT Behavioral Business Lab of Australia’s RMIT University located at La Trobe St., Melbourne. According to the researchers, the design of Sans Forgetica takes up cognitive science principles that are meant to aid the users to remember the notes they typed.
The RMIT researchers say that Sans Forgetica applies the law of closure of Gestalt. This is a psychological law that occurs when someone initially sees what appears to be an incomplete object. At that stage, the brain immediately works to complete the missing parts of the image so that the negative space is closed. One example of this is the panda used in the logo of the World Wildlife Fund or WWF.
Gestalt psychology is a philosophy of mind from the Berlin School of Experimental Psychology. “Gestalt” is a German term that translates to form or shape. Kurt Koffka, one of the pioneers of Gestalt psychology said that the human mind is capable of forming a percept (gestalt) where the whole has its own reality that is not controlled by its parts. Gestalt laws include:
- Common fate
- Good form
As you can see from the image, the creators of Sans Forgetica purposely left the shapes of the letter incomplete. At first sight, it is difficult to recognize the letters. However, there are enough parts in the individual shapes to allow the brain to perform the task of supplying the missing parts. According to the scientists at RMIT, it leads to ”desirable difficulty,” a process that makes the brain work harder at its cognitive operation. According to Stephen Banham, typographer and lecturer at RMIT, desirable difficulty is a state where a thing is not so difficult to decode that it can slow down the learning process, but at the same time, it is not also so easy that you will tend to forget it.
The entire process, as claimed by the font designers, helps improve the memory. It’s because the brain deeply absorbs what it tries to decode, burning the memory into the brain.
However, the RMIT designers cannot back up their claim with the publication of the results of a scientific test. The designers ran their own test on 400 student participants. The result: 50% memorized text using Arial font while 57% of the students were able to memorize text more successfully using Sans Forgetica.
Going back to desirable difficulty, which was coined by Professor Robert A. Bjork of Stanford University, you gain better memory retention when a blockage is present in the learning process as it forces the brain to go deeper into the cognitive processing of what you’re learning. Exercises for this theory include providing lessons that are out of order or allowing students to solve puzzles so they can reveal the information.
Sans Forgetica, a unique font
Admit it. You find the font quite wacky, don’t you? It does look like one of those novel fonts that are big on style, but not in function. Of course, they do have special design applications, but not applicable for regular use.
However, according to the typeface designers of Sans Forgetica, the font has two particular features. The gaps in the letter shapes force the readers to slow down the pace of their reading, as they have to fill up the gaps mentally. Moreover, the back slant of the font is intended to increase the difficulty of reading the sentences. The font effectively does that. Compared to italicized letters that are easy to read, back slanted letters are typographically not desirable.
Sans Forgetica is the first typeface designed particularly for memory retention. But the benefits of using fonts that are hard to read were first established in 2010 by researchers at Princeton University.
Benefits of Sans Forgetica to learning
The cleverly named font, Sans Forgetica, was released this October and RMIT offers free downloads of the typeface. Would you like to give it a try to see for yourself if you will remember the notes you typed?
And get this! Another font, Comic Sans, was revealed to be very effective in helping dyslexics because they find it very easy to read. Therefore, there is really a science behind this, you skeptics.
According to Daniel Oppenheimer, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, Sans Forgetica presents just the right amount of difficulty (desirable difficulty) to the user. He said that if something is too hard for the user to handle, the tendency is to quit. Conversely, if a job is too easy, the person will soon be bored.
Desirable difficulty does not only apply to classroom learning. For example, roundabouts are constructed at busy intersections to make road safety better. It’s because when using a roundabout, the driver has to think more to make a better decision than when traversing a four-way street. The concept of desirable difficulty is also applied in many apps to enhance user experience by providing them with a level of difficulty (disfluent) to ensure that users’ attention is captured.
For a number of years, psychologists and designers have been proposing different theories on font manipulation for recall improvement. Some of the earliest ideas on the subject were put forward by Oppenheimer. A 2011 news article on the New York Times said that hard to read and unfamiliar fonts helped improve memory rather than the size of the font.
Oppenheimer and his team published the results of their research in 2011. A year later, there were also study results on disfluency, indicating that difficulty in the reading of texts due to the use of unfamiliar fonts helps in memory recall.
For Banham, who was one of the designers of the typeface, the team of Sans Forgetica is not just collecting additional data. They are refining a highly usable and new memory-boosting font.
Would you switch to using Sans Forgetica to help boost your memory? It might be very difficult to type long discourses in this type of font, but using it for short passages of text like reminders and other notes could work.
People today are glued to their laptops and other mobile communication devices. Most company executives even conduct their business using handheld devices, thus using Sans Forgetica is very possible.
The initial target users of the special font are students. More often than not, students like to cram. With the number of sources of distractions around them, it’s no wonder they are enticed to spend more time for entertainment pursuits than their studies. Many of them also skim through their textbooks, instead of trying to understand the context of what they are reading. Thus, they may say that they have read their book, but if you ask them questions about what they’ve read, chances are you’ll find their answers incorrect.
The default font on most computers is Arial or Times New Roman. Therefore, users of Sans Forgetica must download and install the font and make it the default of their devices.
The objective is for students to type their lecture notes in Sans Forgetica so they can spend the time to comprehend what they have typed. Slowing their reading helps them assimilate the information better, which is the premise used by the creators of the font.
There are still many questions about how the font will gain widespread use. There’s also the question of what will happen if people become used to Sans Forgetica. Although no immediate response is forthcoming, some are looking at the other applications of Sans Forgetica in improving the cognitive process of the elderly.
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