Typography

Lest We Forget

What is a memory? Can you remember things that haven’t happened to you? And how on earth are you going to remember what you are reading in this blogpost?

In October 2018, RMIT University of Melbourne introduced Sans Forgetica, a new typeface, which is said to increase your memory of what you just read.

This is far from another déjà vu with Helvetica, has nothing to do with that cheesy 80s hit sung by Barbra Streisand, and I doubt that it will improve my ability to memorise the name of the person I just introduced myself to.

It has been proven to improve memory retention when tested by 400 students.

We live in an era where communication tends to be straightforwardly presented, smoothly designed, and easy on the eye.

The findings of RMIT however show the advantages of having to put a bit of effort into something.

When you are slightly challenged, you enter the ultimate state for the brain and body to learn and remember.

So, what are the main ingredients of this revolutionary font – available as a free download – developed by the School of Design together with the Business Lab, both faculties of Victoria’s proudest university?

The first and foremost ingredient is to combine psychology and design principles in order to challenge the norm of understanding typography.

 

Enter the gaps. The gaps are not about saving taxpayers’ money on using less ink, but about hitting the sweet spot of breaking design principles without becoming too illegible.

The second key element of Sans Forgetica is the backslant, normally only used graphically for very specific mathematical expressions.

Together these ingredients create what the inventors refer to as desirable difficulty, which, by the way, sounds like something that belongs in the cruel jokes of package design than typography.

Has anyone ever understood how to properly open half of the food packaging in a civilised way without eventually resorting to butchering the carton with your sharpest knife? I am sorry, I digress.

The ‘desirable difficulty’ you experience when reading information formatted in Sans Forgetica prompts your brain to engage in deeper processing.

This is also a very clear example of how we comprehend fonts – not letter by letter, but by outline. Which also explains how you can read jsut abuot antyhnig as lnog as the frist and lsat lteters are crorect.

Sans Forgetica is a true cross-pollination of different research fields.

The leading trio behind the project are practising typographers and typography teachers.

Mr. Stephen Banham, Dr Jo Peryman, and Dr Janneke Blijlevens from the RMIT Behavioural Business Lab are working on a scientific report, which will show exactly how efficient Sans Forgetica is.

In the meantime I am thinking that maybe my lousy name memory could be improved if nametags at the next event could please be printed in Sans Forgetica?

And last but not least – since physical movement and multisensory experiences also have been proven to reinforce memory, I have an idea for the next timeyou really want to memorise a text.

Walk barefoot on sand, blast that cheesy 80s hit on your sound system, burn your favourite incense, and, of course, read it in Sans Forgetica.

Lest we forget.

 

 

 

– Anders Modig

Anders Modig, based in Basel since 2013, has been a journalist for 15 years. He writes about watches and design for titles like Vanity Fair on Time, Hodinkee, Café and South China Morning Post.

He has been editor in chief of seven magazines and books, including the current annual design magazine True Design by Rado, and his company also organises events for clients like TAG Heuer, Zenith and Patek Philippe.

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