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Sans Forgetica: A Font for Memory Recall from Australian Designers, Scientists

Liz Murphy

Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

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Sans Forgetica: A Font for Memory Recall from Australian Designers, Scientists Blog Feature

Published on October 8th, 2018

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Serif fonts are often chosen for printed works, because the little extra bit of "flair"  that sans serif fonts lack makes it easier for our brains to process and identify the letters (and the words they form) we're reading. 

Sans Serif

But how often do we forget the words we've just read? How quickly do newly-consumed thoughts and ideas seem to disappear, no matter how much we wish to retain them?

(If you're like me, this happens a lot. Because I have the memory recall of a concussed goldfish.)

This is what a team of designers and scientists out of RMIT University in Australia sought to solve for with the creation and release of their new font, Sans Forgetica, a free-to-download web font designed to help others remember better what they are reading

RMIT Study Note (3)Sans Forgetica

At first glance, you might be confused.

How can a font that looks even harder to decipher than its more traditional typographic counterparts help readers better retain and recall the words and ideas they're consuming?

How Does Sans Forgetica Work?

The contrary, mentally-challenging construction of the font is exactly why it works, according to Stephen Banham of RMIT University:

"...the essence of what we've done is that we've actually subverted the kind of conventional reading patterns by creating, firstly, a back slant, which is a slant that runs counter to the normal direction of the italics.

You know how italics usually run to the right?

Well, ours is back slanting to the left, which is unconventional. And then on top of that, we have then made the parts of the letter-form incomplete. And what that basically does - that kind of plays a slight trick on the mind, which is, of course, the mind instantly tries to resolve shapes, resolve circles and diagonals and so forth.

And so that actually slows down the process of reading inside your brain. And then it can actually trigger memory."

Stephen Banham, typography lecturer at RMIT University

However, the intent of the RMIT team is not to suddenly have us embrace a digital world where all content is rendered in Sans Forgetica. 

When Should Sans Forgetica Be Used?

Instead, those considering using it should practice thoughtful and purposeful implementation. 

Banham continued:

"If you were to read a novel in Sans Forgetica, it would probably induce a terrible headache. It's more about actually to be used as a highlight typeface in study notes so that you would only use this in a very, very selective manner."

For example, students, academics, general internet perusers, and other online readers can download a Google Chrome extension (also free), that allows to them highlight any text they find online and automatically convert it into Sans Forgetica.

I tested on the landing page for IMPACT's Content Lab podcast:

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 4.04.38 PM

(A great idea, to be sure, although some reviews and our own personal testing suggest the extension needs more refinement. It's a little quirky.) 

The official Sans Forgetica website also allows visitors to type in any text in the font and download an image of that text for their own use:

RMIT Study Note (1)-1
...and don't you forget it!

Not only does this present opportunities for students to leverage the font in memorizing facts, figures, and other data, Sans Forgetica should intrigue marketers, as well.

While you would never want to build an entire website or write an article with Sans Forgetica, you could use the font when presenting key quotes, statistics, or power statements in content, for a greater chance of staying power. 

Of course, Sans Forgetica is very new. And while it was designed following extensive, expert research and rigorous testing, practical application "in the wild," so to speak, has only just begun. 

Moreover, some consumers are unsure of the accessibility of Sans Forgetica, including this Washington Post reader:

"...about five years ago I began to develop cataracts, and reading became more difficult, because it got harder and more of a struggle to make out the words on the page.  That didn't make anything I read more memorable, it just made it far less enjoyable.  And I found myself reading less because of it.

If you have to use brain tricks to get people to remember what they are reading, it may be because what they are reading isn't all that memorable or well-written to begin with. 

And if one must constantly struggle because of an intentionally frustrating font, even if they do remember what they have read, they probably will not have found the experience enjoyable."

Even with those concerns in mind, however, we have to acknowledge content consumption is undeniably more of an online activity for much of the population -- especially those of us in the inbound marketing space who cater to digital audiences.

While creating quality content should always be our top priority as inbound marketers, we should also be on the lookout for ways to augment and improve the content experience for our audiences -- and Sans Forgetica may end up being a powerful tool in our arsenal, if deployed with purpose.

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