A team of designers and behavioral scientists created a new set of letters to help your brain engage in deeper processing – and you can download it for free.
New typefaces may be a dime a dozen, but I recently came across a very novel one – and I'm smitten. It's called Sans Forgetica and it is designed to be ... wait for it ... hard to read.
What??The idea was brought to life in a collaboration between designers and cognitive psychologists at RMIT University in Australia. And it's brilliant. It employs a phenomenon called "desirable difficulty" in which minor obstructions to the learning process urge the brain into deeper cognitive processing, thereby improving memory retention.
Typographer Stephen Banham worked with the university's Behavioural Business Lab to trial and tweak a number of different designs, testing them out on students to find that sweet spot between being hard enough to read and illegible. When sampling the final version of Sans Forgetica on a group of around 400 students, the researchers found a notable jump in memory retention as compared to reading text in Arial.
I love that this is so simple – and it is a great example of how design can improve things with minimal effort on the user's part. But the reason I think this is suitable for TreeHugger – a site not generally concerned with things like typefaces – is because it bucks the culture of convenience that is eating away at both the environment and ourselves.
For the sake of convenience we can't live without single-use plastic and driving a car half a mile to the market. And meanwhile, the conveniences afforded by technology are robbing us of all kinds of thinking skills that used to keep us sharp. We no longer need to remember phone numbers or add figures in our heads, we don't have to know how to spell words correctly or figure out routes on a map. I worry that we are going to become a species reliant on external brains, while our own become flaccid with disuse!
At a time in our history when every thing is pathologically designed to make things easier – to make us work less, move less, think less – how refreshing it is to stumble upon something designed to make things more difficult! Even if in the end the goal is to make memorization easier, that we have to use our brain power and work a little harder to get there can only be a good thing. And if we can get a bit of a memory boost out of the deal, all the better.
You can download the font for free, or get the Chrome extension for your browser, at the Sans Forgetica site (where you can also just give the font a spin). And see more on its development in the video below.