As It Happens

This strange, broken font is designed to help you remember what you read

Researchers at Melbourne’s RMIT University have designed a font called Sans Forgetica that is full of gaps and intentionally hard to read.

Sans Forgetica combines psychological theory with design principles to aid students studying for exams

Sans Forgetica was designed by researchers at Melbourne’s RMIT University to help students retain information while they study for exams. (RMIT University)

Researchers at Melbourne's RMIT University have designed a font that is full of gaps and intentionally hard to read. 

Sans Forgetica was specifically created to help students studying for exams by promoting memory retention while reading. 

"This font is really unlike any other font that I've ever designed because it's not really looking at a pure clarity and tone," RMIT typographer Stephen Banham told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"What it's really wanting to do is to actually slow down the conventional reading process."

Banham designed the font with RMIT behavioural economist Jo Peryman and marketing professor Janneke Blijlevens, who specializes in experimental methods and design thinking.

The trio combined design principles with psychological theory to create a typeface that would force readers to slow down and spend time with the words.

RMIT's Stephen Banham and Janneke Blijlevens discuss Sans Forgetica, a typeface they created alonside colleague Jo Peryman. (Submitted by Stephen Banham )

People can easily get bored and tune out when reading passages in conventional fonts, Blijlevens said.

"Readers often glance over them and no memory trace is created," she said in an RMIT press release

The 'sweet spot' between too easy and too hard 

But Forgetica stands out because it's "backslanted," which means that unlike conventional typefaces, it leans to the left. 

What's more, the letters are incomplete.

"Those gaps are there to basically trigger memory by way of our brain's impulse, which is, of course, to resolve those shapes," Banham said.

"It slows us down because our brain will spend the time trying to kind of almost solve the puzzle. ... That slows the reading down and that triggers memory."

This is what this As It Happens story looks like when you highlight the text using the Sans Forgetica Chrome extension. (As It Happens)

The researchers tested the memories of 400 Australian university students, comparing their ability to retain information they read in Forgetica compared to other fonts.

Some of those fonts were simple, while others were so strange they were almost impossible to read, Banham said.

"There's sort of what we call the sweet spot right in the middle and that's where we ended up with Sans Forgetica," Banham said.

Free to use 

The students, he said, saw a 10 per cent boost in memory retention when reading in Forgetica compared with the more standard Arial font.

But Banham said more work needs to be done to test the typeface's efficacy — which is why he and his colleagues have released it to the public for free.

You can download the font to use on your computer or install it as a Chrome extension.

"We really just want people to use it to experiment with it and see how it goes," Banham said. "We're looking forward to seeing what people do with it."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Stephen Banham produced by Samantha Lui.