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Can a typeface help your memory?

The researchers behind the typeface Sans Forgetica claim it can help you remember your notes.

Can a typeface help your memory?

How many times have you typed notes in a meeting or classroom, only to forget everything the minute you walked out the door? And could something as simple as a typeface solve the problem?

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A team of researchers at the RMIT Behavioral Business Lab in Melbourne, Australia, have developed Sans Forgetica, a typeface design that draws on the principles of cognitive science to help users better remember their notes.

Sans Forgetica makes use of the Gestalt law of closure, which happens when an object appears incomplete at first sight. The brain, knowing that there are missing parts, attempts to complete the image, closing the negative space or adding nonexistent parts. You can see how this works in the panda of the WWF logo:

[Image: WWF]
In the case of Sans Forgetica, letters’ shapes are left incomplete on purpose, making them barely recognizable at first sight. But enough is left of them for the brain to perform its recognition task. In effect, the brain has to go into overdrive to complete the letters.  This results in what the RMIT scientists call a “desirable difficulty,” pushing the brain to engage more and go deeper into the cognitive process.

[Image: RMIT Behavioral Business Lab]
According to the researchers, the entire cognitive process leads to improved memory retention: Since your brain has to work harder to recognize the words, they claim, the extra energy will result in an a deeper assimilation of what you decode, burning it in your brain.

The designers have not published any scientific test to back up their claims, so take this with a grain of salt. But RMIT lecturer and typographer Stephen Banham talks here about how he worked with the public university’s Behavioral Business Lab to “test and refine the typeface to obtain an optimal level of desirable difficulty.” That is: Something not too hard to decode as to slow your learning process down, but not so easy that you forget everything.

Banham’s logic seems solid and inline with what a professor of mine taught me back in the day: “You will memorize better from your own notes than from the book, because your brain will have to spend more time decoding your terrible handwriting.” Give Sans Forgetica a try here for free.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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