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Sans Forgetica: A Font To Remember


Just in time for midterm exams comes Sans Forgetica. It's a font researchers say can help you remember what you read. Typography lecturer Stephen Banham is part of the team at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, that developed the slyly named lettering. He joins us now over Skype. Mr. Banham, thanks so much for being with us.

STEPHEN BANHAM: Absolute pleasure.

SIMON: This font has letters that look like they're broken up, almost like your pen's running out of ink.

BANHAM: (Laughter) That's a very interesting way to describe it. I've worked with psychologists on trying to work out how we can trigger recall or memory when people are reading particular select parts of text, in a quotation or a sentence or something. And 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.

SIMON: So if the typeface is both incomplete and uncommon, that helps us remember?

BANHAM: Yes, that's correct. And particularly, the uncommon aspect is very important because this typeface came out of a lot of testing in the psychology labs. And we really - we tested a very - a full spectrum of typefaces. So from the really familiar, you know, Arial and Times and so forth, right through to typefaces that we really made completely disrupted, really odd and hard to read. And Sans Forgetica was positioned pretty much in the middle of that spectrum so that it offered just enough uniqueness to recall memory but not too much kind of wackiness, I guess you would call, where it's virtually impossible to read. So it's a matter of font that - what do they call - sweet spot.

SIMON: Would I want to read a novel that way?

BANHAM: Most certainly not. 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.

SIMON: Yeah. Now, this is a typeface that's - now I gather - commercially available, isn't it?

BANHAM: It is. It's a free download from sansforgetica.rmit. And anybody can download it and install it onto their system. It works on Mac, PC, virtually any program. And I'd be interested to see how people experience it and what they think of it.

SIMON: Do you - what a question - do you have a favorite typeface?


BANHAM: To me, it's like a - it would be like standing in front of your family and somebody asking you, who's your favorite child? It's - you can't pick them because the thing about typography is it's all about appropriateness. And so every typeface, no matter how grotesque or ugly or deformed or whatever it might be - it will actually have a particular purpose, a particular kind of place in the sun for a very short time.

SIMON: Stephen Banham of RMIT University in Melbourne, thanks so much for being with us.

BANHAM: Absolute pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.