Sans Forgettica - can 'Desirable Difficulty' really aid memory?

The RMIT University has created a free typeface they claim enhances memory retention by introducing 'principles of cognitive psychology to create an effect known as desirable difficulty, in which minor obstructions to learning processes cause the brain to engage in deeper cognitive processing'.

They've produced a short video at:

Personally, I find it uncomfortable to read, but do you think there's anything in the claim that it enhances memory?

Comments

  • I think you are used to this appearance within an hour and then there is no 'desirable difficulty' anymore.
  • Adam JagoszAdam Jagosz Posts: 246
    edited November 7
    Uncomfortable to read was the goal. Slow down your reading so that the information has greater chance to sink in.
    Even if it doesn't work, it looks good at display sizes (unlike Dyslexie https://www.dyslexiefont.com/en/typeface/ ). It looks too heavy for text, though. The Chrome extension is a bit weird: You have to activate it with a button and then select any text you want to read in the font. (Then zoom in a bit, since otherwise it is really uncomfortable to read). At first I used the keyboard to select everything on a Wikipedia page, then clicked the button, and the page froze (I was unable to deselect or do anything else). Not a good order.
  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,176
    edited November 7
    It just strikes me as a bad idea, naïvely, to claim some chunks of active memory for the purpose of reading, as opposed to dedicating all of it to processing the content. Maybe that works for really shallow stuff. I doubt my physics students would benefit from this.
    The font does look attractive in a way, though.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,314
    It’s promising that science and humanities faculties collaborated for this student project, but the science and design methodologies are as full of holes as Ecofont. What’s really being taught—how to engage social media with gimmickry. But perhaps feedback from the professional type community will set things straight.
  • For those who read Dutch/want to try google translate: https://www.volkskrant.nl/wetenschap/van-dit-lettertype-onthoud-je-teksten-beter-klopt-dit-wel-~bbba57a6/

    The gist: there is pretty much no evidence that this typeface actually enhances memory. The study was poorly designed, with some post-hoc additions to make it seem a success.

    As a cognitive neuropsychologist in training, I can tell you that this will not make any waves in science. The premise that an attention demanding typeface could improve memory is not entirely without merit, but any effect is likely the result of simply spending more time with the text. And then there is also the question of text comprehension.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 205
    The premise that an attention demanding typeface could improve memory is not entirely without merit, but any effect is likely the result of simply spending more time with the text.
    Well, there you are then.

    A typeface that forces people to actually sit down and read a text, rather than just skim through it, obviously is a useful tool to someone who wants to be sure that the people reading the text understand and remember its contents.

    Educational institutions might not need it, as grades ought to be enough to motivate students, but perhaps it would be useful to the military. Of course, in that kind of application, one has to balance the increased attention to the increased possibility of errors in reading, but the typeface has been designed to minimize that danger.
  • Guess it works—I sure do remember RMIT University of Melbourne for this unsubstantiated, shallow and sensationally publicized research in their departments that was carried out by none the less than two doctors.
  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 801
    edited November 8
    A typeface that forces people to actually sit down and read a text, rather than just skim through it,

    But a typeface that forces people to just skip a text, rather than actually sit down and read through it, is not such a useful tool.

    Presenting obstacles is not always the same thing as activating deeper engagement.

    Sometimes it’s just off-putting.

    If we’re having a conversation and I keep challenging every word you utter, am I engaging you more deeply, or am I just going to piss you off?

  • It's a noble goal, to help students retain information better. The website has a video in the Science section that mentions conducting experiments, but they don't include any hard results. They say "designed … to help you to better remember your study notes," but never actually claim "it does help you better remember." Just because it's designed with something in mind doesn't mean it achieves that goal. 

    I would love for this idea to work, and it seems plausible. I'd be interested in evidence that confirms the theory. 
  • @Dyana Weissman
    I agree. I think it looks interesting and promising, but when you enter the scientific realm, presenting evidence is a prerequisite.
  • The idea that you can learn and remember better just with a special font is kind of silly, even if it's based on something true about learning (which it is). What do they expect to happen? Reprint all textbooks? What if you want to learn something from a book that was published before this amazing font existed?

    If you want to learn and remember what you read, there are proven ways to do it, based on scientific research. (See Make It Stick.) You don't need a magical font.
  • What this project really speaks of is the obsession that technology and design can, and really only ever should, solve our problems. We can even accept the apparently absurd concession that a typeface should not be legible, if only we would not have to exert time and effort on something as mundane and tiresome as memorizing a word. As pretentious and superficial as many other solutions to ultimately human shortcomings, this one, too, is most valuable to understanding our society’s desires and expectations (of us designers): “A font has value, if it helps overcome the shortcomings of the human condition”. It needs to be more memorable, or more legible, or more screen optimized, or more space saving, or…

    We need funded research projects deliberating what is the most enjoyable and meaningful font choice for typesetting prose, and why; money better spent.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,314
    Readability is a pseudo-science.
    Type design and typography are arts.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,314
    Readability is not a science, because any of its theories can easily be falsified simply by changing the font or the type specs. 

    Measuring the effectiveness of one typeface versus another is not science, it is product testing.

    Besides which, readability, defined in numeric terms, is a banal and paltry measure of the reading experience.
  • What this project really speaks of is the obsession that technology and design can, and really only ever should, solve our problems. […]
    What this project speaks of to me is the obsession of some sort of scholars to ignore the existence of typographic knowlegde. Its like the obsession of some sorts of architects to glue Helvetica letters onto buildings and feel devastatingly clever about it.
  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,176
    edited November 14
    Readability is not a science, because any of its theories can easily be falsified simply by changing the font or the type specs.
    Isn't this like saying that medicine is not a science because every patient is different, or because you can switch treatments? When it comes down to it, medicine is also mostly product testing...
    And I think we can all agree that there are typefaces that are objectively hard to read. It sounds like the disagreement is merely about where that signal dissolves into the background noise.
    (Admittedly, I'm biased since I'm trying to make a particularly readable typeface based on theoretical conjectures... at least my alpha readers seem happy with it!)
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,314
    edited November 14
    Isn't this like saying that medicine is not a science because every patient is different, or because you can switch treatments? 
    There is some serious debate as to whether medicine is a science.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,314
    There is some serious debate as to whether medicine is a science.


  • Sye RobertsonSye Robertson Posts: 221
    edited November 19
    Stephen Banham was one of my typography teachers when I studied at RMIT (in 2002). I have not even read any of the articles on this release as like lots of you, I felt it stank of marketing and hopes for viral attention over anything more meaningful. Stephen's studio has done some lovely type work though, I really like Terital https://www.letterbox.net.au

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 205
    edited November 27
    There is some serious debate as to whether medicine is a science.
    The human body is a complex system, and it is true that doctors don't completely understand everything that goes on in it.

    Medicine, therefore, may not be a "science" - or, perhaps more to the point, an engineering discipline based on science - by some standards.

    However, medical knowledge has indeed been acquired by scientific means. This means that medical knowledge is generally of a highly trustworthy character.

    Thus, when it is disputed by people attributing risks to vaccines which they do not have, or by people promoting nostrums, such as the organic coffee enema treatment for cancer, or by people claiming that AIDS is not caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, the result is that people's lives are put needlessly at risk.

    While there may be some serious debate as to whether or not medicine is in some sense an art, there is also a lot of unserious debate about the value of medicine.

    Since antibiotics have led to antibiotic resistant drugs, since improved sanitation has led to more people getting old enough to die of cancer, it has been claimed that medicine is essentially of no value. In order to do that, however, the most noted author advancing that position (yes, I do mean Ivan Illich) had to dismiss the "disvalue" our society places on the deaths of children in infancy, since that was one glaringly obvious success of modern medicine and sanitation that could not be argued away from the fact that we still all die eventually.

    So I really have no patience with any attempt to remove from medicine the authority and prestige which it has rightly earned through conducting research on scientific principles as best it can under its circumstances.
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