Make the Brain Work for It!

Sans Forgetica Logo

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Molly Marsh Cropped Photo

Molly Marsh


A designer, psychologist and a behavioral economist walk into a university…

Also potentially the start of a terrible joke, it happens to be the beginning of the story of Sans Forgetica, a new typeface created to help increase retention and learning from written material.  As noted in the previous blog post about Elaboration, learning is much more complex than simply consuming information. Using the principle of “Desirable Difficulties” (essentially that introducing small obstacles which make it more challenging to recall information will actually improve long-term retention and learning), the font-makers increased retention of information read to 57% over Arial’s meager 50%.

Inspired by the new font development, author Arielle Pardes shared some interesting observations about how the principles behind Sans Forgetica can be used to enhance learning in her article. This – of course – got us thinking, “what kinds of lessons could we pull from this to improve learning at our association conferences?”

Information Gaps – Sans Forgetica’s signature characteristic is the randomness of gaps in each of the characters. Withholding some of the visual information forces the brain to make its own connections about what each character means, slowing down reading and helping make meaning as you go. This is a particularly helpful lesson when it comes to conference or presentation visuals and how you communicate information about your event. Always leaving a little work for the brain to do in order to gather the information it needs will significantly help long-term learning and retention!

Maintain Balance – Making the brain work a bit for its learning is not only good, it’s essential for long-term behavior change. In fact, one of my favorite conference-related quotes is from Jeff Hurt – “No Thinking, No Learning, No Change.” But, one of the lessons from Sans Forgetica’s development is that too much difficulty swings the pendulum in the opposite direction. Making the font bold and adding too many complicating features sunk retention, so it’s all about striking the right balance. Have enough activities, applied learning and scenarios to keep the brain on its toes, but don’t make your engagement strategies so complex that they end up blocking you from your goals.

A New Perspective – Another reason Sans Forgetica is so effective is because it actually tilts to the left and our brains are not accustomed to left-tilting typeface. What events, speakers or activities at your meeting would benefit from leaning in a new direction? Putting participants in a situation where they have to see things a little differently will go a long way toward the memorability and retention of that event!

Points of Emphasis – You still can’t expect people to retain or recall EVERYTHING they hear at your conference or meeting, no matter what. Implementing minor learning obstacles or desirable difficulties on the issues, topics or key takeaways that are most important to your event audience can maximize the impact without going overboard. You wouldn’t want to make someone work this hard to read a whole book in Sans Forgetica, they’d probably give up. Your participants will tire, too, if your program is so jam-packed with learning that they become overwhelmed. Use the techniques sparingly to focus attention on the areas of greatest desired impact.

What lessons can you use from Sans Forgetica to make your association conference, meeting or learning program more effective?

Sans Forgetica Example
Molly Marsh Cropped Photo
Molly Marsh

Degrees and Credentials:
Certified Meeting Professional (CMP); Bachelor of Arts, Transylvania University

Association Management Professional Since:

What inspires you about your work?
I have a passion for the world of professional associations and the essential support, resources and connections they provide for members. I am an adult learning and meeting design nerd –I am continually inspired by the chance to design face-to-face meetings and innovate content strategy with new techniques, technologies and ideas.

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