My Middle-School Experience

Dr. Joy Garcia Tiên, my life-long mentor, asked me to take her back to my middle-school journey. She also wanted to know what divided us and what held us together. To answer her questions, I wanted to go all the way back to my first experience living in America.

I started sixth grade at Lafayette Elementary School with limited English. I spent half a day in my regular classroom not understanding what my teacher and my classmates said. I felt out of place. Fortunately, the ESL (English as Second Language) classroom was my comfort zone. All of the ESL students shared a similar circumstance and our goal was to improve our English. Our ESL teachers, Mrs. Susan Hurlburt and Mrs. Sue Kresge, had done an excellent job of making us feel comfortable and welcoming. They not only taught us English, but also helped us to adjust to our new lives in America. They were more than our teachers. They were our guardians.

I went on to Reynolds Middle School in seventh grade and faced different challenges. Reynolds had a diverse student body including Black, Hispanic, White, and Asian. English remained an issue for me and I still attended ESL classes, but only forty-five minutes a day instead of half of a day. Asians, Vietnamese immigrants in particular, were the minority. It was the first time in America that I experienced bullying, and race played a part of it. I was called “Ching Chong,” “Slanted Eyes,” or “Chink” on a daily basis even though I am not even Chinese. I did not know much English, but I recognized the racial slurs. I got into fights to defend myself. My grades dropped tremendously after a suspension for getting punched in class. I was miserable and didn’t feel like getting up in the morning to go to school. I realized that the students were divided into their own ethnicities and the majorities had more power over the minorities. I kept my head low and focused on my academics.

In eighth grade, I joined the Upward Bound program. I still can’t recall how I signed up or how I heard about it, but the pre-college program changed my educational life. My experience at the Upward Bound summer program was completely different from my regular school year. The program was also made up of a diverse group of students from different backgrounds, cultures, schools, and cities, but I did not experience any bullying or racism. In the summers, I was able to hang out with our little Vietnamese group as well as expanded into the larger groups. I did not know how Ms. Doris Cross, Dr. Joy Garcia Tiên, and the entire Upward Bound staff made it possible, but I was grateful for the individual-yet-inclusive experience. Black kids blasted hip-hop in their rooms; Hispanic kids blasted their salsa in their rooms; White kids blasted their heavy metal in their rooms; we blasted Vietnamese ballads in our rooms. No one complained until curfew time. Before wrapping up each summer program, we put on cultural shows and performances to celebrate our differences.

In retrospect, what united students in the Upward Bound program were our goals and our circumstances. Although our skins, cultures, and ethnicities were different, we were from low-income, underprivileged families. While other kids enjoyed their long summer vacations, we chose to attend summer classes and to challenge ourselves with pre-college courses taught by college professors. We were committed to make a better future for ourselves. We spent the summer living, studying, eating, and hanging out together; therefore, we embraced and respected our differences. Once we found our common ground and goal, we lifted each other up instead of tearing each other apart. As a result, I had found a special bond with my Upward Bound colleagues from my middle and throughout high school years.

I would love to hear from other Upward Bound alums on their perspectives and experiences. I also would love to hear from other Vietnamese Americans, particularly how they dealt with racism or bullying in middle school. Even today, I still wonder about that period of my life. Were kids at that age understand racism? Was I targeted because of my lack of English? Was I picked on because I did not fit in? Now as a father, I do not wish to see my kids go through what I had been through, but these experiences had shaped me and made me more resilience. I did not succumb to negativity. I found support elsewhere and appreciated those who were there for me, believed in me, and gave me the opportunities.

Why Do I Choose to Work for Higher Education?

My résumé shows that my entire career has been working in higher education. I started off at Vassar College for five years, moved on to George Washington University for three years, and landed at George Mason University for almost nine years. Why do I choose to work for higher education? The short answer is that I wanted to make money and keep on learning at the same time. I am still doing both of these things today.

In the summer of my sophomore year in college, I landed my first graphic design internship at the Trump Marina, which was the casino the savvy businessman ran to the ground. Although I was paid, I did not do jack. The in-house graphic designer didn’t give me anything to work on. I got tired of sitting in front of a Mac computer with no internet connection. I quit after two months and decided to focus on web design instead of graphic design.

Then I landed another paid internship at Unisys. I had no clue what the company did and I still don’t know what they do now. I was working with two older gentlemen on an intranet. They worked on a zip disk, burned the site to CDs, and distributed them within the company. They gave me a copy of the site to play with, but they gave me no instruction on what to do. I gave them advice on cleaning their codes because they were using Microsoft FrontPage, but they were not interested in implementing the changes. I quit after a month and a half and joined my classmates at La Salle University working on a start-up website called weplayit.com, which was some kind of a sport registration site for kids. I was recruited because of my Flash animation skills. It was a sweet gig. Unfortunately, I got laid off the day after the site launched. I guessed no one signed up.

Then I landed a part-time job at D4 Creative, an advertising agency in Philadelphia. I was hired to do Flash work and I was tasked with cheesy email ads. After a few weeks, my supervisor told me that he didn’t have any more work for me. He didn’t fire me, but he never called me back either.

I graduated from college and faced the dot-com bubble burst. I could not find a web-related job; therefore, I ended up stuffing papers into envelopes at RR Donnelley full-time and coding HTML pages at Triple Strength part-time. I finally landed my first real full-time job at Vassar College doing web design. At Vassar, projects didn’t move as fast as the agencies and deadlines took longer, which gave me the time to design, to experiment with different techniques, and to implement new technologies. I loved the educational environment where I could work and learn at the same time. After work, I went to free lectures and even free dinners sometimes. I audited classes and my favorite one was the course on the history of jazz. That class opened up my world to improvisational music, something I had never noticed before.

I moved to Virginia, worked for George Washington University School of Business, and started my own family. I had a rough time there, but I managed to get by. I even enrolled into the MS in Information Systems Technology program. I dropped out just after two months to take on a new job at George Mason University School of Law, which had been renamed to Antonin Scalia Law School.

Although educational institutions pay less than private companies, they are more secured. You are less likely to get laid off or fired unless you screw up really bad. On the positive side, tuition is the key benefit. I have an older friend who still works at American University and he put two of his kids through college for free. He saved four hundred grants right there. For me, getting an MA in graphic design at George Mason University School of Art was such a rewarding experience. Not only I didn’t have to pay a dime, I also made money teaching as an adjunct professor while earned my credits toward my degree. I wrote Professional Web Typography for an independent study, in which I earned an A+ and made some money off it as well. For my final thesis, I wrote Vietnamese Typography and put it out for free. The book had started my consulting works with type designers.

Lately I have been thinking of enrolling into a master writing program at Mason since I love to write so damn much. I would love to do non-fiction writing or journalism. I floated the idea to my wife, but she shut it down quickly. My priority right now is my kids. When they grow older, I’ll reconsider it.

Even if you just graduated from college and want to further your education, you might want to consider higher institutions. I hope this long post will inspire you to do so.

Majoring in Web Design

A friend’s daughter is thinking of pursuing a degree in web design. She reached out to me for my advice. Here’s what I wrote to her.

Dear M,

Web design is an exciting field. I guarantee that you won’t have a hard time finding jobs, especially in the Metro area. Although you can get a two-year degree in web design, I highly recommend getting an BA at a four-year college. With that said, I am not sure if there are specific majors in web design at universities.

George Mason University School of Art offers major in graphic design and minor in web design. Since you’re in Maryland, you might want to check out MICA and its graphic design program.

I have been doing web design for almost twenty years. I studied digital art and multimedia design at La Salle University. I completed my master in graphic design two years ago from George Mason University School of Art. I am currently director of design and web services at George Mason University Scalia Law School. I also take on some freelance projects once in a while. You can see some of my works at donnytruong.com.

Something for you to think about when considering web design. Web technologies changes all the time; therefore, you will have to constantly keep yourself up to date. The good thing is that HTML & CSS will always be the foundation of web design. You will need to master those two; therefore, learn them as soon as you can. You will need to know graphic tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch. Programming languages such as JavaScript and PHP & MySQL are an important part of the web, but they are more on the development side. You can learn them later.

I hope I have provided enough information to help you make your decision. Please do not hesitate to ask me any question.

Wish your all the best,

Georgetown or Northeastern?

A family member had been accepted to the biotechnology graduate program at Georgetown and Northeastern. He asked for my opinion for what school should he attend and here’s my response

N, congratulations!

It looks like you have two tough choices to make, but they both are good. I am sure you’ll do well at either institution; therefore, it is coming down to what you want to do with your degree.

If you want to be in the clinical or industrial environment, Northeastern might be a better choice. If you want to be in government, however, Georgetown is obviously better. You will be at the center of all the federal agencies including NIST, NIH, FDA/, and USDA.

Personally I would recommend Georgetown. We need young and smart thinkers like yourself to make stronger, better policies in biotechnology for the U.S.

Also think about the tuition. You can complete your program in one year at Georgetown whereas you’ll need two to three at Northeastern.

Keep us updated with your decision.

Congrats once again and wishing you all the best.

Bùi Quang Tiến: Nghệ thuật chữ trong thiết kế bìa sách giai đoạn 2005–2015 ở Việt Nam

Tình cờ google ra những bài tranh cãi về luận án tiến sĩ của nghiên cứu sinh Bùi Quang Tiến. Nhiều người cho rằng đề tài “Nghệ thuật chữ trong thiết kế bìa sách giai đoạn 2005–2015 ở Việt Nam” chưa “xứng đáng” với một luận án tiến sĩ. Thậm chí có người cho rằng nó còn tầm phào và không ứng dụng thực tế. Sau khi đọc xong luận án này, tôi hoàn toàn ủng hộ đề tài này của Bùi Quang Tiến.

Trong nước nghệ thuật chữ vẫn chưa được đánh giá cao nhưng ngoài nước đây là một đề tài nghiêm nghị đã được nghiên cứu từ 500 năm trước cho đến nay. Bùi Quang Tiến nhận ra đều này:

Ở Việt Nam, vai trò của NTC [Nghệ thuật chữ] chưa được văn bản chính thức nào ghi nhận vì vậy nó chưa xác lập được vị trí cho mình như các bộ môn nghệ thuật khác. Tuy nhiên trên thực tế, NTC đã xuất hiện từ khá sớm trong tiến trình lịch sử mỹ thuật của dân tộc. Cho đến nay nó vẫn đóng vai trò như một yếu tố không thể tách rời đối với một số lĩnh vực nghệ thuật đặc thù gắn liền với các công trình kiến trúc, nội thất (chữ trên các hoành phi, câu đối, trên cổng chùa, đình làng, cổng chào, lăng tẩm, văn bia, cột trụ…), thậm chí các kiểu dáng chữ Đinh, chữ Công hay nội Công ngoại Quốc đã được lấy làm cảm hứng cho kiến trúc mặt bằng của một số ngôi chùa xây trong thời kỳ phong kiến.

Phần mở đầu và chương một của luận án có nhiều nghiên cứu về lịch sữ Nghệ thuật chữ bổ ích nhất là cho những ai học về ngành thiết kế đồ hoạ, trang web, hoặc chữ. (Chúng ta cần nhiều nhân tài về ngành thiết kế chữ.) Phải chi tôi đọc được bài luận án này khi làm bài luận án của tôi về Vietnamese Typography: Nghệ thuật chữ Quốc Ngữ để được tham khảo những nghiên cứu ở trong nước. Nhưng tôi sẽ tìm đọc những quyển sách mà Bùi Quang Tiến đã đề cập đến trong chương một:

  • Tìm hiểu dáng chữ in gốc La-tinh: Chữ nét trơn (Tập 1, 1970) Nguyễn Viết Châu
  • Tìm hiểu dáng chữ in gốc La-tinh: Chữ có nét chân (Tập 2, 1974) Nguyễn Viết Châu
  • Nghệ thuật chữ trang trí và quảng cáo (1992) Hồ Xuân Hạnh
  • Kỹ thuật chữ (1996) Nguyễn Ngọc Sơn
  • Đại cương về kỹ thuật in (2008) Huỳnh Trà Ngộ
  • Văn minh vật chất của người Việt (2011) Phan Cẩm Thượng
  • Thiết kế logo, nhãn hiệu, bảng hiệu theo tập quán Việt Nam và phương Đông (1998) Tố Nguyên
  • Nghệ thuật Đồ họa bao bì (2016) Nguyễn Thị Hợp

Trong chương hai, Bùi Quang Tiến chia sẽ phần nhận diện của nghệ thuật chữ trong thiết kế bìa sách giai đoạn 2005-2015. Bùi Quang Tiến viết:

Trong lĩnh vực thiết kế chữ, nét được chia làm hai loại. Nét chính và nét phụ. Nét chính là nét quan trọng làm nên hình dạng của ký tự. Nét phụ là nét viết thêm vào nét chính hoặc nối liền nét chính với nhau để chữ có được sự hài hòa, cân đối về tạo hình thị giác. Người ta thường biến nét phụ trở thành các nét có tính trang trí để làm cho chữ đẹp hơn.

Những ví dụ Bùi Quang Tiến đưa ra và luôn cả những quyển sách Việt tôi đã từng thấy, đa số là thiết kế bởi những hoạ sĩ. Cách trình bày đó vẫn đẹp và sang trọng nhưng nó thuột về vẽ chữ (lettering) chứ không hẳn là Nghệ thuật chữ (typography). Tôi không phủ nhận sự việc quang trọng của bìa sách nhưng nó chỉ là một phần nhỏ trong công trình thiết kế sách. Phải chi Bùi Quang Tiến nghiên cứu sâu thêm về phần thiết kế của sách. Theo tôi, chữ ở trong sách của tác giả mới quang trọng nhất. Người đọc sẽ bỏ ra rất nhiều thời gian với quyển sách cho nên người thiết kế cần phải tôn trọng người đọc. Người thiết kế phải dùng mẫu chữ nào và biết những chi tiết cặn kẽ của từng nét chữ để giúp người đọc dễ dàng và thoải mái. Dạo này tôi thường đọc sách tiếng Việt và đã nhận ra một vài chi tiết trình bài không đúng lắm. Tuy nhiên bài luận án này nên được tôn trọng và chúng ta cần nhiều bài luận án khác trong tương lai để Nghệ thuật chữ Việt Nam ngày càng phát triển hơn.

An Invitation from Thinkful

I rarely read spamming emails, but this one caught my attention:

Hi Donny,

Thinkful Web Development Mentors play a critical role in helping aspiring devs launch their careers.

Based on your experience as a Director of Design & Web Services with George Mason University Law School, I get the sense that you could make a big impact on our students by sharing your first-hand experience and expertise. Our mentors:

Work remotely and set their own hours
Gain valuable leadership experience by mentoring junior talent
Build in-depth relationships with their students through hour-long sessions, 3 times a week

If you’re open to potentially mentoring a student, apply here and schedule a call to learn more.

Warmly,
FL

I am flattered, but my schedule doesn’t allow me to be a mentor at this time.

Mason Law School seeks rebranding from SoA alumnus

This article was written by Natasha Boddie for George Mason School of Art website.

In April 2016, George Mason University renamed the law school after the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The decision came after an anonymous $30 million donation. Shortly after the announcement, the Antonin Scalia Law School drew attention to a new project. School of Art alumnus Donny Truong was tasked with that next big project—rebranding. According to Truong, the rebranding gave Scalia Law the opportunity to step-up its game.

Being almost six years since Truong was hired by Scalia Law to handle web design and development, his career’s pivotal point arrived when Dean Henry N. Butler and Senior Associate Rher, who was responsible for the school’s marketing strategy, approached him about the rebranding project. It later led to a promotion for Truong to becoming the Director of Design and Web Services for Scalia Law.

Having completed his MA in Graphic Design in December 2015, Truong was able to further explore his new-found passion for typography and continue to work on print design. Being in classes with professors who work in the design industry, designing branding guidelines, and developing a brand for a class project prepared Truong with the skills he needed to take on the Scalia Law rebranding project. In addition, an elective course permitted Truong to further enhance his passion for typography. After extensive research, Truong wrote and designed a book on Professional Web Typography and led him to his final thesis on Vietnamese Typography.

One of the challenges of the Scalia Law rebranding projects was restriction. Compliance with Mason’s branding guidelines was a must. The limitations, however, didn’t concern Truong. His first objective led him to interview the Deans to learn more about their vision for Scalia Law. His strong passion for typography was a coherent starting point. Being a collaborative project, it was agreed upon by all that the new brand would have to be simple, modern, and flexible. Myriad Pro, a contemporary sans serif typeface with an extensive family that can be used in any circumstance, was the perfect choice.

According to Truong, the previous logo was designed specifically for the web; therefore, it was not scalable for other media. With this in mind, he proceeded to eliminate “unnecessary details” including the shield, the bevels, and the drop shadows. In doing so, it would allow the new logo to be used in a variety of ways.

Continuing to lead the team through a successful rebranding process, he further strengthened the new brand by incorporating larger typography, richer colors, and bolder visual elements.

Scalia Law’s tagline was also developed in concurrent with the rebranding project. During the initial development phase, Truong applied the skills learned while enrolled in the MA program to bring the slogan to fruition.

“This simple catch phrase has been used on promotional items ranging from the website to t-shirts, postcards, social media accounts, newsletters, name badges, and even the elevators in the law school building,” says Associate Dean Keene. Truong gave this simple slogan new life using bright bold colors to radiate energy and communicate success, achievement, and triumph.

“He’s repeated this thoughtful approach to his other designs, but this one really stands out in a way that is unique among law schools,” Keene concludes.

The law community immediately accepted the new brand. Senior Associate Dean Alison Price who was one of few on the team has this to say about Truong’s work, “I have enjoyed working with Donny Truong in rebranding the law school. Without fail, when I articulate a concept, Donny has demonstrated the ability to turn it into something visually appealing and on message. I also admire his ability to suggest changes that will lead to a more polished product.”

To view the Antonin Scalia Law Schools simple branding guidelines, click here.

To learn more about Donny Truong and other projects, click here.

The Case for Hybrid App

Our paper, “Hybrid App Approach: Could It Mark the End of Native App Domination?,” has been published. Dr. Minh Q. Huỳnh and I will be presenting it at the InSITE 2017 conference in Vietnam. Mad props to Dr. Huỳnh and Prashant Ghimire for their research and hard work. I only contributed a small portion, but managed to include responsive screenshots of the Scalia Law website. I am looking forward to attending the conference and revisiting my birthplace.

Select Graduate Projects

Some projects I had worked on during my study for my MA in Graphic Design at the George Mason School of Art.

Vietnamese Typography: Nghệ thuật chữ Việt Nam
Wrote, designed, and published a web-based book on Vietnamese typography as a final project (AVT 794) to complete my MA in Graphic Design. Read more.

Professional Web Typography
Wrote, designed, and published a web-based book on web typography in Practices in Graphic Design (AVT 519). Read more.

Post Binding
Handcrafted a book for the final project in Experiential History of Graphic Design (AVT 613). Read more.

Web Typography: A Brief History
Wrote a research paper on the history of web typography in Experiential History of Graphic Design (AVT 613).

Nas’s Quote
Created my first calligraphy using pen, ink, and paper in Experiential History of Graphic Design (AVT 613). Learn more.

Mobile App Prototype for Sketches of Miles
Designed an app prototype for a do-over project in Professional Design Practices (AVT 599). Read more.

Video Résumé
Created a short typographic animation in Professional Design Practices (AVT 599) to show why I love the web. Read more.

Four Words
Created four words (“fire, water, earth, and air”) using analog typography in Graduate Design Seminar (AVT 596). Read more.

Magazine Ads for Simplexpression
Created an integrative design of handcrafted types and digital components in Graduate Design Seminar (AVT 596). Read more.

The Jazz Board Game
Created the concept and designed a jazz board game in Graduate Design Seminar (AVT 611). Read more.

The Vietjazz Branding Guide
Designed a branding guide web site for Vietjazz Records in Brand Identity Design (AVT 614). Read more.

Unitea
A fictitious tea company developed in Graduate Design Seminar (AVT 611). Read more.