The Art of Poetry Translation

In his book of poetry collection, Spring Rain, Tâm Minh translated 50 classic works from poets including William Henry Davies, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Christina Rossetti, and Thomas Hardy. I chose a few pieces that dealt with life and death to create a sample page for Vietnamese Typography. For typesetting, I chose Loretta, designed by Abel Martins and Joana Correia, for text, Mea Culpa, designed by Robert Leuschke, for titles, and Albula Pro, designed by Silvio Meier, for authors. Take a look.

Almost There

In the past three weeks, I had been working late nights to edit my aunt’s stories about our family. I wanted to turn it into a web book similar to Vietnamese Typography. I wanted to add old photos as well as profile information for the characters in her stories, which included my mother’s parents and her siblings.

Although I volunteered to put the website together, my main focus was on editing. I had been blogging on this site for 20 years, but it was the first time that I edited someone else’s work. It was a daunting task to edit both English and Vietnamese. What I looked for were spelling errors, cutting down repeated sentences to make the flow better, and consistency—particularly in English to keep the stories in past tense.

I had the impression that when my aunt wrote these stories, she wanted to get the words from her head to the page. As a result, she didn’t pay much attention to the technical part of writing. As an editor, I came to her stories from a fresh perspective; therefore, I had an easier time to spot the errors. I had learned quite a bit editing someone’s writing, but I don’t enjoy it as much as writing.

In addition to editing the stories and designing the website, I wrote an epilogue. I wish I could share the entire book, but it was intended as a family project. I will share my piece on this blog.

The final draft is almost finished. I just wanted to get it done so I can get back to my normal routine and catching up on sleeping. I had a booster shot yesterday and my arm is sore.

Chữ Việt phong phú

Thông thường những nhà thiết kế chữ liên lạc với tôi để cố vấn về phần dấu trong chữ Việt của chúng ta. Họ muốn biết những dấu họ thiết kế có đúng và dễ đọc cho những người bản ngữ. Cho nên trách nhiệm của tôi là nhận xét cách thiết kế và vị trí của từng dấu. Chẳng hạn như dấu sắc và dấu huyền nên đặt bên phải hay bên trái của dấu ớ để người đọc có thể nhanh chóng nhận ra chữ ngay. Hoặc các dấu cao hay thấp để những hàng chữ không bị chạm vào nhau. Tóm lại là tôi chú trọng vào sự rõ ràng và dễ đọc trong phần chữ Việt.

Tuy nhiên cũng có đôi lúc những bộ chữ không thuộc về sự rõ ràng mà thuộc về thẩm mỹ. Phần lớn chữ được thiết kế theo thẩm mỹ có những cá tính rất riêng. Chẳng hạn như bộ chữ Megazoid của nhà thiết kế David Jonathan Ross. Bộ chữ này có tính cách hình học (geometric) qua sự thử nghiệm giữa hình tròn và hình vuông. Khi David thiết kế dấu cho chữ Việt, anh hỏi ý kiến của tôi như thế nào. Lúc đầu nhìn cũng khó chấp nhận, chẳng hạn như những cái dấu bị dính liền với nhau, nhưng để ý kỹ tôi nhận thấy lạ và hay.

Lúc đầu anh đưa tôi xem, những chiếc dấu rất mong manh so với chữ cái nên tôi góp ý với anh là thiết kế dày dặn hơn để dấu và chữ được phối hợp chặt chẽ với nhau. David đồng ý và đã sửa lại. Dĩ nhiên bộ chữ này không thể dùng để đọc mà dùng để đẹp.

Nếu như bạn thích những bộ chữ có tiếng Việt để thư viện chữ của mình phong phú hơn, bạn nên tham gia câu lạc bộ Font of the Month Club của David. Mỗi đầu tháng anh sẽ gửi một bộ chữ cho những người trong câu lạc bộ. Mỗi tháng chỉ có $6. Nếu tài chính bạn hạn hẹp, bạn chỉ cần đóng $2 một tháng. Tôi đã tham gia từ lúc anh mới bắt đầu ba năm trước. Đến giờ tôi vẫn là thành viên.

I Like Buying Fonts and I Cannot Lie

Although I have more than I can use for my personal projects, I keep acquiring new typefaces. I recently bought a complete web license for Captura Now, designed by Anita Jürgeleit. Captura Now is a friendly, flexible sans-serif family with a variable font and Vietnamese support. I haven’t had a chance to, but I will put it to good use one day.

I invested in Lang Syne, designed by Stephen Nixon, from Future Fonts. Although Lang Syne is still in its early development, I trust that Stephen will complete it with a variable font and Vietnamese support, just like what he is working on for Name Sans.

As much as I have been excited about Future Fonts, I have refrained myself from making purchases. Except for Name Sans, a handful of fonts I have invested in have no future. Some of them aren’t going anywhere. With the exception of Name Sans, none of them supports Vietnamese, which is not too useful for me. As of this writing, only five typefaces on the entire Future Fonts catalog support Vietnamese.

I am still a long-time member of the Font of the Month Club. I am really happy that every font David Jonathan Ross each month comes with the Vietnamese language. I still highly recommend this club for students and font enthusiasts.

Creative Spotlights

It is an honor to be part of the “AAPI Heritage Month Creatives Spotlight.” I am humbled to share the spotlight with such talented Asian-American designers. I am also glad to see Vietnamese Typography is being recognized beyond the type design community. Speaking of Vietnamese typography, I recently added two new typefaces that support Vietnamese.

Albula Pro

A charismatic, geometric sans, Albula Pro lends versatility, legibility, and readability to contemporary designs. Albula Pro supports a wide range of languages. For Vietnamese, its grave and hook above stack to the right of its circumflex while its acute stacks left.

Forma DJR

Started out as a refresh of the Italian neo-grotesque sans, Forma DJR takes on a life of its own with irregular details, tight spacings, and Swiss alternates. For Vietnamese, Forma DJR comes with straightened and curved horns. Its acute, grave, and hook above stack to the right of its circumflex.

Vietnamese Typography Was Nominated Into AAPI Heritage Month Campaign

Raksa Yin, co-programming director at AIGA DC, writes:

Hi Donny,

I’m reaching out to say you were nominated into our AAPI Heritage Month social media campaign. Through this campaign in May, we want to highlight AAPI creatives doing interesting works telling their heritage story, showing awareness of AAPI issues or building a safe space for AAPI voices.

I want to say congrats! You will be featured in our upcoming social media campaign with other AAPI creatives. Your Vietnamese Typography stood out and it’s very unique.

I am deeply honored for the nomination.

Every Website is a Gift

Robin Riddle writes:

So websites can be serious things; we can turn them into great wells for us to cast our anxieties into, or stress balls for us to relieve the pressure of our lives. But a website can also be a delicately wrapped bundle of words and colors, with the express purpose only to make someone you love smile.

I love Robin’s perspective on creating website as a gift for someone you love. Although I design websites for a living, I also enjoy crafting small pages for friends, family members, colleagues, and acquaintances. Let’s take a trip down to the memory lane to see what I had designed as gifts.

As far back as I can remember, I designed the very first website for La Salle University’s Multicultural and International Center, where I did my work study. It was a gift for Ms. Cherylyn L. Rush, my mentor and former supervisor. Ms. Rush is still holding down the spot 20 years after I graduated. I still remember the distinctive homepage, which was a collage of faces from different ethnicities. It was inspired by a poster Ms. Rush had on the wall in her office.

One of my favorite spots at La Salle was the art collection in the Art Museum even though I was clueless about art. As a design student, I knew if I could get this site on my portfolio I would have no problem getting clients and jobs. I approached the director and chief curator of the museum to let me redesign its boring website. I told her it would be my gift to the school. She was grateful to hand over the keys (FTP) to the server. I remember the site was color coded to showcase different rooms and collections.

When La Salle’s Digital Arts first launched, I wanted to get into the program even though I knew nothing about arts and digital. Without any design foundation, I dived right in. When most of my classmates were learning Photoshop and Illustrator, I took up Flash. The combination of animation, music, and graphics made Flash an ideal tool at the time. When DArt needed a website to promote its program, I was chosen to design it. It was a gift for the program that launched my career.

In the summer during my college years, I often visited the Upward Bound office at Millersville University. The program had a website, but it was outdated. I asked Ms. Doris Cross, the director of the program and my mentor, to allow me to redesign the site as a gift for the program that gave me the opportunity to pursue my career in design. I was into Flash at the time; therefore, I created a fun intro with music loops, text effects, and photos of kids in the program. When I showed it to Ms. Cross, she danced to it and called all of her staff members into her office to check it out. It was such a wonderful feeling to see my work made them smile.

One of my favorite websites I designed and still maintained is I Love Ngọc Lan. It was a gift to the fans of one of the beloved Vietnamese singers whose life got cut short by multiple sclerosis. Like many of her fans around the world, I loved Ngọc Lan’s angelic voice as well as her breathtaking beauty. Even though she had passed away 20 years ago, her music is still alive today.

A couple of years ago when Jim Van Meer, a dear friend and former classmate from the graduate graphic design program at George Mason, started his own agency, he tapped me to create the website for him. Thinkpoint Creative was a gift for him and a collaboration between us.

A few months ago, I designed and developed the Educational Partnerships for Success website for Ms. Joy Tiên who is my life-long mentor. Ms. Tiên and I go all the way back to the Upward Bound program. She has helped many immigrant kids like myself succeeded in our educational endeavor. This little gift is to show my appreciation for her compassionate work.

When I chose Vietnamese Typography as my thesis to earn a master of arts in graphic design, I wanted to make it freely available; therefore, I chose the platform I know best. I created this website as a gift to the type community so they can support my native language. I hope I had played a small role in the increasing support for Vietnamese in the type community.

I wrote Professional Web Typography as an independent study for my MA program in graphic design. I chose the web as publishing platform and as a gift to the web community.

For my personal projects, I created a webpage as a gift for my kids to celebrate the day they were born. It is also a place I can look up quickly when I need their birth dates to fill out forms. In opposite to celebrate life, I also created tribute websites to honor those loved ones I lost. I created a tribute site for my father-in-law when he passed away in 2012. He had stage-four lung cancer. I created a tribute page for my father when he passed last year. He had stage-four pancreatic cancer. A month later, I created a tribute site for my mother. She passed away after a brutal battle with COVID-19.

As Robin pointed out, websites can be made “to make someone you love smile.” I know my parents and father-in-law are smiling down on me from heaven.

The Life of Our Blogs

I was elated to see one of my posts was quoted in one of my favorite websites. I have been following Robin Rendle’s blog and newsletter for a while. I admire his writing, both style and subjects. We shared some common interests including typography and web design. I am glad that he found “Inheritance” resonated with him and that we both have thought about the life of our blogs. He expands on it:

At some point or another this website, this URL, won’t resolve though. Maybe the Internet Archive will stick around for a while, but then everything is locked within this vast archive.

But if my URL is dead, my website dies with it.

My work shouldn’t be presented in the Smithsonian behind glass or anything, I’m just pointing at this enormous flaw in the architecture of the web itself: you’re renting servers and renting URLs. Nothing is permanent because on the web we don’t really own any space, we’re just borrowing land temporarily.

I dashed off that post when my son said, “When you die, I will read your Visualgui.” I have thought about this topic when Kevin Davis, a former colleague at Vassar College, passed away in 2010. Kevin was a fantastic designer and developer. His website ( was beautiful and distinctively personal. It was created in Flash, but he fed in his poems through XML. After he died, I still visited his site and read the poems he had written. Then one day, the site stopped working because Flash was no longer supported and was uninstalled on my browsers. I guess he didn’t have a chance to update his site to HTML and CSS. Then one day it was completely gone. I guess his payment had ran out and he didn’t leave his keys to anyone else.


What will I leave my children when I die? Since I don’t have anything worthy or much money, I haven’t thought about it yet. Yesterday, Đán told me, “When you die, I will read your Visualgui.” I smiled at him and asked, “Will you and Đạo take care of it when I die?” He replied, “Sure, we will take care of it for you.”

I often wondered what will happen to my websites when I die. Will they just die with me? I have invested a tremendous amount of time and effort into them. This blog, in particular, has documented 18 years of my life. It has become my daily journal and I haven’t intended to stop writing. I will continue to maintain and redesign it for as long as I can.

Even though I make a living as a professional web designer, I find my passion and motivation to stay in the game from my personal websites. The web has not only allowed me to feed my family, it also allowed me to express myself. I can share anything to the world from just a few clicks away. When I wrote Vietnamese Typography, as my final thesis for my MA in graphic design, I knew that the only way to reach as many type designers and typographers all over the world was to publish it as a website. I also wanted to make it freely available for anyone to read. I did not expect it to become my little consulting business on the side.

I love the web and I love making websites that are meant to stay around for a long time. The tribute website I created for Ngọc Lan has been around for 18 years. Even though it is no longer as active as it was in the early days, I still am maintaining it for as long as I can.

A few years before Mr. Đình Cường passed away, his health was declining. His son hired me to put together a website as a special gift for him. Now the site has become an archive of his artworks. His legacy will live on as long as his son maintains the website. Thơ mưa, a book of poetry by Cao Nguyên, is another website that will stay on for as long as the author wants to keep it.

As for my own blog, I am not sure how long I will continue to keep it, but I am happy that Đán is willing to take care of it after I die. My sites might have no value to anyone else, but they are my pride and legacy. I designed them with pure HTML and CSS so that they will stay around for a long time. Fancy frameworks come and go, HTML and CSS stay around. I also host my webfonts along with my websites, instead of using a third party, to make sure that they will continue to work in the future.

Yesterday, Đạo mentioned that he had gone through 400 pages of my blog and read posts that were specifically about our family. He is now in 2009 and only has six more years of materials to read through. Only my own son has that much dedication to my writing and that means the whole world to me.

Working on COVID-Related Website

After checking out Mapping Corruption, an interactive exhibit I had developed for The American Prospect, an art director at Mural Arts Philadelphia had reached out to me last year to see if I would be interested in developing an artistic, informational project related to COVID-19. Of course, I jumped on board. The day we scheduled for a kick-off meeting, my mom went on the ventilator. I had to drop the project.

A few weeks ago, I sent them an email to give them the reason I had to drop the ball on them and hoped that they had found a developer to take on the project. They were in the process of interviewing several candidates, but decided to work with me. I was ecstatic that they would give me another shot. I hope I won’t let them down.

We kicked off the meeting last week and I loved their illustrations. The information will also be useful. I am glad that they will publish these materials as an interactive, informational website. I can’t wait to share it once we launch. Of course, I will make the announcement once it goes live. Anything related to COVID-19 is personal to me. I will dedicate this project to my beloved mother.