Talking Vietnamese Diacritics with Sheila Ngọc Phạm

Sheila Ngọc Phạm wrote a long piece on “The Past is the Future” of the Vietnamese writing language for Disegno. She talked to me about Vietnamese Typography. The entire article will be available on the web later this year, but here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

In response to Nguyễn’s New York Times footnote, designer Donny Trương, who is based in Arlington, Virginia, reformatted her article to show it is possible to include the full set of Vietnamese diacritics. To achieve this, he used the typefaces Kaius, Job Clarendon and Change, designed respectively by Lisa Fischbach, David Jonathan Ross and Bethany Heck, and Alessio Leonardi. The reformatted version of Nguyễn’s piece is published in Trương’s ebook Vietnamese Typography (2015), which is free to read and regularly updated, and features an ever-growing ‘Samples’ section. Nguyễn’s article now looks and reads as it should.

Vietnamese Typography was originally written as Trương’s Master’s thesis at George Mason University School of the Arts, and was born out of the frustration he felt about the lack of Vietnamese diacritics in modern typefaces. It has since become an invaluable resource, particularly for non-Vietnamese type designers interested in designing typefaces that support Vietnamese, which has the most diacritics of any language with Romanised script. These diacritics are not just marks above one letter, as is the case with common diacritics in European languages (e.g. é, à, ö); in Vietnamese, the complexity is due to the way in which diacritics are also stacked on top of each other (e.g. ổ, ề). There is also the diacritic that appears below letters, as you can see in my name, and with letters that have existing diacritics (e.g. ậ, ệ). In his book, Trương outlines some of the design challenges this presents: “The marks must be consistent in the entire font system to create uninterrupted flow of text. The strokes of the marks have to work well with the base letters to help readers determine the meaning of words. They must not get in the way of the base letter and collide with adjacent letters. Considering balance, harmony, space, position, placement, contrast, size, and weight, designers must overcome each challenge to create a successful typeface for Vietnamese.”

Talking Type with Dipika Kohli

Dipika Kohli:

I enjoyed a fun interview Q&A with Donny Truong, for my e-mag S P A C E. The issue it’s published in is S P A C E | ‘Talking Type.’

Like all of my stories in S P A C E, it started with a small curiosity, and a couple of questions, over email. Sometimes people don’t reply so a lot of the beginnings of stories can end here. But occasionally, you get a few replies and then you start a conversation that goes back, and forth, and then back again. This is jazzy, improvisational, and fun, when it’s at its best (at least I think so). But you can only get to the heart of a story when you call, talk, listen, connect and find that magic moment. Somewhere in there. And we did. And it’s the story. And the story is also online. You can read it in full at Donny’s site.

Thanks to everyone who has believed in me and my work. I appreciate it.

Really cool work you are doing with helping people understand the rules about how to design Vietnamese type. I got ‘stuck’ in Vietnam for 2 years, so now I speak and understand a tiny bit. While I was there I got into Vietnamese language and type. Tell me about your website. What made you decide to start it?

Vietnamese Typography was my final thesis for my MA in graphic design at George Mason University School of Arts. I decided to focus on Vietnamese diacritics because I found the lack of support for the Vietnamese language in type design. My goal was to help expand and enrich Vietnamese typography.

We interviewed a few typeface designers before. They told us about the attention to detail and the personality type that usually gets into that kind of work. Do you have some comment about what it takes to ‘get it right?’

Since I am not a type designer, I don’t have an answer to this question. From my perspective, however, type designers need to understand the importance of diacritics to get it right. The goal for my book is to help them understand everything they need to know to design Vietnamese diacritics.

Can you elaborate with 1 or 2 concrete examples, maybe in which people were helped directly by the resources you have made? What changed as a result of your putting the effort into creating the site, and your book, that you can comment about?

As a web designer who has a passion for typography, I didn’t have too many options when typesetting in Vietnamese. Many typefaces didn’t equip with Vietnamese diacritics. Back in 2014, when I started doing research for Vietnamese Typography, Google Fonts had about half a dozen out of thousands of fonts that supported Vietnamese. Fortunately, Google Fonts has increased support for Vietnamese drastically over the years.

After publishing my book online, I have heard from type designers around the world testifying how Vietnamese Typography had gave them the understanding of the Vietnamese language as well as the confidence to expand their typefaces with Vietnamese diacritics. In addition, type designers have reached out to me to review their typefaces to make sure their diacritics were properly designed for Vietnamese readers. It has been such a pleasure for me to play a small role in their works. Nowadays, I am happy to see many new typefaces released with Vietnamese support.

I have not read your book, but your website came to us through a referral as we were designing a typeface for someone here.

To clarify, my book is my website. If you read my website, you read my book. For my final thesis, I had a printed version and the website. For the second edition, however, I decided to focus primarily on the website because I wanted to continue to update it with new typeface recommendations and examples. I can’t do those things in a printed book.

Still seeking other people who can comment on Vietnamese-language typeface design. I’ll reach out to 1-2 whose work you admire, if you can point me to some people doing amazing work.

I have many type designers who I admired and worked with on Vietnamese diacritics. Off the top of my head, here are the designers doing amazing work and caring deeply about Vietnamese support:

I checked out the designers’ sites and listened to some youtube stuff. I think it’s a unique sphere: typeface designers. What’s your favorite typeface?

As a digital designer and typographer, I choose typefaces that are suitable for each project. Understanding the background as well as the intention behind the typefaces help me make the right choices. Having said that, I always have a soft spot for serif text faces. For example, I am loving Warbler Text, designed by David Jonathan Ross.

What are a few sets that you personally advised or worked on? What were the challenges along the way, and how did you overcome them?

I recently worked with TypeTogether, particularly with Veronika Burian, on Aneto. The first draft she sent me, the diacritical marks were good, but they were not cohesive and the hook above was truncated. I made a few suggestions and emphasized the importance of the bottom tail on the hook above for readability. She not only nailed it in the updated version, but also designed an excellent hook with the tail. I was so happy.

Cascadia Code, I think, is how we found you. Care to comment?

Yes, Cascadia Code rings the bell. In October 2019, Aaron Bell reached out to me to review Vietnamese diacritical marks for it. I didn’t know Microsoft had commissioned it until you brought it up. It is a fun, legible monospaced font for coding with excellent Vietnamese diacritics.

La Salle, did you study in Singapore? Just reviewing your website more now today.

No, I did not study in Singapore. I attended La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for my undergrad.

I’d love to hear more from you about the way you transitioned to the working life in the United States and how it’s been for you for 30 years there. Reason being, it feels like when I was in VN that people seemed to view life in the US as ‘making it’ and ‘striking big’ and ‘getting rich.’ The reality versus the perception—any comments? You can reply in Vietnamese or English or both.

Tôi đến Hoa Kỳ lúc mười một tuổi. Tôi được đi học và làm việc trong nước Mỹ. Sự khác biệt trong công việc ở đây với Việt Nam là cơ hội và điều kiện, nhất là những ngành nghề có liên quan đến thiết kế trên mạng. Dĩ nhiên so sánh mức lương ở đây với Việt Nam thì bên đây cao hơn, nhưng lối sống ở đây cũng cao hơn. Muốn làm giàu cũng không phải dễ dàng như những lời đồn đãi ở trong nước. Ở đâu cũng phải đi làm để kiếm sống qua ngày. Tuy nhiên, có trình độ và học vấn thì làm những công việc đỡ mệt nhọc hơn đi làm lao động.

Tôi rất muốn nghe ý kiến của bạn về nó: xã hội, bản thân và ‘divergent thinking’, ‘creative thinking’ ở Việt Nam. Sẽ rất hữu ích cho tôi hiểu. Tôi muốn hiểu hơn. Điều khó khăn nhất đối với tôi ở Việt Nam (khi làm bất cứ điều gì mới và khác biệt) là những ức chế của xã hội, của các khối. Không có nhiều sự quan tâm và thậm chí là thù địch với những ý tưởng mới. Nhưng, tôi đã kết bạn với những người có thể đánh giá cao: một cách mới.

Tôi xa quê hương trên 30 năm nên không nắm rõ về tình hình trong nước. Riêng cá nhân tôi sống ở Hoa Kỳ cũng đã chứng kiến những thành phần khác nhau. Có người luôn sẵn sàng đón nhận ý tưởng mới và cũng có người không muốn đổi mới. Tôi nghĩ ở xã hội nào cũng thế.

Bạn là ai?

Tôi là người chồng, người cha, người thiết kế, và người đam mê những môn trượt như trượt tuyết (skiing), trượt trượt patin (rollerblading), trượt băng (ice skating) và sắp học thêm trượt ván (snowboarding).

Làm thế nào để bạn tìm được chính mình?

Bất cứ ở đâu trên thế giới hoặc chính trên đất Mỹ, nơi tôi đã sống hơn 30 năm, chỉ cần đọc chữ Việt là tôi tìm được chính mình. Như lời của cố nhạc sĩ Phạm Duy đã viết: “Tôi yêu tiếng nước tôi từ khi mới ra đời, người ơi / Mẹ hiền ru những câu xa vời / À à ơi ! Tiếng ru muôn đời”. Việt Nam vẫn là nguồn gốc, quê hương và tuổi thơ của tôi.

Bạn có chấp nhận mình ở hiện tại không, nếu có bạn có thể kể về chặng đường bạn chấp nhận mình ở hiện tại.

Tôi không chấp nhận mình ở hiện tại. Vì nếu như có, tôi sẽ bị dậm chân tại chỗ. Tôi luôn có những khía cạnh để cải tiến bản thân. Chẳng hạn như làm người chồng tốt hơn, người cha dễ dãi hơn, người thiết kế kỹ thuật cao hơn, và người trượt tuyết tiến bộ hơn. Dĩ nhiên cái hại trong sự không chấp nhận hiện tại của mình là không cho phép mình được cuộc sống nhẹ nhàng thoải mái. Hy vọng một ngày nào đó tôi sẽ chấp nhận mình ở hiện tại để có một cuộc sống an nhàn.

Jazz. I like it too. Tell me about how you got into it? Does it inform your work in some way today?

I got into jazz after overhearing Vietnamese ballads arranged in jazzy style. Unlike the bolero-saturated ballads, in which many Vietnamese songs were produced, jazz gave Vietnamese music a new sound. The swing, the blues, and the bossa-nova rhythm piqued my curiosity in jazz and I wanted to learn more. I worked at Vassar College at the time and I went to the music library to check out every jazz album I could get my hands on. One of the albums I came across was Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and I instantly fell in love with jazz. I even audited a jazz history class at Vassar and my appreciation for improvised music grew deeper.

Yes, jazz has definitely informed my design work to this day. Like jazz improvisation, I let go of all the rules I had learned in school and just let my design be free from restrictions. If you are interested in finding out more about how jazz has influenced my work, read my short essay titled, “Designing With Miles.”

Crossing culture and identity are hot topics these days. Please share your opinion about what ‘identity’ means to you.

I am Vietnamese American. I was born in Vietnam but have lived most of my life in America. I appreciate both cultures and languages. They define who I am. That’s the broadest sense of what identity means to me.

How did it feel to interview in HCMC for the web design job? (I would love to hear you tell this story in your own words.)

Interviewing for a web design job in HCMC was demoralizing. I am not sure if the interview process has changed now, but in the early 2000s, it took an entire day. I can’t recall how many positions they were hiring for, but about 30 applicants had to sit in a classroom and we were tested for both English and Vietnamese in the morning session. Since I did the English portion so quickly, another applicant asked me if I came from America. When I nodded, he started giggling and told others that I went all the way from America to apply for a web design job in HCMC. In the afternoon session, we had to design webpages. I spent hours making webpages for free. I went through the entire process, but I never got a call back.

I can relate to your sense of being ‘between worlds.’ I think it is hard to ‘fit in’ on either side. Can you elaborate a bit, if you have any examples of something that you experienced, it will illustrate the point.

I don’t fit in on either side, maybe it has to do with my own personality. I don’t feel as if I can’t find common interests. For example, I am not into football; therefore, I can’t be part of that American culture. On the flip side, I love skiing and snowboarding, but most of my Vietnamese-American friends don’t like the cold.

But I feel more and more we all have multiple identities and they aren’t always drawn on ‘culture’ lines. Maybe you can tell me what you think about that.

I suppose politics and religions aren’t drawn on cultural lines, but they can open up different kinds of worms. I steer away from these two as well because they can easily break relationships even within my own family. I find that being a parent, I can connect better with other parents. Kids are always non-controversial.

Do you have any regrets? What would you do differently, if you could?

Yes, I have tons of regrets. I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have said that. I should have treated that person better. I used to live with regrets. As I am getting older, however, I realize that I cannot change my regrets and I don’t have too much time left to regret. I just have to leave my regrets behind in order to move forward.

Please tell us the typeface designer’s website you had mentioned? I will give a shout out to him. The person whom you helped and encouraged? I would love to hear you share your story in your own words, about how you felt talking to him about ‘making it’ in a creative field. It is a good example for others, I think, who I know in VN who might be facing similar difficulties. (Society vs. Me, etc. Quarter life angst, too)

Here’s his website. His name is Nguyễn Quang Khải. He reached out to me after having read Vietnamese Typography. In our conversation, he shared that his dream is to become a type designer. His parents worried that he can’t support himself as someone who makes letters. Doctor, lawyer, engineer are more realistic professions. He also shared that his first typeface, Theccoa, has not gained any traction. I encouraged him to keep pushing forward. No type designers had succeeded with their first typeface. Designing types requires experience and patience. Once he gets past the first few typefaces, he will make it and he will also prove to his parents that type design is a legit profession.

Is there any question I did not ask, that you wish I had? Tell me more.

I don’t have anything to add, but I want to thank you for taking your time to talk to me about work, life, and death. I appreciate our phone conversation as well as our email exchanges. I wish you all the best with everything you do and I hope we will cross paths in the future.

About Dipika Kohli

Dipika Kohli is the founder and CEO of Design Kompany. She founded it in Seattle in 2006. Before this, she was in newspapers as a reporter and editor in that city and, also, southwest Ireland.

Trò chuyện về ký tự pháp cùng Thế cơ À

Thế cơ À:

Mở đầu cho chuỗi phỏng vấn về việc xây dựng Hệ thống Từ vựng tiếng Việt cho chủ đề typography tại Việt Nam, Thế cơ À đã may mắn kết nối được với chú Donny Trương, tác giả của cuốn sách Vietnamese Typography.

Vốn là luận văn thạc sĩ chuyên ngành thiết kế đồ họa của chú tại trường đại học George Mason University, Vietnamese Typography được xuất bản vào tháng 11 năm 2015. Cuốn sách được ra mắt dưới định dạng website này nhanh chóng trở thành một bản định hướng thiết yếu cho nhiều nhà thiết kế kiểu chữ trong việc thiết kế chữ Việt.

Cuốn sách giúp nhiều người thực hành typography trên thế giới hiểu được những nét độc đáo của tạo hình dấu tiếng Việt kể cả khi họ không nói hoặc viết ngôn ngữ đó. Nhờ đó, họ tự tin hơn trong việc thiết kế các dấu phụ, đóng vai trò quan trọng đối với tính dễ nhận diện (legibility) và tính dễ đọc (readability) của tiếng Việt.

Với những trải nghiệm ấy, hãy cùng chúng mình tìm hiểu thêm về quan điểm của chú về chủ đề này ngay nào.

Phần 1: Bối cảnh giao tiếp: không gian, thời gian, đối tượng giao tiếp

1. Hiện tại, chú có đang phải thường xuyên trao đổi về các chủ đề typography không? Nếu có thì là khi nào, với ai và ở đâu?

Chú vẫn thường xuyên trao đổi về chủ đề nghệ thuật chữ hằng ngày trong công việc và trong những dự án cá nhân. Từ khi sách được phát hành, chú tham khảo với những nhà thiết kế chữ để tư vấn họ về chữ Việt. Chú giúp họ trong việc đặt những con dấu sao cho người Việt dễ đọc.

Qua câu trả lời của chú, chúng cháu cũng thấy chú đã chuyển ngữ typography thành nghệ thuật ngữ. Chú có thể giải thích thêm về cách gọi này không?

Khi viết hay nói tiếng Việt, chú cố gắng chỉ dùng chữ Việt nếu không cần đưa vào chữ Anh. Lúc viết sách, chú đã nghiên cứu rất nhiều để dịch sang tiếng Việt cho đúng nghĩa và cuối cùng chú đã chọn “Nghệ thuật chữ Việt”.

3. Khi biên soạn cuốn sách Vietnamese Typography hay thực hiện các nghiên cứu khác, chú thường tham khảo tài liệu từ đâu? Có tài liệu tiếng Việt nào đáng chú ý không? Trước đây, đã có nhiều nghiên cứu, thảo luận về chủ đề này chưa?

Lúc bắt tay vào luận án Vietnamese Typography, chú gặp nhiều khó khăn trong việc tìm kiếm tài liệu. Chú sinh sống ở Mỹ nên việc tham khảo sách vở tiếng Việt càng hiếm hoi. Chú có liên lạc với giáo sư Ngô Thanh Nhàn và giáo sư John D. Phan, nhưng cả hai cũng không cung cấp tài liệu gì về chữ Việt. Không biết phải tham khảo với ai nên chú viết một đôi lời trên blog cá nhân của mình. Không bao lâu thì nhận được thư anh Phạm Đam Ca gửi động viên, giải thích, và góp ý một vài tài liệu như Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum của Alexandre de Rhodes phát hành vào năm 1651. Đến bây giờ chú vẫn chưa tìm thấy tài liệu về chủ đề này trong tiếng Việt. Còn những phần tài liệu đã được tham khảo qua tiếng Anh, chú ghi lại ở cuối sách.

4. Trong lúc tư vấn/đào tạo, chú trao đổi với khách hàng/đối tác như thế nào về chủ đề này? Có thuận lợi/khó khăn gì về giao tiếp không? Nếu có khó khăn thì chú giải quyết như thế nào?

Trong quá trình tư vấn về chữ Việt thì không gặp khó khăn gì vì những nhà thiết kế chữ họ rất tin tưởng chú. Thứ nhất, chú là người Việt đọc được tiếng Việt. Thứ hai, chú đã nghiên cứu và trau dồi rất nhiều về đề tài này khi làm luận án của mình.

Phần 2: Từ vựng sử dụng: tiếng Anh hay tiếng Việt, thuận lợi/khó khăn/giải pháp

5. Khi phải viết hay nói về chủ đề này, cần tới các thuật ngữ chuyên môn thì chú sẽ sử dụng ngôn ngữ nào? Khó khăn/thuận lợi khi cần trao đổi về chủ đề tại Việt Nam?

Hiện tại chú chỉ dùng Anh ngữ vì chú chỉ làm việc với những nhà thiết kế người nước ngoài. Chú chưa trao đổi về chủ đề này tại Việt Nam nhưng chú nghĩ sẽ không gặp nhiều khó khăn lắm vì những bạn trẻ ở Việt Nam bây giờ rất giỏi Anh ngữ.

6. Vậy có phải là những bạn không thạo tiếng Anh sẽ gặp khó khăn trong việc tìm hiểu typography? Tại sao lại như vậy?

Ý của chú là những bạn trẻ bây giờ giỏi tiếng Anh nên cũng không gặp khó khăn nhiều. Theo chú thì việc tìm hiểu về nghệ thuật sắp đặt chữ không đơn giản. Nó đòi hỏi sự đam mê và tỉ mỉ. Cho dù người rành hay không rành tiếng Anh cũng phải bỏ công ra học những từ vựng của nó. Khó khăn hay không tùy theo sự nhẫn nại của mỗi người.

Lúc mới tìm hiểu và học hỏi về nghệ thuật sắp đặt chữ, chú đọc đi đọc lại The Elements of Typographic Style của ông Robert Bringhurst đến bốn hoặc năm lần mới bắc đầu hiểu được những từ vựng ông dùng. Một khi đã hiểu rồi thì chú muốn đọc thêm nữa. Chú làm việc cho trường George Mason University và chú đã đọc gần hết những quyển sách về nghệ thuật chữ trong thư viện. Chú cũng sưu tầm cho mình một bộ sách về đề tài này.

Phần 3: Quan điểm về việc xây dựng hệ thống từ vựng tiếng Việt cho chủ đề Typography tại Việt Nam

7. Quan điểm của chú về việc xây dựng hệ thống từ vựng cho chủ đề Typography: đánh giá hiện trạng/xu hướng sử dụng ngôn ngữ hiện tại; sự cần thiết của việc thống nhất hệ thống thuật ngữ này; đề xuất giải pháp; mong muốn tương lai?

Theo quan điểm của chú việc xây dựng hệ thống từ vựng cho nghệ thuật chữ Việt rất quan trọng và cần thiết. Chú rất muốn chuyển ngữ Vietnamese Typography qua tiếng Việt nhưng vẫn chưa có thời gian và điều kiện.

Thế cơ À:

Thế cơ À xin được gửi lời cảm ơn trân trọng và thân mến nhất tới chú Donny Trương vì đã dành thời gian chia sẻ những điều quý giá này tới cộng đồng. Để lan rộng hơn giá trị này, mọi người có thể ghé thăm website Vietnamese Typography để nghiên cứu hoặc ủng hộ cho dự án. Việc phỏng vấn và khảo sát cộng đồng sẽ vẫn luôn diễn ra thường xuyên và song song với các hoạt động đăng bài của chúng mình. Sau cùng, điều chúng mình muốn làm là kích thích quá trình trao đổi tri thức, nhận thức giữa người hiểu với người chưa hiểu, người đi trước với người đi sau vài bước, người biết với người biết ít hơn chút. Vì chúng mình tin đối thoại cộng đồng là cách nhanh nhất để dân chủ hóa trí thức.

Email: [email protected]

Type Ơi Talks with Donny Trương About Vietnamese Typography

I would like to start by asking you to tell us a bit about your background and how design started to become part of your life?

I was born in Mỹ Tho. I left Việt Nam with my family after finishing fifth grade. When I came to America, I realized it was a whole new world for me. The culture, the people, and especially the language, were so different. I did not speak a word of English. I struggled to learn English, even when I entered college many years later. As a result, I chose design to let my work speak for me.

I did not understand much about design. I thought I could just place text and image together to create a design, and yet, my ignorance for design opened up a new door for me. I was not afraid to put out anything. I didn’t know anything about design criticism, which gave me the confidence to enter the design world.

I was drawn into Macromedia Flash because I could combine motion, sound, image, and text. I spent a ridiculous amount of time learning and experimenting with Flash. I made a motion graphic piece in Flash using images of Việt Nam to accompany a song called “Bonjour Vietnam” performed by the Vietnamese-Belgian Singer Phạm Quỳnh Anh. The piece went viral for a period of time. My career took another turn when I switched from multimedia to web, but that was how I got started with design.

What motivated you to write a book on Vietnamese typography?

I wrote Vietnamese Typography as my final thesis for my MA in graphic design. The motivation came out of my frustration with the lack of Vietnamese diacritics in typography. Being a native Vietnamese reader, I know the crucial role of diacritics in shaping the reading experience. Without diacritics, words can have completely different meanings in Vietnamese.

When I began my MA program, the first class I took was advanced typography. In one of our projects, we were assigned to redesign a restaurant menu. When I presented to my professor the menus I had collected, my jaw dropped when he read out loud a Vietnamese noodle house named, “La Cây Chợ Lớn.” Because he read “Chợ Lớn” without diacritics, his words came out so wrong and so vulgar. When it came time for me to do my research for my final thesis, I knew I wanted to introduce proper Vietnamese diacritics to non-Vietnamese audiences, specifically to the type design community.

Do you have any typography or graphic design book that has been an inspiration for your work?

From theory to history and readability to legibility, I spent a tremendous amount of time reading books on typography including Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typography, Karen Chang’s Designing Type, and Sofie Beier’s Reading Letters. You can see my collection of books on typography on my blog.

One of the things I admire in your book is your ability to go beyond the technical aspects of typography, introducing relevant information about the Vietnamese language in a concise and interesting way. Did you have any particular audience in mind when you were writing your book?

Thank you! I am glad that you’ve found the information interesting. As I began to do my research for the book, it became clear that none-Vietnamese type designers were my target audience. Designing for a language that they don’t know can be intimidating. Fortunately, the Vietnamese writing system is based on the Latin alphabet; therefore, it should not be too hard for them to pick up. I wanted to make the information as concise and as approachable as possible so they can feel confidence in designing Vietnamese diacritics. I wanted to give them the basic knowledge that we have when we first learn our Vietnamese alphabet, especially with the emphasis on modified letters and tone marks.

The Vietnamese language has been through radical transformations. The romanization of the Vietnamese writing system comes from the same roots of my mother tongue, Portuguese. When you were writing about the history of the Vietnamese language, did you discover any interesting things that you didn’t know before writing the book?

I must confess that I took our language for granted before writing this book; therefore, researching for the history chapter led me to fascinating discoveries. I knew that Alexandre de Rhodes was credited for the romanization of the Vietnamese writing system, but I didn’t realize the crucial role of Vietnamese scholars, such as Lương Văn Can, Nguyễn Quyền, Dương Bá Trạc, Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh, Trương Vĩnh Ký, Phạm Quỳnh, Nhất Linh, Khái Hưng, Hoàng Đạo, Thạch Lam, Tú Mỡ, Thế Lữ, and Xuân Diệu, whose contributions had made our modern writing system simple yet articulate. I had read Xuân Diệu’s poems over the years, but I had no idea that he played a role in advocating for Việt ngữ.

In your book you comment on possible challenges faced by type designers when considering diacritical marks, which the Vietnamese language is rich of. What do you think are the most common mistakes typographers make when designing for the Vietnamese language?

The most common mistake I have seen typographers make when designing for the Vietnamese language is that they don’t even realize the typefaces they set don’t support Vietnamese. When that happens, software programs or web browsers substitute letters with diacritics with a different font. As a result, you can see a strange mix of characters. When I was writing my book, I spotted many of these mistakes on I haven’t read much on Medium these days; therefore, I am not sure if that has been resolved. I even spotted printed banners at Eden Center, a Vietnamese-American strip mall in Virginia, that were set in scripted fonts, but letters with diacritics are set in a sans serif. They were jarring and yet the banners were printed and displayed on stores’ windows.

Since you wrote your first edition in 2015 have you seen more type designers concerned with the requirements needed for Vietnamese language?

After my book was published online in 2015, I have heard from many type designers around the world showing their interest in including Vietnamese diacritics. They have reached out to me to review their typefaces to make sure the diacritical marks they designed feel natural to Vietnamese readers. I have been glad to help in that capacity.

As a lecturer I often see my students struggling in designing in Vietnamese, some include diacritics marks by hand, but most of them will choose to design with English content instead, as there are more options of typeface available. How do you think we can get more type designers on our side, designing for the Vietnamese language?

Getting type designers on our side was the primary goal for my book. It was the reason I chose to put the entire book on the web for free so it can be accessed anywhere in the world. I have received messages from type designers from different countries thanking me for the resource to help them understand the Vietnamese writing system. Although we have a long way to go, I am pleased to see more and more typefaces released with Vietnamese support.

I understand your students’ struggles. I was in the same boat when I was doing my MA program. If they see typefaces that they want to use, they should contact the designers to see if they are willing to expand their typefaces to support Vietnamese. If the designers get enough demands for Vietnamese support, I am sure they will consider expanding their typefaces.

As for my personal use, I have made a commitment to license only typefaces with Vietnamese support.

Under the ‘type recommendation’ session of your book you present us with a good variety of typefaces designed for the Vietnamese language, which is a great resource for Vietnamese graphic designers. Nevertheless there is a lack of Vietnamese type designers on your list, why do you think it is so difficult to find more Vietnamese type designers?

When I did my research for my book, I only found one Vietnamese type designer and his name is Phạm Đam Ca. He provided insightful information for my book. Since then, I came across only a few more. I am sure there are more Vietnamese type designers I have not heard of. Because my book is published on the web, I can update the recommendation section with new typefaces from time to time. I would love to showcase works designed by Vietnamese designers in the near future. If you know any, please send them my way.

In your opinion, how can we get more Vietnamese people interested in typography?

Through education, like what you are doing with Type Ơi. We need to understand and appreciate the value of typography. We need to learn and to invest in new typefaces rather than to limit ourselves with a handful of fonts that come with our computer. Typography gives our design a voice if we use it effectively. Most of the time, text is all we have and using typography can make or break our design.

What is your perception of graphic design and typeface design in Vietnam?

Unfortunately, I don’t know much about graphic design and typeface design in Việt Nam since I have been living abroad for most of my life. I would love to learn more from you since you are living and working in Việt Nam.

What do you like to see more in terms of Vietnamese graphic design and type design in the future?

I would like to see bolder and stronger use of typography in Vietnamese graphic design. I would like to see more variety in typefaces and less script fonts for everything. I would like to see richer typefaces rather than using default system fonts for Vietnamese websites and online publications. Most importantly, I would love to see more Vietnamese designers entering the type design industry. Type design is the future in the Vietnamese design community.

Do you think living abroad has changed your perception of what typography is or can be?

Absolutely. It was my design education and working experience in the U.S. that gave me a different perspective on designing with type. When I first started in design, I didn’t think much about typography, partly because I only had a handful of fonts to work with for designing webpages, until I worked at Vassar College with a few talented designers who had mastered the use of typography. I learned so much from them and continued to hone it on my own until today.

Often designers will have a selection of typefaces they will use constantly, specially the ones used for body text, do you have a favorite typeface that you use in your projects from time to time?

As a book lover, I have a soft spot for serif text faces. Fern, designed by David Jonathan Ross, is one of my personal favorites for body text. Initially, Fern didn’t have Vietnamese diacritics; therefore, I reached out to David to see if he was willing to draw them. We came to a mutual agreement that I would advise him on Vietnamese diacritics and in return he would license me his typeface. It was a fruitful collaboration. I ended up using Fern for the body copy of Vietnamese Typography.

Finally, are there any other projects coming soon?

I don’t have any personal or passion projects at the moment, but you can follow my blog at to see what I am up to.

On Digital Design and Web Typography

Back in February, Jim Van Meer interviewed me for his MFA thesis in graphic design. In his opening statement, Jim writes:

I am interviewing subject matter experts in a variety of fields that either touch upon design or that design touches upon. The premise of my thesis is that the graphic design profession has changed drastically over the past 30 years, and that modern day (and future) graphic designers no longer concentrate solely on combining typography, images, and composition to produce a result. My argument is that graphic design is a misnomer for what a designer accomplishes, what they must know, and how they need to be considered by society and the business community. I contend that huge waves of technological and social change around the world have changed the way we must approach the design profession, and that New Design (the term I have concocted for what I am seeing) is the pathway for multi-disciplined individuals to pursue. My thesis is not an argument for or against new media or new methodologies. Rather, it is a multi-pronged question I seek to prove or disprove—if the New Designer is a hybrid of multiple avocations and is at the foundation of education, business, and technical and social change, where did the profession evolve from and what changed, where is the profession now, where is it going, and how can it get there successfully?

In the interview, Jim asked me questions about digital design and web typography. Since then his topic has changed, but he has allowed me to post our interview here.

As the web has matured, so has web typography. Do you find that the current state of web typography is lacking in any respects, and if so, what might they be?

Even though the web has been around for almost thirty years, typography on the web only takes off in the past six or seven years. In the current state of web typography, the support for OpenType features such as ligatures, kerning, and contextual alternates has not been fully implemented in all the major browsers. In addition, font files need better optimization to support languages beyond Latin and better mechanism to delivery multiple weights and styles.

Do you believe that web-based typography should emulate print typography? If yes, why? If not, why is that?

Yes and no. The foundation of typography such as legibility, readability, and combining typefaces has been tested and researched for many centuries; therefore, web-based typography should emulate print in those regards. In contrast, the control of typography in print should not emulate on the web. With the increase of digital devices coming into the market, designers have no control of screen sizes; therefore, they need to let go of the notion that their design and typography can be controlled. The need to embrace the fluidity of the web instead.

What are the top ten items web designers and developers need to be aware of in regards to web typography. Please explain each point.

  1. Performance: Designers must make performance their top priority. Only use fonts they need. Start with roman and italic. Add a bold weight, but maybe not a bold italic if they are not going to use it. The fewer fonts they use, the faster the site will load. The challenge is to strike the balance between the number of font styles and performance.
  2. Context: Understanding the context, in which the designers will set the text in, is an important consideration. The type they selected needs to work naturally with their design and content. To provide a consistent reading experience, designers need to choose a typeface that could work well in different contexts and devices.
  3. Comfortable measure for reading: When setting body copy, designers need to consider readability. Long lines of text make scanning more difficult. Readers’ eyes have to travel far to reach the end of the line. As a result, they may have trouble locating the start of the next line.
  4. X-height: Generous x-height tends to read better on screen. The ideal lowercase letters should be just tall enough to be harmonious with their uppercase partners.
  5. Open Apertures: The opening gaps found in certain letters such as c, e, and s, aid readers to decipher the letters. For legibility, designers need to pay attention to the letter’s apertures and counters.
  6. Even Spacing: Well-designed typefaces for the web should have even letter-spacing to establish a steady rhythm for reading. Even spacing speeds up the reading process. Readers can pick out the shapes quicker if the spacing is well balanced.
  7. Clear Terminals: In long-form text, letters with clear terminals (distinguishable shapes of ball, beak, or teardrop) are easier to spot; therefore, they are more readable than letters with lacking terminals.
  8. Distinguishable Ascenders and Descenders: Ascenders refer to the strokes that extend above the mean line and descenders refer to the strokes that extend below the baseline. The more distinguishable the ascenders and descenders are, the more legible the letters.
  9. Contrast: Referring to the thick and thin strokes of a letter, typefaces with high contrast like Didot and Bodoni work well at larger sizes but not for running text. Geometric typefaces like Arial and Helvetica can also result in a similar poor reading experience, as they have very little contrast. The uniform letter shapes in these fonts make long-form reading dull and tiresome. For reading text, choose typefaces with medium to low contrast.
  10. Embrace FOUT: Flash of unstyled text (FOUT) refers to the method of displaying fallback fonts first them switching to custom fonts once the assets are loaded. Although FOUT could be glaring, it allows users to read the text immediately. Designers need to embrace FOUT and make the experience less jarring by matching the fallback fonts with the custom fonts as closely as they can.

What do you think the future holds for web typography in general, and web typography in responsive design specifically? What do designers need to be aware of? Please explain.

Web typography will continue to get better support in browsers. Designers should keep themselves up-to-date with CSS, particular the rules that apply to fonts. Sites like, and the CSS reference on MDN are great resources to stay current with web typography.

What are your views on CSS3 and how much knowledge of it do designers need to function at an acceptable level in the digital design workplace? Please explain.

CSS is a powerful tool for design and it is simple and easy to learn. With enough knowledge of CSS, designers can create and revise their websites quicker than tools like Photoshop and Sketch. Designing a website using HTML and CSS feels much more natural than creating mockups in Photoshop or Sketch, especially with responsive design. Designers need to learn as much CSS as they can to function in the digital design space.

Should designers know how to code, and if so, how much knowledge of code do they need to have? Please explain why.

Yes, designers must know how to code. They must be proficient in HTML and CSS to communicate and collaborate with front-end developers. In addition, knowing possibilities and limitations of what the browsers can do help designers make wise decisions in their design. Without coding knowledge, designers can waste everyone’s time designing something that is not implementable.

There is a school of thought that designers do not need to know how to code, that the coding should be left up to the developers. That same school of thought goes on to posit that designers need to be aware of code and comprehend what it can do so they can build better designs. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

I don’t disagree; however, I am the type of designer who likes to create the entire website from start to finish. When designers work with a team, they can leave the coding to the developer. When they do their own work; however, they should be able to code themselves. Jessica Hische is a good model. She is a killer letterer, but she can also code her own site.

Some organizations have separate design and development functions. Do you believe those separate functions should overlap in any sense, and if so, where do you see the optimal intersection of design and development?

Yes, design and development should overlap. If designers can understand HTML and CSS and developers understand a few things about design and typography, their collaboration would be more integrated and fruitful. They would have a better respect for each other’s expertise and experience.

Some digital designers and developers have offered that every website looks the same, and that creativity has been lost in the process. What are your views on this? Do you blame anyone or anything for this supposed templatization of the web? Please explain.

The rise of frameworks are causing designers and developers to put their designs into templates rather than creating unique experiences. Because of their ease of use, frameworks have become a clutch for designers and developers. Instead of creating a grid system to support their designs, designers and developers use the grids that have already been created for them. As a result, most sites look the same because they all using the same grid system for different projects.

What are your thoughts on HTML/next (HTML6) and CSS4? What new things do you see in web design and development that designers need to prepare for now?

The beauty of HTML and CSS is not where they are heading in the future, but how well they last. For example, the first website created 25 years ago still work today. Once the designers understand the basics of HTML and CSS, they can use them forever.

What do you believe is the next big thing in web design and/or Responsive Design? Why? Where should we be looking for new ideas and solutions? Please explain.

I don’t know the next big thing about web design and responsive design, but I hope that we will be moving away from the templatization of web design and development. We need to create more unique and compelling experiences on the web.

No one knows what the future will bring, but please share your thoughts on what you think will happen in the fields of contextual design and experiential design. Cite examples if you are able.

I think we will see better use of type in web design. With better support for SVG and CSS Shapes, we will see better online editorial design. I also hope that designers and developers will break free from the spell of templatization.

If you’d like to make additional comments please provide them here.

The best way to learn about typography is to read books on the subject. The best way to learn about web typography is to build websites.

Vietnamese Typography: An Interview with Donny Truong

The market for type is growing. But there’s a lot we need to learn about supporting languages outside North America and Europe. TypeThursday with typographer Donny Truong on the lack of support for Vietnamese in typefaces and how we can improve the situation.

TypeThursday: The precision and clarify of your points are really visible on Vietnamese Typography. I get the impression you ran into frustrations in your life that would novitiate you to make such a resource.

Is that a fair assessment?

Donny Truong: Yes, that is a fair assessment. As a designer with a passion for typography and a love for my native language, I am frustrated with the lack of type choices for setting text in Vietnamese. As you already know, Vietnamese is based on the Latin alphabet. I am not 100% certain, but as far as I can tell, Vietnamese probably the only Eastern language that is not written in ideographs. So Vietnamese has been Romanized and most of its letters are the same as the Latin, how come most typefaces do not support its characters? That’s the question that motivated me to make the resource for Vietnamese Typography.

TT: What sparked this interest in typography? Was there a particular moment that you remember?

DT: Wow, your question gives me nostalgia. You know, I started building websites for a living in the early 2000s. At the time, I either set the text in Helvetica or Georgia and then moved to other things like web standards, images, colors, and user interactions. But because I was working at Vassar College at the time, I was fortunate to be surrounded by typographic experts, particularly Tim Brown who is now working at Typekit. Tim used to raved about The Elements of Typographic Style, but the book was way over my head. I was always interested in typography, but I did not delve deep into it until about three years ago when I started my job at the George Mason University School of Law.

I still remember a particular moment when I stood in front of the vast collection of typographic books in the Mason library. It felt like I founded a treasure. I started to read as much as I could and soaked up as I possibly could. Although most of the books I read were for print, I applied many of the principles for the web and they served me well. As for the The Elements of Typographic Style, I think I read it six or seven times now and I always find something intriguing every time I read it.

TT: A lot of people have a hard time with Elements of Typographic Style! Especially at the beginning of their interest in typography. What changed in your typographic knowledge between taking the course with Tim Brown and being at George Mason University?

DT: To clarify: I worked with Tim, but never took a course with him. I wish I did. Reading the rich history of type and its vibrant transformation in the last 500 years completely changed my typographic knowledge. In addition to Robert Bringhurst, I owe my knowledge to writers like Alexander Lawson for his classic Anatomy of a Typeface, Erik Spiekermann for his enlightening Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works, Sofie Beier whose book Reading Letters taught me about legibility and readability, Karen Chang for her amazing details in Designing Type, Jost Hochuli for his concise yet rich Detail in Typography. I could go on and on, but if anyone is interested in typographic books, I have a long list on my web site. Come check them out.

TT: What is the most common mistake made by typeface designers in developing support for Vietnamese?

DT: One of the common mistakes I had seen so far is not making diacritical marks part of the font family. What I mean is that the marks are often way smaller than the base letters, especially the ones with the combined diacritics. For example, when a modified letter is combined with a tone mark, an acute, a grave, or a hook above gets so small that it becomes illegible at small size. The angle of the accents, especially on uppercase letters, get lower to avoid leading issues, but also ended up affecting legibility. There are some design challenges when adding Vietnamese support, but they can be resolved.

I have tremendous respect for Robert Slimbach and the Adobe Type Team for always making Vietnamese support part of their priorities. Most of the typefaces from Adobe are equipped with Vietnamese right from the start.

TT: Unicode support of Vietnamese has existed since 2001. Now in 2015, you’ve written in Vietnamese Typography, a dearth of typefaces that cover the needed character sets. Why the delay? Do you hope your site will help advocate more support for Vietnamese?

DT: I had this project in my mind for a while, but I thought that there has to be some kind of resources out there on Vietnamese typography. To my dismay, I could not find anything. So when it was time to do research for my thesis for my MA in Graphic Design at George Mason University School of Art, I knew I had to tackle this challenge.

For the second part of your question, it is my goal to help advocate more support for Vietnamese. If you look at Typekit, there’s only about 20 out of thousands of typefaces have support for Vietnamese. Google Fonts has only a handful out of hundreds. Last year I attended the Typographics conference in New York and asked Jonathan Hoefler if any of his typefaces support Vietnamese and his answer was none.

Since the day I launched, a few type designers had reached to me and they had shown interest in making Vietnamese support for their existing typefaces. I am more than happy to help out or review their fonts.

TT: Would it be fair to summarize your dismay about the lack of support of Vietnamese is because of the limited range of typographic expression currently possible?

DT: Yes, that is correct. If you look at online publications written in Vietnamese, most of the texts are still set in default system fonts. Last year, I noticed some Vietnamese articles posted on Medium. At that time, Medium didn’t even have support for Vietnamese characters; therefore, the text looked pretty funky. Their custom typefaces didn’t have the proper Vietnamese subsetting. As a result, the browsers just picked up whatever system fonts that have diacritical marks and combined the two. Imagine the base letters set in Goudy, but all the critical marks set in Georgia or Times New Roman.

As far as the limited range of typographic expression in Vietnamese, it also has to do with the lack of awareness from the Vietnamese people. I don’t think they pay much attention to typography. As long as they can read the text, they are not concerned if the type is good or the diacritics are legible. In my research, I found inconsistencies in the position of the tone marks when combined with the modified letters, but they don’t seem to bother Vietnamese readers. Furthermore, it might be a cultural thing. You can find tons of Vietnamese doctors and engineers, but not much in the creative profession. I could only track down one type designer for my book. So, in addition to reach out to type designers with my project, I want to raise awareness of typography in the Vietnamese community. On one hand, I want to help type designers make typefaces with Vietnamese support. On the other hand, I hope to get the conversation started on Vietnamese typography.

TT: That’s an ambitious mission! I love it. How can TypeThursday readers help you with Vietnamese Typography’s mission?

DT: Yes, it is an ambitious mission, and this is just the beginning. I have been receiving valuable feedback from type designers; therefore, I am planning on expanding it in the future. My goal is to get it out there and see if people are interested in it. They have responded.

TypeThursday readers can help me out by reading it, sending me their thoughts on how I can improve it, and sharing it to type designers. And thank you, Thomas, for giving me the opportunity to talk about Vietnamese Typography. It will definitely help getting the word out.

Want to help Vietnamese Typography’s mission? Check out the site and share it on social media.

This interview is originally posted on Medium.

“Không ai xóa được quê hương trong tôi!”

Đó là khẳng định của Donny Trương, một Việt kiều Mỹ – người thiết kế những bức ảnh minh họa cho bài hát Bonjour Việt Nam đang gây xôn xao dư luận.

Donny Truong cũng đồng thời là chủ nhân website

Anh có tên Việt là Trương Công Doanh. Sở dĩ anh phải đổi thành Donny do các bạn Mỹ rất khó khăn khi phát âm “Doanh”. Anh rất vui khi được dùng “tên cúng cơm” trong e.mail với tôi, một người cách xa nửa vòng trái đất.

Doanh nói về quá trình thực hiện slideshow: “Slideshow này, Doanh chỉ làm riêng cho mình để đỡ nhớ quê hương và để chia sẻ với một số người đến với website do Doanh thực hiện.

Không ngờ sau đó thấy nó đã lan ra khắp các diễn đàn và nhật ký mạng nói về Việt Nam… Đây đúng là một quá trình chia sẻ. Lúc Doanh được nghe bài hát ấy thì chưa có lời dịch sang tiếng Việt và tiếng Anh.

Tuy chỉ rõ hai từ Cappola và Việt Nam nhưng qua chất giọng thanh và nhẹ của Quỳnh Anh, Doanh cảm nhận được một nội tâm thật sự khao khát.

Đáp lại cảm xúc ấy, Doanh đã dùng những hình ảnh Việt Nam diễn đạt tương ứng từng câu sau khi một số thành viên trên diễn đàn tham gia dịch lời Việt và Anh”.

Nhưng thật buồn khi trên diễn đàn có một bạn người Việt đề nghị Donny Truong bỏ chữ Truong với lý do “Donny Truong không thể là người Việt”?! “Những lời khen hoặc chê đều có giá trị riêng. Sau khi đọc xong e.mail của bạn này, Doanh chỉ mỉm cười và định xóa bỏ. Suy nghĩ vài phút, Doanh không xóa và cho đăng đề nghị ấy lên website.

Lá thư ấy là ví dụ của một trong những áp lực mà những người trẻ Việt Nam sinh ra và lớn lên ở nước ngoài phải gánh chịu. Lúc còn ở tiểu học, những đứa bạn ngoại quốc thường hỏi Doanh: Sao mày không quay về quê? Buồn nhưng Doanh ráng chịu.

Còn bây giờ thì người cùng màu da lại khuyên mình nên xóa họ của mình đi! Vậy thì tôi là ai? Làm sao xóa được sự thật tôi vẫn là người Việt Nam?

“Bạn có thể lấy Việt Nam ra khỏi tầm mắt tôi nhưng không bao giờ xóa được hình ảnh quê hương trong trí óc của tôi. Dù có đi đến góc bể chân trời nào, trái tim tôi vẫn hướng về Việt Nam…”, Doanh khẳng định.

Anh cho biết thêm: “ là nơi Doanh chia sẻ những thiết kế của mình đồng thời là chỗ Doanh viết bài về nhạc Việt Nam bằng tiếng Anh để cho các bạn trẻ nước ngoài tìm biết về nghệ thuật và âm nhạc nước mình”.

Thật ngạc nhiên khi được biết, năm 2001, Doanh từng về Việt Nam xin việc nhưng không công ty nào tiếp nhận, anh đành phải quay lại New York tìm cơ hội.

Tuy nhiên, không vì thế mà anh nản. E.mail mới nhất, Doanh bày tỏ: “Có lẽ hồi 2001, thiết kế của Doanh quá đơn giản so với nhu cầu và đòi hỏi của các công ty Việt Nam. Nay, tuy đời sống của mẹ con Doanh ở New York khá thoải mái nhưng Doanh cũng rất muốn về Việt Nam làm việc. Chẳng đâu bằng chốn quê nhà…”.

Trở lại với Bonjour Việt Nam, Doanh cho biết, việc phổ biến và biểu diễn ca khúc này tại Việt Nam là rất tốt nếu có sự đồng ý của Marc Lavoine và Phạm Quỳnh Anh. Anh dự báo, đồng hành với ca khúc này sẽ là làn sóng du khách nước ngoài, trong đó có nhiều du khách Mỹ tìm đến Việt Nam.

Theo Đặng Ngọc Khoa
Thanh niên

Jazzy vs. Donny

Below is an informal conversation with Jazzy Da Lam by yours truly. At first, I wanted to do a formal Q&A, but Jazzy is such an easygoing individual that I decided to throw all that out the window, and just have a normal interaction with her. As you can see, I have never done this before, but (thankfully) Jazzy has made it painless and enjoyable for me. Since this site gears toward English readers, I have translated the dialogue into English with Jazzy’s help. Hope you enjoy this special exchange that can only be found at

Jazzy: Hi Donny
Donny: Hi Jazzy, I have not prepared anything.
Jazzy: We can wait till you’re ready… then we can chat. [Giggles]
Donny: Let me listen to your album [Moon & You] more carefully first.
Jazzy: Uh oh… Listen carefully for more criticisms, hihihi…
Donny: Hahaha… Are you mocking me?
Jazzy: Mocking, no. Shaking, yes.
Donny: You’re living in Germany?
Jazzy: Yea.. Munich, Germany.
Donny: You know German?
Jazzy: Yes! But not that good.
Jazzy: Would you like me to sing in German for you? [Laugh]
Donny: I would love to hear it, but wouldn’t understand a thing.
Donny: How about English? You sing English pretty good.
Jazzy: Many said that I sing English not too clear, but some like it and very supportive (they probably trying to make me feel good… by encouraging me), but I did my best… There are always two sides of things, praises and criticisms… I understand the ones that praise me are encouraging me, and the ones that criticize would like me to work harder; therefore, I appreciate both positive and negative feedbacks.
Donny: You sound pretty clear to me.
Jazzy: oh… thanks Donny.
Donny: I have listened to quite a few Vietnamese singers sing in English, but their pronunciations are way off. Did someone train you in English or you’ve trained yourself?
Jazzy: Oh I have asked several friends both Viet and American to hear how I sound. Overall the reaction is good. They said I have an accent, but that’s not important because sometimes the accent makes the song more exotic (That’s what they said).
Donny: Yes! Definitely.
Jazzy: American friends don’t expect me to sing like an American; therefore, they love it [when I sing in English]. And so… I don’t learn anything from them… I have to listen to CDs to learn on my own.
Donny: Your accent sounds really cute. I am not saying that to make you feel good either.
Jazzy: Ok ok… No more shy… I can now lift my nose up, huh? [laugh]
Donny: How did you come up with “Jazzy?”
Jazzy: Online friends came up with that name for me.
Donny: Although your name suggests jazz, your debut is consisted of jazz, blues, funk, pop and classic. Which one is your style?
Jazzy: That’s my style, everything. A little pop mixed into jazz, funk, blues…
Donny: Then you need to change your name to Jazzymixy? [Laugh]
Jazzy: hahahaha… yea
Jazzy: As a child I learned classic piano. Love Chopin, Bach and Debusy… Therefore, they influence my music.
Donny: And now, piano jazz?
Jazzy: Yes.
Donny: Who is your favorite jazz pianist?
Jazzy: Oh, many. At the beginning, I listened to Oscar Peterson. Then Bill Evans and Keith Karrett were my heros. And now I have paid more attention to Michel Camilo & Rubalcaba Gonzales.
Donny: How about Thelonious Monk?
Jazzy: I like to listen to him, but can’t play like him.
Donny: Why not? Too choppy?
Jazzy: My hands are too small. Playing like him is impossible. [Laugh]
Donny: I love him and Duke too.
Jazzy: I have a live DVD concert of Monk… just amazing!
Jazzy: Duke’s arrangements are wicked too.
Donny: How is your album doing in Vietnam?
Jazzy: It sold more than 1,000 copies in the first two weeks.
Donny: Congrats!
Jazzy: thx
Donny: I think my review has something to do with it. [Sniff Sniff]
Jazzy: hihihi… sure.
Donny: Just kidding. I am not that arrogant. [Laugh]
Jazzy: We have something in common [Giggles]
Donny: Absolutely [Giggles]
Donny: Speaking of my review, I did mention the scats at the end of “Khuc Dem.” Have you thought of scats for the whole song like Ella Fitzgerald?
Jazzy: Ohh, I used to perform “Shadow of Your Smile” with bossa feeling, and I have to scat 2-3 choruses. But this CD is for Vietnamese listeners, and it’s also my debut… I would like to keep it calm and quiet.
Donny: You mean not to make too much impression?
Jazzy: Yes. Something like that.
Donny: Hmm… Very humble!
Jazzy: Hehehe… humble?… Yeah! I am being “humbled” just to trick you. [Laugh]
Donny: Speaking of calmness, you’re a mellow person huh?
Jazzy: I think I am, but the person opposite from me might not think so.
Donny: Oh yeah, who is that “opposite” person?
Jazzy: You…[Laugh]
Donny: Yeah…sure [Laugh]
Donny: I am a mellow guy too. That’s why I appreciate “Vat Trang.”
Jazzy: You like “Vat Trang?” Can you give me a reason?
Donny: I didn’t get it at first, but once I am on the road at night, “Vat Trang” comes to life. It’s like Serenade.
Jazzy: Serenade is a form of Nocturne (a night song), and “Vat Trang” is like that. Or “Mau Dem,” “Dao Khuc,” Vong Dem,” Khuc Dem, “Trang & Em.” They all pitch black. [Laugh]
Jazzy: You like “Mau Dem” the best right? Why?
Donny: Didn’t I give a reason in my review? Just kidding. I like the tranquility, the quietness, the calmness, the urge to sooth, and your nightingale-like voice near the end.
Jazzy: [Blushing]
Donny: Are you touring now?
Jazzy: Yes. I am on the road with my funk band in Austria and Italy. In Munich, I am in a group called The Tulips – an Acapella Gospel Choir.
Donny: When will you be in the US to show us some love? [Wink]
Jazzy: I would love to have an opportunity to perform for the US audience, but my schedule is not working out this year. Hopefully next year.
Donny: What are your plans in the future?
Jazzy: I have many upcoming projects. One of them is an album in which I will perform my favorite jazz standards and another one with new materials including instrumental compositions I have written.
Donny: Sound very exciting. I am looking forward to both. Thanks for your time and good luck.

Interview with Donny Truong of

My interview with Michael Nguyễn from Tiếng Magazine.

We are conducting a series of interviews with some of the Vietnamese Americans behind successful websites. First up is Donny Truong of

Donny Truong runs the popular Vietnamese American blog – We caught up with him to chat about running a website, the design business, and blogs.

TM: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Donny. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What is your background?

I was born in My Tho, Vietnam and came to the US 12 years ago. I am currently a web designer at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. I am also running a personal website ( and a tribute site to a talented Vietnamese singer Ngoc Lan ( with a couple of dedicated fans. I love design and it is probably the only thing I am good at.

TM: Your site Visualgui was rated best Vietnamese blog by a couple sites. What do you think goes into creating a successful blog?

Oh really? I am not even aware of it. From a designer perspective, a successful blog must be attractive, accessible, and easy to use. Obviously, content is still the heart and soul of the blog. I write regularly and I choose topics that interested me. For example, Vietnamese food, Vietnamese music, hip hop music, design books, and inspiration.

TM: Has your Vietnamese background influenced the way you design websites?

Good question. I don’t think my background influenced my design but Vietnamese music has inspired my work. For example, the motion piece I created called “Một Chút Quà Cho Quê Hương” was inspired by Việt Dũng’s emotional lyrics and Ngọc Lan’s remarkable performance.

TM: Could you describe the Vietnamese American community (if there is one) over on the east coast? Over here on the west coast the community is quite large – how does it compare over there?

From where I am living now (Poughkeepsie, NY), I can’t even find a Vietnamese person, except for the nails parlor at the mall. I wish there is a Vietnamese Community here.

TM: Did you immigrate here with your family?

Yes! I came here with my mom and older sister.

TM: Has the internet made it possible for you to find a Vietnamese community online?

Yes! The Internet rocks. It made it possible for me to get to know many Ngoc Lan’s fan around the world. Even though we have never met, they are like a big family to me. We even call our home on the web.

On my own site, I have met quite a few fine Vietnamese folks who have great taste in music and I learn a lot from them.

TM: Last questions, where do you see the Vietnamese community online heading? Have you noticed a bigger presence online? Whats in the future for you?

Obviously there are tons of Vietnamese organizations on the web but I think we are still behind with technology. I haven’t seen too many sites that use Web Standards and CSS. Fortunately, I see that in Tiếng Magazine, good job! I am glad that you have started on online mag gearing toward young Vietnamese American. I don’t see anything in the future for me as far as the Vietnamese Community.

TM: Thanks for the interview, Donny.