Naohiro Matsumura: Shikake

I have not read a book on design for a while and Naohiro Matsumura’s Shikake just drew me right back to my alley. The concept of shikakeology, which focuses on changing human behavior through design, is intriguing. According to Matsumura, a shikake must met the following requirements:

  • Fairness: A shikake does not disadvantage anyone.
  • Attractiveness: A shikake invites action.
  • Duality of purpose: The maker and the user of the shikake have different goals.

Matsumura provides a handful of real-world examples to illustrate shikake. Turning the stairs into a piano is a shikake that encourages people to use it. Adding a target to urinals decreases splashes by 80 percent. Combining a basketball hoop and a bin helps children to clean up their toys.

I am definitely interested in applying the concept of shikakeology in user experience on the web. If you’re a UX designer, I highly recommend this book. It’s a quick, informative read.


Nguyễn Minh Bích writes in the New Yorker:

I’ve tried to inhabit the name Bich. I used to add the accent over the “i” to show the correct spelling: Bích. The sound is somewhere between a question and an exclamation. But how can I get away from the gaze? It is one of my historical facts that the name is steeped in shame, because living in the United States as a refugee and a child of refugees was steeped in shame. America made sure I knew that, felt that, from my earliest moments of awareness. I cannot detach the name Bich from my childhood, cannot detach it from the experience of people laughing at me, calling me a bitch, letting me know that I’m the punch line of my own joke, too stupid or afraid to do anything but take it. When I see the letters that spell out Bich, I see a version of self I’ve had to create, to hide from trauma. Even now, typing the letters, I want to turn away. America has ruined the name Bich for me, and I have let it.

New Work: COVID & Climate

In early September 2020, Shari Hersh, director environmental justice at Mural Arts Philadelphia, reached out to me after she saw “Mapping Corruption,” an interactive webpage I designed for the American Prospect. Ms. Hersh liked the concept of presenting an interactive map and discovering the hidden corruption in every agency in the federal government under the Trump administration. Her team had been working on a similar project to unearth the hidden connections between COVID-19 and climate change. She invited me to design a website for this project.

Based on Professor Donna Haraway’s implosion method, COVID & CLIMATE is a collaborative effort between activists and artists exploring and illustrating the deep connections between environmental injustice and ecological crisis. By transforming a collective body of research into an interactive presentation, Covid and Climate invites people into conversation while generating a deeper understanding of the world around us.

Although the project was still a work in progress, I accepted Ms. Hersh’s invitation. Once her team completed the writings and drawings, I would start to develop the site. In late December 2020, we scheduled a kickoff meeting via Zoom. Unfortunately, it was on the same day I had to make one of the toughest decisions in my life. Should my mother who contracted COVID-19 get on the ventilator? I called off the meeting. I told Shari and her team that I had an emergency related to COVID-19 and that I could not take on the project at the moment.

My mother passed away after her brutal battle with COVID-19. I spent two months grieving and writing. In late January 2021, I sent Ms. Hersh an apology and checked in to see if she had found a web designer for the project. I felt bad for dropping the ball on her and her team, but I did not expect to get the job. Her team was in the process of interviewing several candidates for the project. Twenty four hours later, they decided to move forward with me.

From this point on, I worked closely with Ms. Margaret Kearney, an artist who led the project. From the get-go, I requested that all the illustrations must be in vector format so that I could export them into SVGs for the web. I loved working with SVG. It almost felt like using Flash in the early 90s, but in the web standard format. Although animation inside SVG is limited, I could add HTML classes and used CSS to give the artwork some scaling and fading effects.

In addition to handwritten text integrated into the artwork, the headers were set in Korinna. The text inside the blue boxes was previously set in Korinna as well and the body text was originally set in Futura. Korinna looked fine as headers, but the spacing was odd as reading text. Since I didn’t have access to the web-font format for Futura, I proposed switching both to Forma DJR. The change was approved.

With all the materials on hand, I designed the website quickly. Since this project was one of its kind, it deserved its own domain name and hosting. Because it was not tied into any content management system or technology, I had the complete freedom to design and develop from the ground up. The site is straight up HTML and CSS with heavy use of SVGs. I used a bit of PHP to make the site easy to manage and to update. Because all of the illustrations were in vector format, they look great on any device.

I learned a great deal while putting the site together. I read all the pages just to make sure all the characters and punctuations were correct, but also to learn about these invaluable discoveries based on facts and thorough research. I love the balance between engaging illustration and insightful content. Don’t take my words for it. Browse through the pages, read the texts, and discover the hidden connections yourself.

I dedicate COVID & CLIMATE to my mother.

Việt Thanh Nguyễn: The Committed

With The Sympathizer, I had to read the novel twice, much slower the second time, to follow the story and the characters. The Committed, however, is much easier for me to absorb. The structure was less complex and the writing was clearer.

Việt Thanh Nguyễn still has plenty of juice in his crime storytelling. The Committed takes readers into the dark corners in the City of Lights. Vô Danh, the anonymous protagonist, sets his foot in Paris, his father’s country, and joins a Vietnamese gang. On the surface, the novel is a chilling gangster thriller packed with sex, drugs, and violence. In the view of the Boss, a Vietnamese-Chinese gang leader, the Eiffel Tower has a completely different symbol.

On a deeper level, Nguyễn shines the light on racism, colonialism, and communism. Here’s an intriguing commentary on colonizations:

Your father was a colonizer and a pedophile, which go hand in hand. Colonization is pedophilia. The paternal country rapes and molests its unfortunate pupils, all in the holy and hypocritical name of the civilizing mission!

Here’s his take on being Americanized:

The American Way of Life! Eat too much, work too much, buy too much, read too little, think even less, and die in poverty and insecurity. No, thank you. Don’t you see that’s how the Americans take over the world? Not just through their army and their CIA and their World Bank, but through this infectious disease called the American Dream? You were infected and you barely even realized it!

Of course, he has plenty to say about the French:

The Vietnamese who came to France and did not feel at home returned to Vietnam to fight for the revolution or were deported by the French who suspected them of not being French enough. These were the Vietnamese who believed so sincerely in liberty, equality and fraternity that they did not see the parentheses, which the French used in place of hyphens: “liberty, equality, and fraternity (but just not yet, at least for you).” Flabbergasted, these revolutionaries became the indigestible Vietnamese, the ones who could not swallow France and who could not be swallowed. As for the Vietnamese who stayed in France, French culture had chewed on them since they were in Vietnam. By the time they came to France, they were already, like certain species of cheese, quite soft and easily digestible, qualities inherited by their ideologically pasteurized children.

The Committed is the sequel to The Sympathizer, but it also holds its own. Nguyễn, is a brilliant novelist. Using fiction to provide social and cultural criticisms makes him an important voice in the American literary. I have tremendous respect for him.

Replace Sliding Patio Screen Door

My spring-break staycation started with replacing the sliding patio screen door. The installation was quick and easy. I just followed this YouTube video.


Grisham 36-in x 80-in Bronze Aluminum Frame Sliding Screen Door: $80

Vietnamese Typography Updates

In the last few weeks, I made some small updates to Vietnamese Typography. On the homepage, I added more random covers showcasing big, bold display typefaces with vibrant colors. I also added large display text throughout the pages to accommodate body text.

The significant update was the recommendation page. I decided to remove all open-source typefaces. When I first published this book, support for Vietnamese language was hard to find. Now the open-source community has stepped up its support for Vietnamese. Google Fonts now has a sizable collection of quality typefaces with Vietnamese. With the release of Fontshare from Indian Type Foundry, it seems like all of its typefaces support Vietnamese. I wish it had a language filter like Google Fonts.

Open-source typefaces are important and they are a great service to make graphic design and the web typographically better. Anyone can download and use them; therefore, I don’t need to recommend them. I would like to focus on typefaces from small foundries and independent type designers instead. A smaller selection also made it manageable for me. Looking at the current list, I need to showcase typefaces designed by Vietnamese type designers. That will be my goal moving forward.

If you’re a Vietnamese type designer and you have a complete typeface, particularly text face, I would love to showcase your work. It has to be commercial and not open source.

A New, Exciting Project Coming Next Week

Around this time last year, I designed an interactive webpage exposing the corruption inside 15 federal departments under Trump. That page led to a new project I am working on with talented artists and smart activists at the Mural Arts of Philadelphia. The new site will use creative illustration and thorough-researched information to reveal the hidden connections between COVID-19 and Climate Change. The site will launch next week. I am excited about it and can’t wait to share it with you. I hope you’ll read it, learn from it, and talk about it.

Watch this space.

Biden’s Success in Controlling the Pandemic

I haven’t written much about politics lately, but I am fed up with the ageism against President Biden and the mocking of his stuttering condition from Republicans and the Orange Idiot supporters.

Let’s take a look at what Biden had accomplished in less than 100 days into his tenure. He passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief package, which included $1,400 stimulus checks, with no Republican support. His vaccine campaign is a huge success.

He made the commitment to deliver 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. Not only he will meet that goal, but he has also doubled that number. Each day, 2.5 million Americans are vaccinated. More than 87 million Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Hating on Biden all you want, but he is cleaning up this crisis from the previous incompetent president. With substantial surges in new cases in Europe and Brazil, I can’t imagine what we would be facing right now if that clown were still in the White House. So let’s be thankful that Biden and his administration are putting the pandemic under control.

As more states are planning to make vaccines eligible to all adults by mid-April, I can’t wait to get my shot. It was so tempting to register as a smoker to get ahead, but I’ll wait for my turn.

Đạo and Đán Continue to Skate

Đạo and Đán took their ice skating tests on Tuesday. Đạo received perfect scores once again. He’s a careful skater who follows instructions and practices what he had learned. He performs the techniques with ease and he enjoys the lessons. He will be transitioning from Beta to Gamma next week.

Đán didn’t get perfect scores, but he did well. Unlike Đạo, Đán is an adventurous skater. He learns new techniques by doing them. He isn’t afraid to fall when trying out new tricks. He only does things he likes instead of paying attention to his instructor. He doesn’t seem to be interested in the techniques his instructor taught him. He can do them, but not with the finesse he invested in. He will be transitioning from Beta/Gamma to Gamma/Delta next week, but I am debating whether he should take private lessons instead of group lessons.

Xuân seems to enjoy his group lessons. He follows direction well. He is not as careful as Đạo, but he is also not as carefree as Đán. He will be good if he continues to take lessons.

I am reaching my limit at Gamma. I am struggling to do the techniques. I tried to practice today, but I was not in the mood. I ended up skating slowly and mindlessly. It was quite therapeutic, actually. I think I’ll bow out after this level. I am too old for jumping and spinning. I’ll get back to skating recreationally.

Bad Days at the Nail Salon

After the mass shootings at the massage parlors in Atlanta, I worry about the nail salons run by Vietnamese Americans. I have friends and family members work at the salons. I have also seen disturbing video clips of angry customers beating up the workers and destroying the properties. In her recent op-ed, Lý Trần recounts her bad days at the nail salon:

Like the time when, after a long day of work, a man brandishing a knife walked in, pushed my mother hard against the wall, the tip of the blade at her throat, and demanded that she empty her pockets, robbing her of the little money that she’d worked so hard to make. That was a bad day.

Or that time when a customer wrecked our salon, breaking nail-polish bottles, throwing chairs, and flinging acetone in our faces because she didn’t want to pay for the service she received. That was a bad day.

That time when, on the evening of the Fourth of July, after a long day of painting red, white, and blue nails for our customers, explosive fireworks were suddenly and violently thrown into our salon by a group of boys jeering racial slurs, our carpet catching on fire, and my mother and I scrambling to put it out. Since then, Independence Day, a day of supposed freedom, holds a different meaning for me. That was a bad day.

And those times when I had to stand by while a customer berated my mother, treated her like a subhuman servant instead of the kind and beautiful person that I know her to be. Those were bad days.

That time when, coming home from the salon, at the age of 13, I was sexually assaulted by a man who believed he was entitled to my body. That was a truly horrific day.

All the times we’ve been called racial epithets, denied our basic humanity, and feared for our lives in the presence of bigots.

The history of violence in these salons concerned me deeply. If we don’t #StopAsianHate, it is just a matter of time that some racist lunatics will shoot up the nail salons. Let’s be pro-active just in case someone has a bad day.