Ken Elston for Manassas City Council

I am proud to introduce the launching of Ken Elston’s brand new web site, my first project for a political campaign. Ken is a theater professor at George Mason University and he is running for city council in Manassas.

For his branding and marketing campaign, he recruited Jim Van Meer, a creative services manager at American Petroleum Institute and a current graduate student at Mason. Jim and I met when I started my graduate study. We hit it off well. Jim is my go-to man for print-related questions. We collaborated on school projects, in which he did print work and I did digital part.

So when Jim was tasked with Ken’s logo, print collaterals and a web site, he asked me to work with him on the web component. Even though my schedule was packed, I agreed to do the job for two reasons: To have the opportunity to work Jim and to get into the political market.

As expected, Jim created a simple, elegant logo for Ken. To be consistent with Jim’s work, I had a set of design elements to work with. Jim chose red, white and blue for the obvious reason. For typefaces, he selected Goudy Old Style and Helvetica Neue. I like the combination because it plays on Ken’s message: “Building on our past and planning for our future.”

In the process of designing the web site, I want voters to get two things: the candidate and his stand on issues. For the homepage, I selected a friendly shot of Ken to let voters see right away who he is. I also pushed for a page with issues to let voters understand his position.

For the secondary pages, I used photos of him and his family to give voters a bit of his personal life. The site is powered by WordPress, which also gives Ken the ability to blog. I worked with Ken directly from providing him the design to getting the contents. Through our professional relationship, I have learned that Ken is a team leader who gives and receives thoughtful feedback. I am confident that Ken would be a great city council for Manassas. Vote for him.

Tuấn Hưng – Đam Mê (Remixes)

Even Tuấn Hưng recognizes the challenge of staying awake listening to his regular albums; therefore; he makes a remix to help you out. The intro, which gives you a glimpse of what his old shits used to sound like, captures how one would listen to his music: skip a song after 10 seconds.

The album kicks off with “Độc Thoại” written by Nguyễn Hồng Thuận. Unlike the slow, sleepy version, the remix begins with the money line: “Vì anh ngu si, lòng đã không suy nghĩ.” For Non-Vietnamese readers, allow me to translate: “Because I was a stupid motherfucker; therefore, I didn’t think.” Even with an uptempo beat, you can’t hide the problematic lyricism. It’s the first sign of self-destruction; therefore, I can’t let my boys listen to this track even though they love the dance rhythm. When a relationship doesn’t work out, especially teenage crushes, you don’t blame yourself. Nobody gives a fuck about your sorry ass. You learn from your mistakes and hopefully you’ll do better in the next relationship until you meet the one that can live with all of your flaws. Nobody’s perfect.

Even though the purpose of Remixes is to make you dance, the songs are depressingly sad. From “Anh Nhớ Em” (Anh Tú) to “Hối Hận Trong Anh” (Anh Tú) to “Đêm Định Mệnh” (Trương Lê Sơn) to “Dĩ Vãng Cuộc Tình” (Duy Mạnh), the album sounds like a therapeutic soundtrack for lovesick. As if your ass has just been dumped; therefore, you hit the club to shake it off.

“Cầu Vồng Khuyết” closes out the record and I am not ashamed to admit that the theme-park beat grooves me, and Minh Khang’s lyrics never seem to cease to amuse me. In just four lines, you could feel his pain as he reflects on his past: “I used to love a beautiful girl. She was like a flower and an angel. Now I am sitting here quietly witnessing her leaving me.” Then comes the top-dollar chorus: “Đã khuya rồi vẫn ngồi đếm sao.” So why is he counting stars in the middle of the night? He obviously can’t sleep because he misses her. She’s probably fucking another guy right now as he’s sitting here alone contemplating in the past. He’s re-imagining the old good time they had together and jerking off. He still can’t fall asleep; therefore, the only thing left to do is counting stars.

All kidding aside, I still got mad love for Tuấn Hưng’s rough, raspy voice. Let’s hope that he’ll step out of his comfort zone one day.

Nguyên Hà – Địa Đàng 2

With Địa Đàng 2, Quốc Bảo proves that he is not only a forward-thinking pop songwriter, but also a thoughtful producer who knows damn well how to get the singer to deliver his musical concept. Although Nguyên Hà has a limited vocal range and a few minor issues of enunciation, she is a compelling storyteller. Quốc Bảo recognizes her strength; therefore, he crafts minimal arrangements with generous space for her to tell his tales.

The two “Ru” tunes in particular are perfect illustration. With “Ru 4,” Nguyên Hà sings like a drunken songbird in the rain and the accompanying piano added drops of despondency into the vocals. With “Ru 7,” she delivers the lyrics as effortlessness as reading a poem. The melody on both tunes are achingly beautiful. Another melodic piece is “Ta Như Trăng Hồng,” in which Quốc Bảo skillfully incorporated folks flavor into the pop tune.

Elsewhere, “Giọng Tình” showcases his lyricism with lines like, “The voice touches your chest like ghost.” In “Bài Hát Buồn Trong Mưa,” he uses interesting word choice: “Why doesn’t my heart shattered in the rain.” Ironically this is the most upbeat song in the album. Weakest is “Thì Ta Yêu.” What’s up with the fake-ass horn?

With the current trend of covering old songs in the Vietnamese pop scene, Địa Đàng 2 is a rare gem. With eleven original songs, Quốc Bảo demonstrates that he is one of the few Vietnamese songwriters that could still make new artful music.

Day One of An Event Apart in DC

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to attend day one of An Event Apart in DC because the lovely people who organized the event allowed me to make up the second day of last year I couldn’t attend. I picked day one for this year’s event because I wanted to hear Jonathan Hoefler’s presentation on web typography.

Hoefler made the case that he didn’t like the phrase “Fonts on the web.” He prefers, “Fonts for the web.” The main different is that web font is a new creation rather than taking existing fonts and put them on the web. Hoefler went on to explain and demo how he and his designers reworked their fonts to solve problems specifically for the web. They focused on making types clear on screen and extending their family and features for multipurpose usage. Hoefler also showed off the tool they built in house to allow their designers to see how the fonts render natively in the browser. After seeing the works that go into their web fonts, I wish I could have a subscription to its cloud typography.

While Hoefler’s talk was eye-opening, Whitney Hess’ was inspiring. I could definitely related to the struggle of being presence: Get distracted easily, find themselves easily irritated and feel imbalance in their work life, health and family. As I am listening to her presentation, I kept thinking to myself that I need to be better at being presence. I need to turn off all electric devices after work and being presence when I am with the kids. I made the change immediately yesterday.

Another engaging presentation was from UX expert Jared Spool. He was such a smart speaker. I wish I could go to his new school and learn just a bit of his skills on UX strategy, but I don’t have $60,000 and two-year commitment. On top of that, I have a family to feed.

Jeffrey Zeldman, Luke Wroblewski and Josh Clark were all great. I was glad that I sat right on the first row, kept my laptop closed and my eyes and ears opened.

Dao’s Major Dental Work

Two weeks ago, I took Dao to a pediatric dentist for checkup and she insisted to do some major works including baby root canal and crowning to almost all of his teeth. Because of his uncooperative effort, she recommended sadation. The estimated cost for this work is almost 5 grants. We took him for a second opinion and also asked our cousin who is a dentist and they gave the same advice.

My reluctant isn’t about the money, but I feel horrible for him to have anesthesia. Then again, we couldn’t get him to let the dentist clean or even look at his teeth at the office. Dan, on the other hand, was so cooperative. He even went first to show Dao that it was no pain. So far Dan has no cavity, but we will proceed with the major work for Dao in September.

To cover this cost, I am trying to pick up some small freelance work. Let me know if you know anyone who would need web sites design and development.

My Library

Even though e-books are on the rise, I still enjoy having a paper book on my hands, especially when I want to be completely disconnected from the digital world. Since I have become obsessed with reading and collecting books, I wanted to put together a library section of all the books I currently own. These books, ranging from typography to design & development to music to grammar and fiction, are my favorite. Most books I have read first from the library before buying them; therefore, these are the ones that I will be revisiting in the future. There are a few books that I still have yet to buy (the ones with the word “acquiring”). These books are still on my Amazon’s Wish List. So if you would like to buy me a book or two (for whatever reason I don’t know), I definitely appreciate it.

Test of Spacing

Daniel Burkely Updike, In the Day’s Work, writes:

A good test of spacing is to hold a printed page upside down, when, the sense of the words not being caught, the eye more readily perceives whether the spacing of the page is even or not.

Typographers on Type

Ruari McLean’s collection of essays in Typographers on Type read like chefs sharing their favorite recipes and cooking process. From William Morris’s “Aims in Founding the Kelmscott Press” (1895) to Matthew Carter’s “Now We Have Mutable Type” (1990), McLean has done an excellent job of assembling the pieces in chronological order, supplying short introduction for each essay, and providing useful information and development of typography in the 20th century. The book is set in FF Quadraatt, which is beautiful and easy to to read.

From Bạch Yến

Dear Donny,
I am Bạch Yến. Today, I stumbled onto your blog at visualgui.com and read with great interest your comments on my new CD “Bạch Yến hát Tình Ca Lam Phương.” Your writings show that you have very profound appreciation for the music of Việt Nam, and in particular, great affinity for the music of Lam Phương. I am touched by your very flattering remarks about my new CD, and would like to express my sincere thanks.
With best regards,
Bạch Yến

Thank you, Cô.

Bạch Yến Hát Tình Ca Lam Phương

At 72, Bạch Yến shows no sign of deterioration in her vocals. Her breathtaking rendition of “Cho Em Quên Tuổi Ngọc,” a classic ballad Lam Phương penned about her, is a proof. She soars on the high register with deep emotion and effortlessness. The track, accompanied by elegant piano and string orchestration, is a perfect opening for Bạch Yến’s newest album, which is a superb recording of Lam Phương’s compositions.

Although Lam Phương’s music have been covered to death, Bạch Yến breathes fresh air into his ballads with her own interpretation. One of the outstanding reworks is turning the over-sentimental “Phút Cuối” into a swing number. Unlike all of the singers (including Bằng Kiều) who added more and more emphatics to the tune, she strips it down to the core. In her phrasing, she ends each bar right on the last word without any extra vocal stressing. By just giving the melody some space, like on “Duyên Kiếp,” she proves that you don’t have to be over dramatic to express sad lyrics. I am looking at you again, Bằng Kiều.

While “Chờ Anh” gets a savory Latin flavor, “Một Mình,” gets an introspective approach rather than reflective to close out the album. The man who has contributed priceless treasures to Vietnamese music deserves an album like this.