I did a very thoughtless thing the other night. I clicked on an extremely savage video a friend shared on Facebook. I am still traumatized today. The graphic still stuck in my head. How could a human being do such a thing to another human?
I used to be quite tolerant for graphical violence. I enjoyed violent films because I know that underneath all the gruesome scenes are just fiction. This particular video, however, was not fake. It was captured on a cell phone and it was one of the most horrifying violences I have ever seen.
Now being a father makes me even more sensitive to those things. I almost delete my Facebook account last night, but I am still tied into several admin roles for work and various projects. I won’t be using Facebook much anymore for that reason and I also need to be extremely cautious when clicking on a video even when a friend shared it.
Thanh Ha is obviously in love. Her new release, Mong Manh Tình Về, is the proof. Her heart is not in it even though her lover is collaborated on the album. They rather make something else together than music.
As a result, Mong Manh Tình Về is either romantically sleepy or sleepily romantic. From the opening “Có Đôi Lần” to the sugary “Những Ngày Mưa ” to the sedating title track, Thanh Hà and Roland seem to be rather cuddling under sheets than recording in the studio. No wonder the rope she adorns on the cover is so damn fitting.
Even when conveying anguish in “Giận Anh,” Thanh Hà seems to prefer to just nap it off. Don’t blame her for the dullness in her music. Just congratulate her for being in love. She probably won’t make an exciting record until shit happens. I am suggest that it should. I am just saying.
Our little guy turns four today. Unbelievable how time has flown by. Four years of challenges and fun. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
Dao is a very special kid. He’s a quick learner and very sharp. He makes me laugh all the time. The other day, he invented his own vocabulary: “badiculious.” I asked him, what does that mean and he said, “It means not listening.” He went on, “You are badiculious, daddy.”
Last weekend, his mom told him, “Don’t run.” He responded, “I am not running mommy. I am just hopping.” He basically has a counter for everything. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s quite exasperating, specially when he threw a tantrum to get what he wanted.
While his development escalating, his behavior is improving slowly. We’re doing our best to give him the freedom to grow, but also keep his attitude under control. Now that the terrible three is behind us, I am looking forward to his fantastic four.
At this point in her career, Ngọc Hạ needs no introduction and if you have been following her work for the past 14 years, her newest release is what you would expect from a smart singer with a powerful voice and versatile styles. Ngày Xưa Hoàng Thị is another solid album with some outstanding arrangements, noticeably from Đồng Sơn. His contemporary-folksy production for “Giận Mà Thương” is unmistakable. His clever use of electric beat with traditional instrument provided a savory backdrop for Ngọc Hạ to lay down her delicious central dialect.
Ngọc Hạ’s take on Diệu Hương’s “Mình Ơi” is another delightful demonstration of her ability to sing in Huế’s accent. Obviously Phạm Duy’s music has a special place in her heart. She carried the title track, “Tóc Mai Sợi Vắn Sợi Dài” and “Em Lễ Chùa Này” with soul and sensation. In fact, the entire album is top-notch as if she wisely picked only the most perfected records. No flaws and fillers are allowed in this album in term of song choice and vocal delivery. A few productions aren’t so great though, particular “Cô Nữ Sinh Ðồng Khánh” (Thu Hồ), which featured very mechanical rhythm section with irritating, fake-ass horn lines.
The main problem with Ngày Xưa Hoàng Thị, as well as her earlier works, is that Ngọc Hạ has yet to master the art of creating an experience. Each track stands out own its own, but collectively they don’t make a coherent album. For example, both “Giận Mà Thương” and “Mình Ơi” put listeners into central zone, the next track, “Paris Có Gì Lạ Không Em” (Ngô Thụy Miên), cuts to the city of love. The sudden change of mood, style and location is quite disorienting. The listening experience would have been much more pleasurable if she narrowed the concept down to just traditional, Huế-centric vibe. I am also surprised that she hasn’t make a Phạm Duy’s album.
As I was leaving my evening class today to celebrate my little birthday with my family, my professor wished me a happy birthday and asked me my age. Truthfully I couldn’t recall my exact age; therefore, I exaggerated a bit and told her that I am fifty. She looked surprised, but believed so.
At this point of my life, I am just thankful to have a loving, supporting family. I am enjoying being a father more than I did a few years ago. I am adapting to the parenting environment. I love spending time with the boys. Each brings a special joy to me. They help me overcome obstacles in life. I am learning not to take myself too seriously, especially in my profession and education.
I am in the process of reconsidering my priorities. I want to simplify my life and have just a few choices rather than everything I want to accomplish. Time slips away way too fast. I need to just narrow down my path and live a worry-free life. I am sure the next thirty five years would go by in a blink of an eye.
Miles Davis opened up my ears and introduced me to the world of jazz and fusion, but beyond that he changed the way I do my professional work. While Davis who reinvented jazz at least five times was constantly changing his musical direction, he was also refining and redefining his sound. His choices of notes were thoughtful and his phrasings were meaningful. The notes he left out were as essentials as the notes he played.
As I listened to Davis’s music, particularly his quintessential Kind of Blue, I began to change my design approach. Davis’s improvisations in “So What,” “Freddie Freeloader” and “All Blues” were complete opposite from John Coltrane’s and Cannonball Adderley’s. Whereas Coltrane and Adderley played swift, blazing solos, Davis played only the most telling notes. In a similar way, I began to see the important elements emerge in my design as I stripped away decorative ones. I came to realize that design is not only what I put in, but also what I left out.
While the process sounds easy, it took me tremendous amount of time and decision to accomplish. In many occasions, I keep turning on and off layers in Photoshop, Illustrator or even Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) to figure out whether I should leave in or take out a certain elements without over-simplifying the design. Coltrane had similar problem in his early career. He was having a hard time finding the right place to end his solo; therefore, he sought Davis for advice. Davis suggested, “Take the horn out of your mouth.”
In addition to being one of the world greatest trumpet players, Davis was also a master of communication. The recording of “Autumn Leaves” (with Adderley as the leader) is a brilliant example of Davis’s power of precision and command. After a brief intro from the quintet, which includes Hank Jones on piano, Art Blakey on drums and Sam Jones on bass, Davis cut straight to the melodic core. Each note he played on his muted trumpet struck the emotional cord: brooding, melancholy and hauntingly clear. In my own work, I explore emotional design through the practice of selection and the art of reduction. Whether working with colors, types or images, I would choose the ones that give the most emotional value to my design. I have also learned to cut out the non-essential parts and applied more detail to essence.
Using space, another design-related element, was one of the techniques Davis had acquired in his early career. With the rise of bebop in the 1950s, every jazz musician at the time wanted to play like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. They filled in as many notes as they could into their improvisation. In contrast, Davis left plenty of space in his phrasing. As a result, he let his melodic lines breathe and gave listeners a chance to absorb his music.
When I first started doing creative work, I crammed as much elements as I could into my design. My first web page was filled with at least four different typefaces, animated GIFs (Graphical Interchangeable Format) and unrelated colors. Later on, I learned the concept of using space to make the key message stronger through one of Davis’s fusion albums titled Bitches Brew. In exploring the jazz-rock territory, Davis gave his rhythm section, which was made up of four drummers, three electric keyboardists and two bassists, the freedom to work out its chaotic, organic groove. He only came in to play when he had something to say. Every time he blew his horn, however, he created the order out of the disorder. Likewise, my responsibility as a designer is to take the client contents and organize them into a logical sense. While Davis had demonstrated that space in music creates harmony and balance, white space in web design can also create harmonious layouts and free the eye from clutter. The correct use of white space not only brings out the content, but also enhances readability.
In his late career, Davis experimented with funk, rock, electric, pre-recorded orchestration and even hip-hop backbeat. The way he played opened my ears once again on the art of adaptation. Because he was such a versatile and flexible trumpeter, Davis was able to response and adapt to any musical backdrop. For instance, he was skillfully maneuvered his way around the pre-recorded arrangements in Tutu. In the hand of another musician, Tutu might sound like lightweight background music, but Davis made it into, as critic Kevin Le Gendre puts it: “a work of engrossingly fraught atmospheres.”
With the rise of smartphones, tablets and various digital devices, a designer must embrace the fluidity of the web. I learned to let go of the fixed design and abandon making mockups in Photoshop. I took on the challenge of designing web site where it actually lives. Designing in the browser feels much more natural once I get past the technicality. Davis once said, “The way you change and help music is by tryin’ to invent new ways to play.” I keep his words in mind whenever I need to learn and adapt to new technologies in the fast-changing paste of web design and development.
Written for Advanced Web Design class at George Mason University School of Art.
The Jazz Board Game, a project for my graduate seminar class, combines my passion for design, jazz and my childhood favorite board game: Cờ Cá Ngựa. I always thought that Cờ Cá Ngựa is an original Vietnamese board game until I started to do the research for this project. Cờ Cá Ngựa is based on Pachisi, which originated in ancient India. I was a bit disappointed to learn that my only childhood board game is not original.
Nevertheless, I had a blast making The Jazz Board Game. Writing up all the trivia questions was quite a relearning experience. I designed the colorful board and even painted my own moving pieces. The best part of the project was selecting and cutting the ten-second samples of the jazz tunes for the listening comprehension component of the game.
When I first pitched my concept to the class, I did not intended to include the audio component. My classmates suggested that I should and they recommended getting greeting cards with sound. I did some research and couldn’t find anything, but then I came up with a different solution, which is using the iPhone for the audio component.
So I ended up creating an app for it using jQuery Mobile. My initial idea for the app was just a simple one-screen design with sample of the tune and info randomly loaded. That was actually all that needed to be part of the game. When I did a test run in class, however, I realized that the players have to have quite a bit of jazz knowledge to play. So I expanded the app to include trivia questions. I also added Jazz a film by Ken Burns and a resource section to help people who would like to learn more about jazz.
The app becomes an educational resource on its own in addition to being complementary to the board game. Here’s the snapshot of The Jazz Board Game and here’s the actual working app.
The current Law Library web site, which is under the Law School’s umbrella, has quite a bit of information. For the last few months, I have wanted to create a simple app that would allow students to complete a certain tasks quickly on their digital devices without going through the entire site.
I spoke to the librarians who are also my colleagues to find out what the students want to do with library services in the mobile setting. They provided me valuable information on the things that students often do such as searching for law-related books, getting access to the databases, finding out the library hours and asking the staff questions.
Last Sunday, I attended the Computer in Library workshop on “Building a Simple Mobile-optimized Web App/Site Using the jQuery Mobile Framework” and I was inspired to develop a simple web for the Law Library. Although I am building the app based on the contents of the Law Library, this is not a work-relate project. I just want to build the app to learn jQuery Mobile and not having to jump through hoops or the approval process.
The primary functionality would be to provide a set of basic information for the users. The search engine with be connected to Mason’s inPrimo, which “searches hundreds of millions of scholarly items simultaneously, including Mason’s library catalog and digital collections.” The “Ask a Library” would used a chat app, in which I am just presenting the prototype for this project. The most creative feature in this app would be the ability to locate a book in the Law Library. Once a user entered a book into the search field, it would pop up a photo and the exact location of the book. It would be very useful to include in the app.
Visualgui turned 10 last week. When I registered this domain at GoDaddy on April 8, 2003, I didn’t expect the site to last this long. At that time, I faced with bad hosting providers and domain services. Prior to Visualgui, I lost D3studio.com, which was my first site. D3, which stood for Donny Digital Design, started when I was still in college as my web design portfolio and studio. After the site went down for a week, I could no longer contacted my host. The company, which also registered my domain, went out of business. As a result, I lost everything. Lesson I learned from that experience: never put all of my eggs into one basket.
In April 2003, I decided to start from scratch again. I separated my domain from my host and did an in depth research of hosting providers. I am so glad I chose Lunarpages and been happy with them ever since. Although GoDaddy has a bad rep for its services and commercials, I don’t have any problem in regard to domain registration.
While searching for my new name, I came across a web site that listed the latest domains that became available. I can’t even recall which site it was. One of the names stood out to me was ChunkyGui.com and I immediately thought of VisualGui. The name was still available and I took it. Though I refer to it as the “Visual Guy,” the pun was Visual Graphical User Interface.
After ten years of associating with this brand, I wanted to make it more relevant to my current design direction and sensibility. Rather than referring to my design as “Visual Graphical User Interface,” the new brand refers to design “Visual” that “Gets Users Involved.” Whether reading a blog, buying a product or using a service, users are involved in the process; therefore, I want my design to focus on the involvement of the users first and foremost. My goal is to provide an easy, pleasant experience for users to accomplish their tasks no matter which device they are using on their hands. User-centered design has played a major role of my work for many years; therefore, the change is a natural fit.
Last week, I refreshed this site making it a seamless experience across multiple devices. The redesign was also to quietly celebrate its 10th anniversary. I was not planning on making the announcement, but the rebrand needed the background history to see how the name has evolved.
Here’s the new Visualgui for 2013. The design is not a huge departure, but quite a bit of refinement. The layout, in particular, is much more simplified. My goal is to create a consistent experience across all devices rather than relying on media queries to shift elements around. One of the recent criticisms of responsive web design is that layout changes drastically when viewing on different devices, which caused not-so-savvy users confuse. My approach is letting the mobile experience drives the design and making as less changes as possible when browsing in larger screens.
For the first time, I am including GUI elements in my navigation. This has been one of my pain points. While the name suggests GUI, I have never included any GUI elements. I have been doing quite the opposite of visual and graphical. Simplicity has always been my thing.
One of the big changes in this version is the restructuring. The naming and labeling needed to be changed to reflect my current direction. The site section is now renamed to web. This is the most important section of the site because designing web site is my area of service. The motion section is now renamed to special. I gave this one quite a bit of thought. Since I am no longer doing Flash slideshow, this section gets quite stale, but I don’t want to get rid of it entirely. Most of the Flash pieces I had done are personal and they are very special to me. I want to be able to make this section active and as the same time keeping an archive. As a result, I named it special so that I can continue to add more special projects in the future, but they don’t have to be motion slideshow. For instance, I’ll add my Jazzapp, which is a school project, once it is ready. The info section is now renamed to about. I have debated about this for a while and came to conclusion that about is more personal than info.
I also made a handful of subtle changes. I am now using the Monotype’s Noto families, which support full Vietnamese characters, for the texts. The pairing of Noto’s sans and serif created a nice harmony. I am glad to see Google is adding Vietnamese typefaces to its collection. It’s still limited, but better than nothing.