Go With the Flow

On a rainy Saturday, my sister-in-law’s husband and I took the boys to Kid Junction. What I like about this place is that the boys can play for five or six hours by themselves and I can read my book. They got to do some physical activities on the multi-level climber and be off the iPad. It’s well-worth the ten-dollar-admission for each kid. It’s a good marketing strategy that adults are always free.

As I cut my boys loose and enjoyed reading my book at the cafe table, a mom asked if she and her two-year-old girl could share the table. As we had our little chitchat, she asked me if I had any ground rule for the kids when they were younger. She and her husband are having difficult time with the little girl because she doesn’t understand or listen yet.

I gave her my honest answer. I had no rule in place and I improvised my way through. Although I am flattered that she asked me, but I am the wrong guy to ask. I am not good at parenting. In fact, I am terrible at it. All the things kids do that I despised when I was not a parent, my kids had done it or doing it. When I refrained from spanking them, all the rules and disciplines broke. Even when they disrespected me by hitting or screaming at me, I took them. It angered me, but it would hurt me more if I hit them. It’s a horrific feeling to hit my children, something I wouldn’t do to anyone else. Rising kids have been extremely stressful for me, but things are getting better. My six-year-old still whines a lot, but he is no longer hitting. My soon-to-be four-year-old still does it every once in a while. He hits his brother more than us. I gave him timeout and other kind of disciplines. Though he’s a lovely kid most of the time.

As far as school goes, I had not done much for them. Đạo’s reading assessment dropped in the beginning of the school year. To help him read, I have been using Let’s Read. We have been reading three or four pages each night and his reading had improved. He recognizes the words quicker and reads faster. I am so glad that I have found this book in the library. I came across it while looking for a grammar book for myself.

Parenting is a long-term commitment with patience and discipline. It is a constant challenge. Even though the excitement of the third child is not as much as the first one, I am very much looking forward to seeing him. Again I’ll just go with the flow.

Class Safety

Last Thursday night before I started my class, I made sure the door was shut and locked. The senseless shooting at the Umpqua Community College shooting made me took the precaution. I have 20 students under watch; therefore, I am responsible for their safety. It’s a damn shame that the U.S. has the best educational institutions in the world, and yet they are no longer a safe place to be in.

The gun law in the U.S. is in desperate need for a reform. President Obama spoke out about it in anger:

As I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America next week or a couple of months from now.

Obama’s time is running out. The candidates who make gun control their top priority will have my vote and support. I urge you do the same to make this country not only a great but also a safe place to live.

Student Project: Mobile Web Design

The first project for Web Design & Usability in the Fall of 2015 has been completed. Students were assigned to the design a mobile web site. A few projects have been uploaded to Pinterest.

Kudos From the President

In yesterday’s faculty and staff meeting, George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera praised the Mason Law website. He pulled up the homepage on his phone and said that he loved the action buttons: “Apply Now, Request Information, and Visit Campus.” When he gave prop to the web developer, everyone clapped and looked at me. It was unexpected and I was too embarrassed to say anything; therefore, I want to express on here that the credit should go to the entire team, particularly my supervisor Deborah Keene and marketing advisor David Rehr.

Emotional Differences

My three-year-old Đán and my six-year-old Đạo have very different ways of dealing with their emotion. Although Đán is younger, he is stronger in both physical and emotional. He doesn’t get offended easily. That’s why I love messing with him because he has a comeback for everything. When I joked, “I am going to smack you on your butt.” He would replied, “I’ll smack you on your face.” Because he doesn’t take insults too serious, he would always win verbal augments over Đạo. Even though Đạo knows more words than Đán, he gets extremely mad when the little guy said something back to him.

Đán also has a charming side. When he hurts someone unintentionally. He would give that person a kiss and make sure that whoever he hurt is OK. I often faked hurting just so he could give me a kiss. Đán loves dinosaurs and has no problem watching them eating each other on the Discovery channel. I am a bad parent for letting him watching violent video, but he understands that some dinosaurs eat other dinosaurs.

In addition, Đán always cracks me up. Like yesterday when I spilled coffee on the floor, he criticized me, “Daddy, you’re bad coffee bringer.” When I mopped up the floored, he gave me a compliment, “Daddy, you’re good cleaner.” This morning he wanted to eat instant noodle and I offered to cook for him, but he turned me down, “No daddy, you’re a bad cook. You burned popcorns the other day.” So his mom had to cook for him. I didn’t mind at all.

Đạo, on the other hand, takes emotion way too deep. I don’t mess around with him much because he could be easily offended. When he doesn’t get what he wanted, he would cry, “Nobody loves me.” Đạo is a very smart kid, but his emotion is his weakness. When I said no to him, he would say something like, “I don’t love you and I won’t get you any Lego for your birthday.” If I wanted to piss him off, all I had to say was, “I’ll buy [his favorite Lego] for myself.” He would go berserk. Then I have to calm him down. Sometimes I feel really horrible, but I don’t want him to be too emotional. It breaks my heart to see him takes things too serious.

Đạo’s charming, however, always melted my heart. He is a mama’s boy and has no problem express his love for her. Even when he was mad at her or vice versa, he always made sure that his mama still loved him. What he did yesterday made me all choked up and I would never forget the emotion on his face. Before going to school, he handed his mom his very favorite Lego figure and told her, “Mommy I want you to keep this so that when you miss me you could look at him.” I must admit. I was very envy of her. He never ever expressed that sentiment to me. What a lovely boy.

I talked to my wife every now and then about the kids’ emotional states. I sympathize and worry about Đạo. One day, a girl will break his heart if he doesn’t stay strong. In contrast, my wife feels bad for Đán. In a way, we treat him like he’s a big kid, but he’s only three. We unintentionally compare him to his older brother. I love Đán, but I am not worried about him as much. He always showed his independency. He can take care of himself and his older brother. I can’t wait to see how the third boy express his emotions.

The Creative Minds in the Family

Yen is getting married in a couple of weeks. Although she is my niece, Yen is a month older than me. Because we were at the same age and lived next door to each other, we did many things together. I had a few great memories of our childhood. One time, when we were four or five, we walked a couple of miles to the playground. As we enjoyed our time sliding and swinging at the playground, her mom came and freaked out. I could still recall the shock as well as the relief on her face when she found us and we weren’t kidnapped.

In retrospect, I was a free spirit. I didn’t get to see my dad often. He was always away for work and only coming home a couple of times a month. My mom was also busy making ends meet; therefore, she just let me roamed free around the neighborhood. There were days I was locked out of the house for many hours and had to get food from my neighbors. Some of them were very generous in feeding me. I could never forget.

In kindergarten, Yen and I were in the same class. The day her family left Vietnam to settle in the U.S., I cried when she was not there. I still remember her empty chair. The teacher kicked me out of the class and made me stood in the school ground. I climbed over the fence and left the school. I found my way home and my mom freaked out. I can’t recall what the consequence was when I left the school.

Six years later, our family migrated to the States. I was excited to see Yen again, but time had changed. She spoke mostly in English and I didn’t know much. The language barrier kept us apart. Later when we moved closer to her family, we reconnected. Sometimes, we hung out after school, ate pizza, and watched TV. In the summertime, we hung around her mom’s Chinese restaurant, rode bikes, and just stayed cool.

When it came to college, we went to different universities, but majored in similar field. She studied graphic design and I studied web design. We were the only two in the family that were not studied computer science or business. Even though Yen had a strong sense of design, she ended up becoming a fashion buyer. She is still doing that now. I went on to do what I studied to do. Then I returned to school, something I thought I would never do, to get a master in graphic design.

Now almost into our 40s, Yen is still young and beautiful. She lived an easy-going lifestyle and took her time to settle down. In contrast, I have become old and bald. I am not complaining though. I have a wonderful family. With two boys and another one on the way, life is not easy, but fulfilling. Just want to congratulate my niece and friend. I am very happy for her and her future.

How I Learned to Love Print Design Again

My friend Jim Van Meer wrote a sincere, thoughtful piece on “How I Learned to Love the Web.” I am glad that I changed his mind about web design as he changed my mind about print design.

When I first started my career in design I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go. With a few Photoshop tricks under my sleeves, I applied for a paid graphic design internship at the Trump Marina casino in the summer of 1999. It was such an eye-opening experience for me. I got paid $12 an hour with free room in a cheap hotel and free food for all of Trump’s employee. I got to sit opposite from the only in-house graphic designer. I was given a Mac, but didn’t get to work on any project. My day was just sitting and staring at the screen until lunch and then again until time to go back to my hotel room.

Because I was just killing my time, the graphic designer handed a black-and-white copy of Photoshop tutorials he xeroxed from Computer Arts magazine. I tried the tutorials, but I could not produce the same result from the instruction. I was bored and frustrated. A week into my internship, I told the graphic designer that I don’t think I will be a graphic designer. I wanted to do web and interactive design instead. Ten minutes after our brief conversation, he told the creative director, who were supposed to be my mentor, that I had made a wise decision not to be a graphic designer. Though he was a very nice guy, I didn’t know if he was being snarky. From that day on, I focused my time and effort on Flash and web design. My internship was supposed to be three months, but I dropped it after just four weeks. I managed to “make up” a portfolio of what I had done in my internship to get school credits.

I graduated from college in 2001 and went on to pursue my career in web and interactive design. Eleven years later, faith took me back into print design. In the Fall of 2012, I was accepted to the Master’s program in graphic design at the George Mason University School of Art. The first class I took was Advanced Typography. In retrospect, it was the most challenging class in all my academic years, but it was also the most rewarding one. The professor was very harsh in his criticism. His teaching style was not at all helpful, but the interaction I had with my classmates, especially with Jim, was the rewarding part.

In each project, we had to produce at least eight to ten different designs for each class. For the first project, I was trying to catch up with the requirements rather than putting in thoughtful designs. After the first project, I knew that the professor’s method was not working for me. I continued to play by his rules, but I silently used my own method. I focused on my energy on one design, but I would not show it to him until the final. In the meantime, I kept churning out crappy works just to meet his requirements. I used Comic Sans, Copperplate, and any horrifying design elements I could put in. I got criticized heavily during critic sessions, but I had more free time outside of class.

When it was time to print and mount my final projects, I came to Jim to rescue me. He patiently explained to me the printing process, the different paper weights, the mounting tricks, and the places to get all the print design materials. In addition, his feedback turned out to be more thoughtful and helpful than the professor’s. For example, when I was stuck on the concept of redesigning the film ratings system, he provided me some ideas and opened up mind. From that time, I respected Jim as not only a talented graphic designer, but also a design thinker. Jim was also very honest in his approach. I remember asking him a technical question in Illustrator—how to do something automatically with type—he told me straight out that he would do it manually. His respond was, “I am not fighting with the software.” It was such a great tip from him. I had learned not to fight with my tool, whether InDesign or a JavaScript framework, but just go with it.

I am so glad that I had met Jim in the graphic design program at Mason. Through our collaborations in both school and real-world projects, we proved that the web and print can be co-existed to create a consistent brand and experience across various medium.

Cynthia & Robert Barnhart: Let’s Read

Developed by linguist Leonard Bloomfield, Let’s Read is a systematic approach based on psychology and logic to teach basic reading. The lessons—I am using to teach my six-year-old son to read—has been refined and thoughtfully reconstructed by the authors (Cynthia and Robert Barnhart) to help building up the reading process. Unlike most children books with pictures, in which he immediately looked at the images first than tried to figured out the meaning of the words, Let’s Read forces him to focus on the text only. He has progressed well with the first eight lessons. The large text, which sets in the beautiful ITC Century, makes reading a pleasure.


This site gets a bit realigned. The Swiss design was a nice experiment. Unfortunately it was not working as smoothly as I had expected. Although I love Proxima Nova, its Vietnamese diacritical marks are simply not legible, particularly on the uppercase letters. Another major problem that needed to be addressed was the vertical wordmark. On really tall monitors, like the portrait screen my wife is using for her work, the wordmark gets really big, which ends up obscuring the content. In addition, readability is not optimal in the sans serif typeface; therefore, I wanted to go back to a more traditional reading experience.

I still keep Proxima Nova for the wordmark and the UI elements, but replaced the body copy with Adobe Text Pro, which is one of my favorite text faces that has Vietnamese support. In the work section, I want to go back to display full-screen SVG images. I added a new book section to promote my web-based books as well as printed books I have collected.

The goal for this realignment is to provide a clean, crisp design with the focus on readability. I hope this minimal version will live on for a while until I find new inspiration. I don’t think I can strip this design down any further.

Viết Chữ Việt Với Proxima Nova

Khuôn chữ bạn đang đọc là Proxima Nova. Nếu như chỉ chữ Latin không thì Proxima Nova rất đẹp nhưng khi có dấu vào thì không rỏ lắm vì những dấu quá nhỏ. Vấn đề thứ nhất là vì chữ Việt không được thiết kế ngay từ đầu mà chỉ được làm thêm sau khi khuôn chữ đã hoàn thành. Vấn đề thứ hai là người thiết kế Proxima Nova không hiểu rỏ về tiếng Việt của chúng ta.

Tuy đang dùng chữ này cho trang nhà của mình nhưng tôi thật sự không hài lòng lắm khi viết bằng chữ Việt. Cho nên tôi hy vọng bài luận án của tôi về Vietnamese Typography sẽ giúp đỡ những nhà thiết kế chữ hiểu rỏ hơn về chữ Việt của mình. Tôi rất vui khi viết về dự nghệ thuật chữ Việt lần trước có một nhà thiết kế Việt Nam đã học tập ở Pháp và hiện dang dạy về typography ở Việt Nam đã liên lạc với tôi và đã cho tôi thêm nhiều điều thú vị về chữ Việt của mình. Anh tên là Phạm Đam Ca và anh hiện thời đang trong hóa trình làm một bộ chữ tên Cadao.

Nếu như bạn là nhà thiết kế chữ và đã có làm hay đang làm chữ Việt xin liên lạc với tôi để chúng ta có thể trao đổi thêm.