visualgui

Logo Updated

Incase you haven’t noticed, my logo has a bit update. The i’s are now dotted. The suggestion came from the type designer himself. David Jonathan Ross pointed out to me that he had created an alternative style for the i. When I implemented the i, the dot was a thin line. After looking at it, David made the dot thicker so that it is the same size as the upper part of the g. I did not see the correlation between the two. I love the new i’s. They are much more legible than the blocks I shamelessly created as part of the grid rather than the actual letter i’s. It is such an honor to have the type designer himself helped make the logo better. I appreciate his input.

Web Design Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

Designer Frank Chimero has written eloquently about the increasing complexity of web design. I appreciate his honesty. As someone who has been making websites for a living for 16 years, I share his sentiment. I feel his confusion and frustration, but I would like to offer a more optimistic view. Web design doesn’t have to be complicated.

In 2002, I landed my first full-time job as a web designer at Vassar College. At the time, I was transitioning from Flash to table-based web design. ActionScript overwhelmed me. Flash was no longer a fun animation tool for me. Table-based layout was a pain to code, but Dreamweaver came to rescue. I still remember slicing and dicing up Photoshop mockups with spacer GIFs all over the layout.

In 2003, I made another important transition from table-based to CSS layout after reading Jeffrey Zeldman’s indispensable Designing with Web Standards. Between 2003 to 2004, I spent most of my working hours retrofitting Vassar’s websites from table-based to table-less using floats. Like Frank, I did not quite understand clearfix either. My workaround was using Dan Cederholm’s “group” suggestion.

I came to web design without any design background; therefore, my approach has always been simple and clean—not only with the visual layout but also the markup. I was a proponent of separating structure and presentation. In the first decade of my professional career, I kept myself on top of the game by reading blogs, articles, and books. I made the transition from fixed layout to responsive web design with ease and excitement.

As I was getting older and starting a family, I began to fall behind. The web just kept on growing without me. I recalled listening to the ShopTalk show and had no clue what Dave Rupert and Chris Coyier were talking about. What the heck were Angular, Backbone, Dojo, and React? What were Broccoli, Gulp, and Beanstalk? I knew they weren’t talking about vegetables and drink. Eventually I just stopped listening altogether to save me from depression.

I had recognized that web design had become too complicated and overwhelming for me; therefore, I decided to refocus my energy on the parts that are important to me. I did not need to follow the latest trends. I was not into parallax scrolling. I did not want to use any frameworks. I wanted to create websites that focus on speed, legibility, readability, accessibility, and simplicity. My main tools are HTML and CSS. I use JavaScript only when I have to. Responsive navigation is an example that required JavaScript to work.

Typography matters a great deal to me and I understand that using web fonts could be complicated. As Frank rightly pointed out, Bram Stein has written an entire handbook on the subject. In my own book, I also pointed out various methods of delivering web fonts. To get started, however, I just need one line of markup:

<link href="https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Roboto" rel="stylesheet">

I knew that I would miss out the nuances of font-loading techniques, but I am OK with that. Frank pointed out that CSS Grid is daunting to learn and I agree. The complexity that CSS Grid can handle is mind-boggling, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. As demonstrated in my book, I could accomplish a solid grid layout with a few lines of CSS:

.grid-layout {
display: grid;
grid-template-columns: 2fr 1fr;
grid-gap: 1em;
}

Again, web design doesn’t have to be complicated. With HTML, CSS, and PHP includes, I can put together decent websites. I don’t need a CMS. Even WordPress has become too complicated for me over the years. I started using WordPress before WordPress launched. Remember B2? Back in the B2 and WordPress 1.0 days, creating a theme was a breeze. I just needed 2 files (index.php and style.css) and an optional image (screenshot.png) for the screenshot of the theme. Parts that needed to be dynamic, I just needed to hook up some PHP snippets. In fact, this blog is still built using this approach so that I know exactly the pieces of codes go into my theme.

Now, an official theme from WordPress, such as Twenty Seventeen and Twenty Sixteen, has about 100 files. These days, creating a theme from scratch for clients is such a huge investment. In the past, I used starter themes like Underscores for client, but even that had begun to get complicated. As a result, I stopped offering WordPress to clients.

I moved away from complication and get back to the simplicity of web design. I enjoy the web more that way. I am like the Jay Z of web design.

Dean is Dead

Although I don’t know Dean Allen on the personal level, I am shocked and saddened to learn that he had passed away. Om Malik has written a beautiful remembrance of a man who had profound influence in the web community back in the days.

For me, Dean taught me typography way before I even knew anything about type. I used to marvel the simple, minimal design of Textism. He was also a fine writer with impeccable prose and humor. “Annotated Maunifesto” is one of my favorite pieces he had written.

When I worked at Vassar college in early 2000s, one of my responsibilities was creating homepage banners. When I got stuck, I browsed Dean’s book cover designs for inspiration. I “stole” his simple use of imagery and typography.

Last week, I was thinking of him out of the blue. I tried to revisit his site, but it is no longer available. Today, I found out “Dean is no more.” Thank you and rest in peace.

The Logo

Visualgui now has an actual logo. What is the visual pun behind it? I wish I had one. The logo is made up of nine squares and letters set in Futura. I just like grid and want a simple mark. It has the potential to be visually striking with various colors, but it is just 9 black squares. I am just going to roll with it and not overthink about it too much.

I also featured David Ross’s Khooster, a December’s Font of the Month. I wanted to see how an uncial script is used for Vietnamese. I picked out one of my favorite lines from Trịnh Công Sơn’s lyrics: “Chìm dưới đất kia một người sống thiên thu.” It’s loosely translated as “Sunken underneath the ground is a person who lives forever.” This is how I want my epitaph to be written and set.

I also freshened up I Love Ngọc Lan a bit. The text face is Vollkorn, designed by Friedrich Althausen. Headings are set in Paytone One, designed by Vernon Adams. The homepage featured a video Ngọc Lan recorded in 1993. It’s a perfect fit for the winter holiday season.

Elsewhere, Huge is redesigned. It’s a striking design and I love the huge typeface. That’s all I got for now.

Blog, Book & Portfolio Updates

I made a few updates to this blog, my Vietnamese Typography book, and my portfolio.

For this blog, the body text is now set in Ten Oldstyle, a Robert Slimbach latest typeface. In addition to being a beautiful book face, Ten Oldstyle has impeccable diacritics for Vietnamese. I simply can’t pass up the opportunity to put this typeface to work. For a better reading experience on screens, I use medium weight instead of normal.

For Vietnamese Typography, I revised the page on “Type Recommendations.” When I published this book, there were only a handful of typefaces that support Vietnamese. At least eight of the typefaces I recommend, designed by Robert Slimbach. Now support for Vietnamese diacritics is growing, I want to add new typefaces to the list. To make room for other designers, I grouped all the typefaces from one designer. For instance, I chose Acumin as a Slimbach sans serif and I encourage readers to check out Myriad and Pelago.

For my portfolio, I added a thumbnail to each project instead of just listing the text to entice visitors a bit. That’s pretty much all I have for now.

Jazzing Up My Résumé

No, I am not looking for a new job. Scalia Law is still treating me very well. Nevertheless, I still want to keep my portfolio and résumé up-to-date. For my résumé, I updated the text face to Alegreya and its sans companion, designed by Juan Pablo del Peral. My name is set in Rakkas, designed by Zeynep Akay. I also changed the background color to give a paper-like feel. I hope you like the new change.

Antediluvian Web Designer

I am officially an antediluvian web designer. Lately I have not kept myself up to date with web design and development. In the past, I read articles, blog posts, and books on the topic. Nowadays, I can’t even get past 10 pages on a JavaScript book without getting bored out of my mind.

I still design and develop websites using HTML and CSS. I know nothing about JavaScript frameworks. I only use JavaScript when I have no other option. Because my nine-to-five job required server knowledge, I know a bit about Linux. I also know a bit PHP and MySQL to get by.

I have no interest in doing flashing animation and interact design on the web. The death of Flash has something to do with it, but it also come with aging. My focus is still on typography and straightforward user experience. My development process is to build from scratch rather than forking existing codes. As a result, doing a WordPress project is just a pain. It is easier if I build for myself because I know exactly what I need and what I don’t need. I can’t take someone’s theme and customize it to fit the client’s need.

I have not done a client project for a while now and I don’t think I will any time soon. Services like Squarespace and Wix have eaten freelancers’ lunch. Why would small mom and pop shops pay thousands of dollars for a designer like me to build a small website when they can do it through other services for eight bucks a month or for free on Facebook? Brand matters, but these small shops don’t really care about branding. They don’t even care about being uniqueness.

I am fortunate to have a good full-time job that pays the bills. The remaining time that I have I spend with my family. Web design for me is no longer a passion like it used to, but I am fine with it. At least, I can still make a living and work on my own designs.

An Ignorant Take on iPhone X

I went to the Apple store and spent about twenty minutes with the new iPhone X. It feels nice and looks good, but it is worth $1,000 or more for new features such as Face ID, Animoji, and camera? Not for me.

I don’t care about Face ID. In fact, I might not feel comfortable scanning it every time I want to access my phone. I don’t care about Animoji. It looks childish. The camera is impressive, but it is not worth the price for me.

The display is not all screen as Apple has claimed. That notch stands out like a sore thumb on landscape mode. It makes webpages with full-browser background color look jarring. I am not going to change our codes to accommodate Apple’s fuckup.

As far as the user experience, iOS 11 isn’t too exciting, if not boring; therefore, I am not regret switching to the Pixel 2. Google has come a long way with its Android design. I have using the Pixel 2 for two weeks and I am happy with it.

For me, it came down to the price. I paid $550 for the Pixel 2. iPhone X costs almost double. Even though I could afford it, it just seems to be a huge waste. So the iPhone X is not for me; therefore, I settled for the next best smartphone. If you can drop a grant for a smartphone then iPhone X is for you. What you are paying for is the brand not the practicality.

Switched to Google Pixel 2

After more than two months without a smartphone, I am now using Google Pixel 2. I have always been an Apple fanatic. Unfortunately the latest iPhones are way too expensive for me. The iPhone 8 is $700 and 8 Plus is $800. The iPhone X is over a grant. It’s not that I can’t effort it—since George Mason gives me a stipend each month for work related usage. I just can’t spend $700 to $1,000 for a phone.

The bigger disappointment for me, however, is Apple’s design. Apple’s user interface and user experience have not been too exciting. With each iOS update, the software sucks up so much battery. Google, on the other hand, has stepped up its design; therefore, I wanted to give it a shot.

The new Pixel 2 with 64GB Memory started out at $650 and Best Buy has a $100 discount. Google also threw in a Google Home Mini, which is $50, so I thought it was a good deal. In addition, I prefer small screen over big screen. $550 or $23 a month is still a lot, but I can live with that.

The switch was quite painless since I already have a Gmail account. With the contacts, I just export them to vCard and import them into my Google Contact. I only use a few apps so re-downloading them was not so bad. Podcast is the only thing that I missed from Apple. I am now using Play Music, but most podcasts, Fresh Air in particular, aren’t on Play Music yet. Google needs to catch up on this. Other than that, I am impressed with Google’s design. The screen is fantastic for reading. Typography is stunning.

The battery is also great. I only used like 25% for an entire day. To be fair, I tried to limit my phone usage as much as possible. Two months without a phone felt great even though at times I did wish I have it to call my mom or my wife. Luckily, I haven’t have any issue at work that required a phone. Our server has been performing well, but I do need to monitor it just in case.

For my limited usage, Pixel 2 does seem like a luxury, but what the heck. As for the Google Home Mini, the kids are having fun with it. They have been asking her all kind of questions. Đạo asked her how many books are there in the world and what is the biggest Lego ever built? She actually had an answer for each of them. He even asked her some mathematic questions and he figured that she could help him do his homework. I don’t think I would have bought Google Home Mini, but it is a nice complementary to the Pixel 2.

Unintended Consequence

In his engaging TED talk, Michael Bierut shares his passionate involvement with designing libraries that make kids want to read. He concludes:

The unintended consequence here, which I would like to take credit for and like to think I can think through the experience to that extent, but I can’t. I was just focused on a foot ahead of me, as far as I could reach with my own hands. Instead, way off in the distance was a librarian who was going to find the chain of consequences that we had set in motion, a source of inspiration so that she in this case could do her work really well. 40,000 kids a year are affected by these libraries. They’ve been happening for more than 10 years now, so those librarians have kind of turned on a generation of children to books and so it’s been a thrill to find out that sometimes unintended consequences are the best consequences.