To demonstrate Vietnamese typography, I put together some sample projects ranging from poetry to recipe and art direction to information finding. The goal is to help designers see how typographic elements work together as a whole even without knowing the language.
Bụi đời (Dust Child)
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s second novel, Dust Child, is sprinkled with Vietnamese proverbs. As with her debut novel, I enjoyed Ms. Nguyễn English translation of the proverbs; therefore, I marked them down as I read through the book. For this sample page, I wanted to use sticky notes to highlight the proverbs. To complement the sticky note concept, I set the proverbs in marker-style Shantell Sans, designed by Shantell Martin, Stephen Nixon, and Anya Danilova. The header and footer are set in Aneto, designed by Veronika Burian, José Scaglione, Azza Alameddine, and Roxane Gataud.
Donny Trương Presents Việtjazz
I enjoy listening to Vietnamese music and jazz; therefore, I have been curating a list of Vietnamese ballads that had been arrange with jazz flavors. Over the years, I have collected over 130 songs. For this sample, I picked out my 10 favorite Vietnamese jazz pieces. Each song gets a typographic treatment. I also paired each song with a painting from the late great Đinh Cường.
Cây cối quê hương (Homeland Trees)
This poetry sample is drawn from a collection of ten poems selected among the best in the treasury of Vietnamese literature for children. These beautiful, innocent, and poetic words will light up the young readers’ souls, bring them closer to nature, and help with their language development in Vietnamese and English. For typesetting, I combined Lang, designed by Stephen Nixon, and Gimlet Sans, designed by David Jonathan Ross. I also added imagery to enhance the visual presentation.
Hoàng Thùy Linh
This sample is inspired by Hoàng Thùy Linh’s fusion albums: Hoàng (2019) and Link (2022). Both albums showcase her talent for weaving Vietnamese traditional folk melody into contemporary pop production. In addition to the bouncy beats and the hypnotic hooks, the whimsical wordplays make these songs so damn addictive. For this piece, I selected my favorite lines from each track and put them together in one long running text, which set in Canicule Display, designed by Kostas Bartsokas. This sample ended up more of a typographical exploration than a readable presentation.
Nguyễn Du’s Truyện Kiều (The Tale of Kiều) is recognized as the masterpiece of national literature. Structured in lục-bát (six-eight) couplets, Truyện Kiều, which consists of 3,254 lines, is not only a literary Bible but also a national epic that has inspired political debate, social critique, and revolutionary spirit. To preserve this national treasure, I set the poetic tale in Portada, designed by Veronika Burian and José Scaglione. The title is set in Water Brush, designed by Robert Leuschke.
Vietnamese Scout Songbook
My kids joined Liên Đoàn Hùng Vương, a Vietnamese Scout Pack in Northern Virginia, a few years ago. During their weekly activities, they often sang Vietnamese Scout songs from a small booklet. The kids and adults often lost these booklets; therefore, I would like to create a digital version they can access on their digital devices. For friendly reading, I chose Bree, designed by Veronika Burian and José Scaglione.
An index of Vietnamese idiomatic expressions with English translations sampled from Vietnamese Stories for Language Learners compiled by Trí C. Trần and Trâm Lê. The list is fun and informative for anyone who is interested in learning Vietnamese. For typesetting, I combined Forma DJR and Warbler Text, both designed by David Jonathan Ross.
The Art of Poetry Translation
In his book of poetry collection, Spring Rain, Tâm Minh translated 50 classic works from poets including William Henry Davies, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Christina Rossetti, and Thomas Hardy. I sampled a few pieces that dealt with life and death. For typesetting, I chose Loretta, designed by Abel Martins and Joana Correia, for text, Mea Culpa, designed by Robert Leuschke, for titles, and Albula Pro, designed by Silvio Meier, for authors.
Phạm Duy was a renowned Vietnamese songwriter who had written many forms of music including tục ca (obscene ballads). These ten songs, which take on hypocritical attitudes and phony virtues, are so vulgar that no Vietnamese singer would dare to record them. Phạm Duy had to sing them himself. This sample is a tribute to this rare collection among his prolific works. I chose Viaoda Libre, designed by Nguyễn Giang Trà, and Xanh Mono, designed by Bảo Lâm and Đào Duy. I also used a nude painting, by Đinh Cường, to accompany the collection.
Sám báo hiếu
Sám báo hiếu is a collection of the ten sutras for filial piety. I chose Texturina, designed by Guillermo Torres, to set the words of the Buddha teaching us about our duty of respect and obedience for our parents. Texturina has the rich quality of Blackletter, which used to set religious texts centuries ago, but also maintains readability.
While reading Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s beautiful, poignant The Mountain Sings, I highlighted all the tục ngữ (Vietnamese proverbs) she had incorporated throughout the novel. I love her straightforward translations of these proverbs. For this project, I pulled out all the proverbs from the book and set them in Every, designed by Anita Jürgeleit. I wanted to show the contrast between macro and micro sizes.
Phú Quang is one of the beloved Vietnamese songwriters. His romantic ballads are melodic and lyrical. His songs about Hà Nội are nostalgic and poetic. I put together a collection of his lyrics to showcase Vietnamese typography, which set in Harriet, designed by Jackson Showalter-Cavanaugh.
Hồ Xuân Hương
Hồ Xuân Hương, the queen of Nôm poetry, was infamous for her double entendres with hidden sexual humors in her works. I put together a collection of her poems to illustrate literary typography in Vietnamese. The text is set in Fragen, designed by Lucas Descroix.
Rhymastic is a young Vietnamese rapper with virtuosic flows and lyrical skills. He piqued my interested in Vietnamese hip-hop. I put together this page to showcase his storytelling as well as to provide a sample of editorial design. The text is set in Frequenz and the heading is set in Sequenz, both typefaces designed by Sebastian Losch. Although Maelstrom Sans, designed by Kris Sowersby, does not support Vietnamese, I included it to spice up the design.
A Useful Guide for Diacritics
In Vietnamese writing, the hook above and the tilde are often misspelled because they often sound the same in speech, especially for the South Vietnamese. In most cases, I have to consult a dictionary to make sure I get the right mark for the word I intended to communicate. When I came across this guide, which helps to differentiate between the two, I wanted to include in this section. It might be useful for type designers to copy and paste the text to see how their Vietnamese characters look and feel. The text is set in Exchange, designed by Tobias Frere-Jones, and the headings are set in Halyard, designed by Joshua Darden.
Trịnh Công Sơn
As huge fan of Trịnh Công Sơn’s music, I have always wanted to collect all of his songs and to showcase his philosophical quotes on love, life, and death. I went through 244 songs, picked out 158 I love, and put them together on one page. Taking advantage of variable font technology, Roslindale, designed by David Jonathan Ross, is set in text, titles, and highlights from one font file.
A Legend of Ancient Vietnam
The birth of the Vietnamese people is a fascinating mystical legend. According to the mythical story, the first 100 children of Vietnam were the sons of the Dragon King Lạc Long Quân and the Fairy Princess Âu Cơ. Despite their love, the couple had their differences. As a result, Lạc Long Quân took 50 of their sons to the water and Âu Cơ took the other 50 to the land. Even today Vietnamese people are proud to refer to themselves as the descendants of the dragon and the fairy (con rồng cháu tiên). To demonstrate readability in Vietnamese literary, I set the text in Pliego, designed by Juanjo López.
Unlike Vietnamese food, good Vietnamese typography on restaurant menus is hard to find. In this sample, I combined Skolar and Skolar Sans, designed by David Březina, to create a simple, elegant Vietnamese-English menu with striking photography will make you drool.
Poetry is essential to Vietnamese culture. The people (from academia to illiterate) are poetic by nature. To demonstrate Vietnamese typesetting in the literary context, allow me to introduce Cao Nguyên’s Thơ Mưa, a web-based poetry book I had designed. The typefaces are Alegreya and Alegreya Sans, designed by Juan Pablo del Peral.
Food plays an important role in the Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese people love to cook. To show off Vietnamese typesetting with Vietnamese food, I designed a recipe for one of my favorite Vietnamese soups: canh chua cá lóc (sour soup with snakehead fish). Typeset in Schotis, designed by Juanjo López, and Amica Pro, designed by Dave Rowland.