I put together these samples to demonstrate Vietnamese typography. My goal is to help designers see how Vietnamese typographic elements work together as a whole even without knowing the language. The more I designed these samples, the more pleasure I got out of them. They have become my personal collection of Vietnamese culture and literature. I continue to create more samples when time permits. I hope you enjoy browsing them as much I enjoy crafting them.
Anh Cầm Fact’s Lì Quá Để Nói Quài is a pocket-size book filled with Vietnamese quips and wordplays. I enjoyed the prose so much that I had to create a sample page with my personal favorite quotes. The page is typeset in Bricolage Grotesque, by Mathieu Triay.
JAY-Z is a lyrical living legend. Underneath his flamboyant flows, he packed his rhymes with articulated alliterations, meticulous metaphors, and witty wordplays. When listening to his music, I always found something new and intriguing. For over a decade, I wanted to pore through his entire catalog to select rhymes that fascinated me. I kept it on the back-burner because I couldn’t find the time. Furthermore, I would have to sift through his misogynist materials as well as his extravagant lifestyles. I had no interest in either subject. The more I listened to his music, the more his words got into my head. Once I could get past his misogyny and wealth, I found his hustling mentality to change his life and his relentless audacity to change the world inspiring and motivating. In the last few weeks, I was determined to read through song by song, line by line, and word by word starting with Reasonable Doubt to 4:44 and his guest verses for other rappers. Beacon of HOV is my passion project in which I would like to shed a light on his rhymes that spoke to me. Furthermore, I would like to translate them into Vietnamese. I am not a translator; therefore, I use Google Translate to help me get started. Then I edited Google’s translations with my own understanding of his words. I enjoyed learning the art of translation. With my favorite JAY-Z rhymes and my Vietnamese translations, I needed a space to host them and the sample section for “Vietnamese Typography” fit the bill. I wanted the web page to be as simple as possible; therefore, I came up with a random system that would feature a different quote, set in a different font, and display a different background photo each time someone visited the page. For typography, I chose typefaces with condensed width so I could make the quotes bigger. I had a blast putting the page together. I invite you to refresh the page, read the quotes, and be inspired.
While reading Trúng Số Độc Đắc (Winning the Lottery), a classic novel by the great late Vũ Trọng Phụng, I encountered so many use of Vietnamese proverbs. One of my favorites is “Con giun xéo mãi cũng quằn” (Even a worm will turn). I collected them for my literary leisure and created a sample page. Typeset in Loes, designed by Dương Trần.
Reading Vietnamese children folk tales reminds me of my childhood in Việt Nam. My personal favorites included Lưu Bình-Dương Lễ and Sơn Tinh-Thủy Tinh. I was glad to see these stories translated into English. I created this sample page hoping my kids will read these folk tales to learn about their root. Typeset in Playpen Sans, designed by Laura Meseguer, Veronika Burian, and José Scaglione.
I have been obsessed with Phạm Duy’s music. The more I paid attention to his lyrics, the more I appreciated his gift for words. In addition to relistening to his songs, I wanted to take a deep dive into his lyrics. The result is a sample page featuring songs I have loved as well as songs I haven’t heard. I wanted to create a page I can read on my phone when I have a few minutes to spare. While I can visit various Vietnamese music websites to read Phạm Duy’s lyrics, I prefer an ad-free page with all the songs in one place. Furthermore, I want to have a pleasant reading experience. For the typesetting I combined Fern, designed by David Jonathan Ross, and Case, designed by Erik Spiekermann, Anja Meiners, and Ralph du Carrois. Since Phạm Duy had written over 1,000 songs, the selection for this sample is only my personal favorites. I left out political, controversial songs and epic compositions.
This sample contains ten selected poems from The Secret of Hoa Sen, written by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai and translated by Bruce Weigl and the author. For the title of this project, I chose “Là Việt” because Ms. Nguyễn speaks eloquently and proudly about being Vietnamese. “We have crossed the glorious cities / Paris of light or ancient London,” she writes, “Our souls still drift back to our harbor.” For typesetting, I selected Kaius, by Lisa Fischbach, for reading text, and AT Kyrios, by Stephen Nixon, for display text. If you like this sample, pick up a copy of The Secret of Hoa Sen for the full experience.
In his vast repertoire, Phạm Duy had written a handful of songs about feelings. “Tình Ca” expressed his love for the Vietnamese language and people. “Tình Hoài Hương” expressed his nostalgia for his homeland. “Tình Kỹ Nữ” expressed his feeling for a prostitute. “Tình Hờ,” my personal favorite, expressed his pity for a poor lover who had no idea that she had been deceived. He even confessed: “Khi tôi tìm đến em / Là tìm vui trong chốc lát / Đến một lúc rồi quên” (When I looked for you / I only sought for a quick pleasure / I came for a moment then I forgot). In this sample, I put together 15 songs with the “tình” theme. I typeset them in Aneto, designed by Veronika Burian, José Scaglione, Azza Alameddine & Roxane Gataud.
I discovered striking covers of Phạm Duy’s songbooks on Phạm Duy’s website. The illustrations are beautiful, but I am drawn into the custom typesetting with Vietnamese diacritics. I have to create a sample page to feature the covers. Of course, I have to add some text to the page as well. I selected Eric Henry’s “Phạm Duy and Modern Vietnamese History,” which was written in English with proper diacritical marks for Vietnamese words. For reading text, I chose Be Vietnam Pro, designed by Lâm Bảo, Tony Lê, and Nguyễn Việt Anh.
Back in 2002, Mr. Patrick X. Gallagher gifted me his handmade book, which consisted of his English lyrics to 50 Vietnamese popular songs. After discovering Mr. Gallagher’s passing in 2019, I wanted to pay a tiny tribute to him. In this sample, I selected 11 songs written by the renowned lyricist Dương Thụ with translations by Mr. Gallagher. The text is set in Warbler, designed by David Jonathan Ross.
The philosophy of Buddhism has always intrigued me. In this example, I put together “The Fourteen Teachings of the Buddha” and “The Ten Commandments of Mindfulness” in Vietnamese and English translations, by Tâm Lạc Trần Quý Anh. The text is set in Atlante, by Yorlmar Campos and Martín Sesto.
To comply with New York Times style, Vietnamese diacritic marks were removed in Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s “Read Your Way Through Hà Nội.” In this sample, I added back diacritical marks to make Vietnamese text accessible to Vietnamese readers. The sampled article is typeset in Kaius, designed by Lisa Fischbach, and Job Clarendon, designed by David Jonathan Ross and Bethany Heck, and Change, by Alessio Leonardi. I also enhanced Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s Hà Nội reading list with beautiful book covers.
Nguyễn Du’s Truyện Kiều is recognized as the masterpiece of Vietnamese 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. The Tale of Kiều, translated by Vương Thanh, also added for English readers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. For typesetting, I chose Cormorant, designed Christian Thalmann. I also used a nude painting, by Đinh Cường, to accompany the collection.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.