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Interview with Duy Nguyễn

Duy — N (Duy Nguyen) is the founding creative director of M — N Associates, a Vietnamese branding & creative design studio. He aims to create profound meaningful design solutions and story-telling concepts tailored for ambitious companies, from commercial to cultural, from startups to corporations. Through brand strategy, identity development, product design and environmental innovation, Duy challenges himself to help clients shape what is next for them.

Duy's work has received accolades by many leading organizations and international awards such as The One Show, Art Director Club, Communication Arts Awards, A’ Design Awards, Graphis, IDA, Indigo Awards, German Design Awards, Behance Gallery, AIGA and has been featured in leading creative publications such as Brand New, Communication Arts, IdN, Identity Designed, Dieline, Counter-Print, Images Publishings, Sandu Publishings, and local news like Vietcetera, Advertising Vietnam, Brands Vietnam and RGB.

© M — N Associates

Your work stands out for bringing high-quality branding and packaging projects to products in the Vietnamese market. What are the benefits and limitations of bringing a global appeal to local brands?

We’re lucky to be in the immersion movement of globalization in Vietnam. With extremely high demanding clients and their customers always on the look for what’s new, we’re facing a great challenge and also a great opportunity to create a new appearance for local brands. And the math to be solved here is to create a visual system that has global sensibility while still keeping a local soul.

With a dozen awards from international design awards, your branding & packaging work has brought the Vietnamese company Pet Choy among the most renowned articles in the sector. How is this international success experienced by your local customers. And how important is it for you to continue working for local brands?

The international exposure did bring me some credits on our creative process and design method. Mostly, it helped us to define within our team the right process and how to share the creative concept in a different way than our traditional method for local clients. It makes good design to be more influential and efficient. Although the Vietnam market is still very young in terms of understanding good quality design, it’s updating very quickly, which is a benefit for us when trying to create new things. Therefore, we keep pushing forward with the right purpose for every client we work with.

© M — N Associates

Your connection to real life works in a two-to-one way, not only in bringing a brand physically into people's lives, but also drawing on the physical everyday life of the local community to make the brand recognizable. This is the case of your project for Guta Cafe in Saigon: using the characteristic shape of the stools offered to customers to consume coffee in the street, you developed a visual system focused on the distinctive shape of the A. What is the process that guides you in such typographic branding projects?

The idea comes from my childhood memories, of when I was following my father hanging out around Saigon for a coffee. As a child, the first thing I remember about walking in the coffee area is about finding the chair to sit on, not about the coffee or the environment. And sometimes, you had to change several chairs to find the right one for sitting nicely. When Guta came for a rebrand, I knew exactly that the idea of bringing the plastic chair to their coffee model would fit perfectly. At the time, custom typefaces or even just good typography branding was rare. Customers preferred having a pictogram as a logo.

We made a bold choice to define Guta as completely authentic, relevant and attached to everyone’s daily lifestyle — a very different approach from common coffee brands, which are all about the product and the quality of their coffee beans. We proposed to Guta a brand where all the elements, from typography to art direction, are all about the people sitting around the outdoor environment and enjoying the conversation.

In your projects the expressive power of the typeface becomes the protagonist of the entire branding project. You can see it in the wagging shapes of Pet Choy, in the fluttering lightness of Gaieté or in the sparkle that illuminates the logo of Leman jewels. How do you choose fonts for your designs?

I love typefaces, and love to design and draw things with type. A typeface can represent a language, a characteristic, an individual being for me. I treat every brand I’ve been working with as a person, with a certain look and qualities: and I know I have to use the typeface as the face of that person. And each detail I try to manipulate and customize will become elements of recognition. Therefore, defining a brand's characteristics and its target is crucial before a project starts.

"It’s hard to guess what’s next, but the sure thing is AI will take over some heavy parts of the creative process..."

At a time when we are witnessing the increasingly massive introduction of artificial intelligence in the world of visuals and communication, how do you see the future of graphic design?

It’s hard to guess what’s next, but the sure thing is AI will take over some heavy parts of the creative process such as serial visualization and intelligent automation. And whatever comes next, it will shift our way of working, thinking and creating. But I believe that in the end, just like automation in manufacturing, it will boom our industry into a new era.

© M — N Associates

This interview is part of the Type Trends 2023 Lookbook / Vol 5: The counterspaces – Typography in the Age of Black Swans

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The Lookbook is also available on Amazon as a printed version in black and white. A useful tool to inspire your design days, to consult in your free time or simply to make a gift.

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