Over the past year, Mixel has risen to dominate Vinh's pack of side projects. Most notable among them is his design blog, Subtraction,
where he cheers or criticizes emerging digital ventures, muses on loftier aesthetic ideals, or posts pictures of his 2 year-old daughter, Thuy. She, like Mister President,
has her own web presence; Vinh seems like someone who maintains a ghastly number of Tumblrs.
He sat on a park bench, looking out at dogs playing on the grass.
Mister President was parked beside him. It had been a long week for the designer. Mixel appeared on the App Store to an encouraging amount of buzz. Vinh tried to explain how he tends to his artistic temperament. "My side projects have always been about design first and foremost. And trying to intellectualize design in some way, trying to bring my design
perspective forward--" Mister President snoutily interrupted him. "He's bored," Vinh said, as he removed the leash. "Okay. Don't make a mess." The dog ran off to join the local dog circuit. He sniffed, he played. Dogs chased each other. Vinh watched.
Mixel is his latest attempt to bring his approach to art to the masses. The app is built for copying and riffing rather than
originality, so that "every image in Mixel sort of has a social life of
its own," Vinh explained. "A picture of a dog gets
picked up, reused, socializes with other images. So you can
follow that around
and see how these ideas moved. We
think that's really powerful, and it sort of teaches you a lot about
and art, sort of following things around."
All the world's a collage,
dogs or faces or trees appropriated over and over again, in spliced
renditions that can be redesigned and redistributed endlessly.
If, as Khoi says, the hardest thing about collage is not having enough
work with, Mixel offers unlimited scraps to satisfy those able
to pluck just the right ones from the pile. But Vinh isn't concerned
with that level of
"It used to be that when you would sit in a classroom or at home
with your friends drawing or cutting up magazines, the
context was very
encouraging. Like, 'That's fun, keep doing that,'" he said. But the rigors of adulthood take all that away. "Society basically tells everybody else you should stop
yourself." Only the perfectionists survive.
Vinh's design tendencies are undeniably sharp. He has a crisp aesthetic that favors a clean blueprint to let playfulness stand out against simplicity. When
he was an undergraduate at the Otis College of Art and Design, a small art school in California, Vinh thought he wanted to study drawing and painting.
But then, "I realized that all the problems I was interested in were really design problems. And the computer was really the gateway to design. " He taught himself how to code on nights and weekends, but even now, he says, "I wouldn't even
flatter myself by calling myself a bad developer." After working at agencies before, through, and after the Internet boom, he started at the Times in early 2006.