Bachelor of Design (Multimedia Systems) alumnus and co-founder of M — N Associates Nguyen Bao Anh Duy (Duy — N) said he first fell in love with creating films, and then graphic design, UI/UX and branding while studying at RMIT University in Vietnam.
“Branding was not my first calling,” Duy shared.
“I was more into films and editing back then.
“As part of an assignment during my time at RMIT, I failed in creating a visual identity project that could deliver an organised and on-point system. I got too personal.
“Instead of beating myself up, the ‘failure’ actually pushed me to learn more about branding and how to help a client create a meaningful brand with powerful messages.”
Now, Duy and his partner M — Lan have successfully run M — N Associates, their own branding and creative design studio for more than five years, and have received many prestigious international awards in branding, packaging, printing and design system.
Notably, their recent work rebranding the popular local coffee kiosk chain Guta was awarded The One Show: Merit in Branding and the ADC Awards: Bronze Cube in Typefaces, and made it the best well-known street coffee chain in Southern Vietnam.
Duy reflected that it was a book he coincidentally borrowed from RMIT’s Library, The Small Studios, that encouraged him to forge his own path in creating a studio specialised in branding.
“I used to spend a lot of time in the library, exploring the rich and diverse collection of books,” Duy said.
“It fed my thirst for new knowledge.
“The book addressed the question of whether creative studios are able to survive at all in the contemporary graphic design world and within the Economies of Scale.”
The philosophies, working styles and daily routines of the small studios outlined in the book provided Duy with an idea of establishing a studio of his own after graduating from RMIT.
More than five years on, his design studio has not only survived but flourished.
In 2018, after publishing its portfolio globally, M — N Associates immediately drew the attention of the Italian oldest and largest design competition in multidisciplinary design — the A ‘Design Awards & Competitions.
“We won Platinum A’ Design Award for visual identity design for Mangata Patisserie Bakery and a Gold A’ Design Award for branding and packaging for the cold pressed juice drink JUS”, he reflected.
“Cold-pressed juice was a new business concept in Vietnam and the world at that time which made the prject both a challenging and exciting opportunity,” he said.
“We decided to create triangle-shaped bottles inspired by the pyramid pose in yoga for the package design and custom organic logotype.
“Together it created a balanced, minimal yet bold, efficient and iconic visual language which allowed the product to be the protagonist, and solved the startup budget issue on marketing and influencers.”
Duy believes the key to great design is creating sustainable design systems with ideas that cover the brand touchpoints, and maintaining the clearest and smartest brand story.
“Our work embraces a diverse range of creative solutions from a meaningful concept across brand and graphic systems, product and packaging, websites and digital experiences, architecture and interior direction, which aims at creating ‘a hero from zero’,” he said.
Duy said the team’s work on different projects such as Guta, JUS, labels: and Leman spoke best about their philosophy of creativity.
“Guta is a coffee chain with a deep connection to street coffee culture in Vietnam,” Duy said.
“Their business format is ‘responsive’ – they can easily adapt to any house or building or street vendor location in Vietnam.
“Rebranding Guta meant creating a utilitarian coffee brand.
“So instead of focusing on the coffee itself like usual, we created an identity system inspired by the unique Vietnamese street coffee culture where the coffee drinker and iconic plastic chair is the star.”
“JUS with the unique shape packaging accented its identity. labels: with the open colon symbol echoes their contemporary fashion philosophy of ‘vision within vision’. And the sophisticated yet elegant, sparkle and unique star-shaped logo represents Leman Jewelry’s haute couture design process for diamond pieces,” Duy went on and explained about the other brands that he worked on.
“So far, the brands we worked with have been in retail, services, F&B chain, hospitality, jewelry makeup, fashion, and education industry,” he said.
Duy and his partner are particularly passionate about supporting local Vietnamese brands.
“I keep asking myself why not work with local companies and help them have global impact. There are so many things to create here,” Duy said.
“Amazing ideas and fascinating brand stories to develop and profound brand experience to recreate always light up while I am doing research on culture, target customers and market’s behaviour to fulfill the challenging and inspiring questions brought by Vietnamese brands.”
He is now working on rebranding Ngọc Thẩm Jewelry, a local brand from Mekong Delta.
“It’s an engaging and exciting journey to rebrand their whole system completely yet still keep the cultural impact,” he said.
Duy hopes to inspire other students at RMIT to showcase design in Vietnam to the world.
“If you’re passionate about something, work hard, be brave and keep learning everyday,” Duy said.
“RMIT has equipped me with research and problem-solving skills which have been key to my success in running and developing my own design studio.”
18 May 2021
Author: Ha Hoang