Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kim Van Nguyen. Styling: Kei Vinuya. Photography: Perry Sanesanong.
The Hyphen Lowdown is a bi-monthly Q&A series profiling the influential and interesting, from actors, musicians, to politicians -- maybe even someone in your neighborhood! This week, Rachel Filipinas chats with Bay Area graphic designer Jennifer Kim Van Nguyen.
Jennifer Kim Van Nguyen has an Aesop Rock quote on her website that reads, “You can dream a little dream or you can live a little dream. I'd rather live it ‘cause dreamers always chase but never get it.”
The Bay Area-based graphic designer is certainly living up to that quote. In addition to her full-time job as a designer at Simpson Strong-Tie, Nguyen keeps herself actively involved in philanthropic causes outside of the office. As the Chief Marketing Officer for Philanthro Productions, she’s helped raise money to benefit partner nonprofits such as Jill’s Legacy and the Make a Wish Foundation. She’s even tied the two together – after a consultation with her employers at Simpson Strong-Tie, they donated $25,000 toward the Japan Relief and Recover Fund through Direct Relief International. Here, we talk to Nguyen -- who is also a designer at Hyphen -- about why it’s important to be active in the community.
What is Philanthro, and what do you do there? Why did you decide to join?
Philanthro is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that engages young professionals in philanthropy. We connect young professionals with charitable causes through volunteer, social and leadership activities. Currently, I am the Chief Marketing Officer for Philanthro’s San Francisco chapter, managing a team who handles all parts of marketing. How I came into this organization was a funny story. A friend of mine, Jason Lee, told me a little about the organization he was involved in back in 2009 and asked for help in designing marketing materials for a Philanthro SF event. I accepted and designed. Gradually, I found myself being way more involved with the organization than I first anticipated, but it was okay -- the more I worked with the SF chapter, the more I was exposed to all the good they were doing for the community. Needless to say, I ended up becoming a member and grew from working on a few graphic design projects to now being the CMO of the Bay Area chapter. I guess you can say I was “tricked” into joining Philanthro, but it was a beautiful accident that I’m thankful to have happened to me.
Having volunteered for so many different organizations, what has been your most rewarding experience so far?
Actually meeting the people we are helping. Before joining Philanthro, I attended several nonprofit events where, yes, we were supporting them, but it was just by throwing money at them without really knowing where it’s going or on occasion who it’s for. With Philanthro, there were many opportunities in which I was able to meet the people we were supporting. It was a lot more personal to meet them face-to-face and know that not only are we raising money for them, but that we are also educating others who may have never heard their story.
What's the toughest part of being a designer, and how do you keep yourself inspired?
My mom still doesn’t understand what I do. She still thinks I make “pretty things” for a living.Design can be tough when people don’t fully comprehend the scope of what we do. It’s not just about “making the pretty things,” but it’s also problem-solving visually by formulating a concept that works with the subject, going through the creative process and executing/applying the design. Sometimes you can end up sitting for hours with a creative block and other times if you’re lucky, you are instantly inspired running with your concept and ideas. Design is all about the process. It’s about the journey first and the destination after. I keep myself inspired by surrounding myself with things that moves me.
What is one thing you know now about "the real world" or your career that you wish you had known in college?
Money is only paper. Experience is value.
When and how did you get involved with Hyphen?
I got involved with Hyphen through Ben Ng, who was the publisher for Hyphen at the time. I met him through a mutual friend at an issue release event at 111 Minna in 2007 where he told me a little bit about the magazine and their mission. I recently graduated from UC Davis and was looking for opportunities to get more involved with the community around me after moving back to the Bay Area, so immediately I was intrigued since a lot of the issues and stories Hyphen covers goes in line with what I'm passionate about. The idea of being part of a network of passionate and creative young professionals empowering the Asian American community excited me. Soon after, I sent in an email and the rest was history!
You've also been involved with other Asian American organizations in the past -- what makes it important for you to stay involved in the community?
I believe that in order to fully understand and know oneself, we must be holistic in every part of our life from our past, present and future. And often I find that it’s easy to recognize the now and the next, but when it comes to our past we tend to not fully grasp where we came from or even care about our history. How do you grow when you don’t really know who you are? You have to be true to yourself. For me, one aspect is by getting to know my Asian American community -- the history of our struggles, tribulations, progress and advancement. You shouldn’t run away your history and where you came from, but rather embrace it. Know yourself holistically because no matter where you run, you’ll always end up running into yourself.
Describe yourself in three words.
Let’s Four Loko.