Amanda Kievet’s Saigon Diary

I met Amanda while working at Work Saigon, a coworking space for designers in District 3. For the few weeks that our paths crossed I’d see her sitting in front of her laptop and Wacom tablet editing layouts in Indesign. She was preparing for her first photography opening — an intimate evening at The Observatory where her photos would hang for the night and her limited run of 25 printed zines would be sold.

We did a video interview with Amanda to find out how she discovered her passion for graphic design.

How did you get into graphic design?

I’ve been in Vietnam for six months now and I’m leaving next week. I came here directly out of college and didn’t really know what I wanted to do… teaching English was my backup plan. And then I discovered a love of graphic design —  I can’t really tell you where it came from… I guess the people and the situation. I reached out to Rice Creative and learned a lot as an apprentice there and on my own.


You’ve been taking pictures and that culminated in your opening at The Observatory, tell us more about that.

I began my love for the visual arts with Photography. I always carry my Olympus Stylus Epic point and shoot camera. What I love about this thing is that you can shoot from the hip and it does everything for you. It’s my favourite camera to take traveling with me and It has been crucial to this project because a lot of my shots are spontaneous — shots of people who don’t know they are being photographed and that’s part of it. So I’ve been taking photos over the last six months and as a challenge to myself I wanted to put something out in print to work on my design skills — so this zine is what I’ve come up with. I got it printed on regular computer paper at the local copy shops.


Before compiling your photos in this curated work you were sharing them on the internet. What kind of sites did you use to share your work?

I rely largely on Tumblr. I do have my own website and I did keep a collection of my favorites on my website in a gallery, but as I was shooting I’d get a roll back from being developed and post a few online on Tumblr right away for my followers to keep up to date. I occasionally use Instagram but I use that more for my digital photos.


How do you go from physical to digital?

In Saigon it’s really easy. The world of 35mm analogue film is still semi-alive here. There are many shops where you can get cheap film and developing is cheap. I shoot the roll and drop it off, they develop and scan it for 60,000 VND ($3), and the scans aren’t bad. Back home I scan the prints myself using a flat-bed but here I get them on USB, do some light editing on my computer, and then upload them to my various channels.


Shooting on film you can’t preview your shots, you have a finite number of photos you can take before changing rolls — why do you like working like that?

“Even if the roll gets ruined I still remember shooting each frame. The shots become more precious.”

I love it, it’s two completely different things. I started with digital back when I used to do music blogging; it was nice for shows because you could take as many photos as you wanted. But after moving to film I started changing what I shot due to the limited number of exposures… and you have to keep in mind the iso of the film in your camera at that moment. I take that into account before taking any photos and I guess the basic answer to this question is: it makes you slow down a lot while shooting. I remember my experiences more in terms of photos I’ve shot on film, even if the roll gets ruined I still remember shooting each frame. The shots become more precious.


What was the number one thing you learned in putting together your exhibit and this zine?

I did a lot of research about good ratios to use; the golden ratio and Fibonacci sequences. I tried really hard to make it a geometrically sensible layout. I did a lot of research looking at magazines, seeing how they did their layouts. So the number one thing I learned was general rules in geometrically pleasing designs. The second thing would be Indesign; I had no previous experience with that.


How did The Observatory showing come about?

When I was doing music blogging one of my favorite things was putting on concerts. And I learned it’s actually really easy to reach out to people and they’ll generally help you to realize your ideas.

So I contacted the guys at Observatory — they were super open to helping me out. I basically shot them a facebook message, they asked me what day I wanted and I came in the day of the event to set it up. That’s what I love about Saigon, it’s a lot of young people doing a lot of cool things. You don’t have to be the worlds best traveling photographer to do shows here.


“Design is about providing creative solutions and picking up whatever tools are necessary along the way.”

I wanted to interview Amanda because I’m always impressed when someone creates their own opportunities. There are those out there who mistakenly think that a designer is someone who knows how to use Photoshop, or who think they need to go to school to learn Photoshop to become a designer. No. Design is about providing creative solutions and picking up whatever tools are necessary along the way to achieve the desired result.

There is a lot that other young designers can learn from Amanda’s story. Amanda is walking the path of continuous improvement that is important for any future professional. Her specific activities of maintaining a regular aesthetic practice (in Amanda’s case photography) and by setting goals (curate her own photo show, compile her best works into a zine) and by learning along the way (layout theory, Indesign) are a great approach.

Amanda plans to take graduate level classes in Typography, but I’m sure she’d be interested in talking with any design firm in NYC who would like to give her hands on training!

Links to Amanda’s Work

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