The First Bát Tràng Museum by national artist vũ thắng
The First Bát Tràng Museum by
national artist vũ thắng

The best way to learn is to learn from those who came before

M — N Associates

Nguyen Bao Anh Duy and Mai Ngoc Que Lan co-founded M – N Associates Studio in 2014. Their projects all left prominent marks, even receiving numerous international awards in the field of branding design. What are their secrets? “Every one of the designs we integrate into a brand has its own significance. They intimately connect one another, resonating with one another to create a whole that is a brand”. This spirit was carried on into the cultural project conducted alongside with a ceramic museum in Bat Trang, which took inspiration from the works of the late National Artist Vu Duc Thang, in honor of the traditional values as well as the creative legacy he has left behind.


Just before embarking on this project, the world of ceramics was still something alien to Duy and Lan. Their research has brought them both fresh knowledge, as well as a new sense of gratitude for the legacy of their predecessors.

Words: Vân Anh – Nhi Nguyễn

M — Lan and Duy — N
Co-founders of M — N Associates

How does your approach to a cultural project – especially one of significant cultural heritage like Bat Trang Pottery – differ from your past commercial works?

When doing any projects related to cultures, we have to be cautious and selective of what we could use, and we must approach the subject from multiple angles. We tried our best to be accurate, as in, retaining as much of the original materials of the culture as possible, without introducing any of our personal opinions or views. Specifically, with the Bảo tàng Nghệ thuật Hồn Đất Việt Bát Tràng project, we had to find a method to preserve the soul within Mr.Thang’s works; the design system is merely the framework, with which we use to better interact with the newer, younger demographics, for them to deeper understand the olden values. For instance, Mr.Thang once had his own logo, so we also designed a new logo, one based off of the spirit of the original.

What have the two of you learned, from this project in general, as well as the late National Artist Vu Duc Thang in particular?

We adopted the values that the generations of past artists have contributed to the creative field of Vietnam, by which we were deeply inspired.

The creative style of Mr.Thang was relatively contemporary – very innovative, but his creativity still took deep roots in ceramics making traditions. His techniques of embossing and glaze color shifting were unique to him and him alone. The hues of his ceramics were also very distinctive, which delicately shifted after the firing process so that every angle of a ceramic gives off a unique sensory experience. For that, as old as his potteries may be, their glazes remain modern nonetheless.

You only really need to hold the ceramic to see what kind of glazes that he used, each one of the embossed details could easily blow your mind away. He had two pots made for the 1000 years anniversary of Thang Long. At first, I thought the two of them had to be similarly adorned, or symmetrically designed, or aligned with each other. But against all expectations, the two pots were very intentionally two worlds apart. Another piece of his were the twelve planters, some were absolutely massive, others were more or less meager, in between were pots of varying sizes, and spanning on the surface of every one of them was a drawing of the nation, but each was drawn slightly differently, all required acute observations to be accurately discerned for none was alike. In short, all of them were one of a kind.

So it is said that you had dedicated much of your time in Bat Trang in order to formulate ideas for this project. How exactly would one even visualise a private ceramics museum?

It’s like walking into the living room of a ceramics collector. Every corner of the room could be seen with potteries, so many to a point that you wouldn’t have anywhere to rest your feet. Or like when you’re visiting the storage of a ceramics craftsman, where the art pieces are positioned all over the place, and you wouldn’t want to keep your eyes off the floor since you could be missing out on something. In other countries, artworks in a museum would be put on gorgeous displays with detailed descriptions, but in this kind of museums here in Vietnam, they’re just beautiful in a pure, unadulterated way. Since they are already brilliant by nature, the art pieces would shine regardless of where they are placed. Such a confine is where all the quintessence and intricacy of an artist resonate. Such is the physicality of the museum. In short, you could imagine it to be an artist’s personal collection, a composite of all of his magnum opuses. Some of them were created on a whim, yet they became one-of-a-kind masterpieces nevertheless.

Are the likes of private museums popular in Vietnam?

In actuality, Vietnam has an abundance of creative heritage, they simply aren’t widely popularized. We have gone to many museums around the world and we hope that Vietnam one day could have such private museums to house and preserve all of the artworks of our predecessors. We’re very happy to do this project since we were fortunate enough to be accompanied by Mr.Thang to continue building from what he had made.

As I have said, the creative process of Mr.Thang was very modern. He had made a canvas of ceramic and he had created the most distinctive of boots. Although we have been to countless museums, never have we witnessed a piece of their likes. […] In his time, life was nothing but difficult, not to mention the limits in creative resources, and yet, stars like Mr.Thang still shone through, in spite of all that hardship.

I believe, to best study innovation in creativity, it’s best to study from those who came before”

In your opinion, how could the creative works of past generations be better known by the masses?

The Bảo tàng Nghệ thuật Hồn Đất Việt Bát Tràng (Bát Tràng Museum) project was carried out in a neutral direction, just as any major museums of the world. We solely utilized two hues of black and white, so that the colourful ceramic art pieces would have their places to shine. This perhaps is THE way for the cultural heritages to reach the young and/or foreign demographics.


We have also designed a font of our own called “MN Vu Thang”. Scattered in every nook and cranny of the characters is the imagery of pottery, a lot like the museum. Back in the days, Mr.Thang had a habit of signing his name on the bottom of his works, so as a result, each of his art pieces have both the folk element and the uniqueness of an artist. For the face of the museum’s brand, we didn’t want to be extravagant. Instead, we chose to capture that “uniqueness”, and designed a font set that is both clever and suitable, but not overshadowing at the same time. The design system, as a whole, then became a stage for all the artworks to be coherently displayed, with information better visualised and all the breathing space for visitors to enjoy.

From the resources you collected over the course of the project, could it be said that the image of the craftsman deeply resonated within you?

Precisely. We appreciate the excellence of the Bat Trang pottery crafts as well as the uniqueness of the craftsman. The integrating of these elements into the design will help to preserve and convey them for a longer time and on a wider scale. In a way, this is also an opportunity for us to learn and inherit these precious values: It could be a way of the trade, or it could be a way of creative thinking that would bring many inspirations and was sure to never be outdated.

Mr.Thang was never a craftsman of ceramics in Bat Trang in origin. Before embarking on the ceramics creating career that spanned for 40 years, he graduated from Hanoi College of Industrial Fine Art in 1980, majoring in Graphic Designs. We always joked that he was one of the very first graphic designers that we all need to learn from. A craftsman can breathe life into a pot, and for that to happen, the craftsman must have a flexible and complex soul. We also commonly joked that he was quite the “whimsy” man, and a whimsy man he was indeed. In the old studio where he once worked lay not just the pieces that he “whimsically” completed, but also the ones that were just “whimsically” sprawling in the place. I believe when he was alive, he most definitely must not have wanted his museum to look old nor stiff, so over the course of the project, we tried our best to both honor his spirit and be innovative and interferential.


Thank you for sharing!

Ho Chi Minh City
Feature Grateful Heart
of Tạp chí Đẹp, issue 281, December 2023
English Translation: Tống Mạnh
Photo: Lê Lai & M — N Associates

M — N Associates is a creative design company specializing in branding, based in Saigon. They have  collaborated with many brands such as Guta, Gaieté, Leman, GHTK, Beck’s Ice, PetChoy, HiRaw, Malto, Labels… M-N Associate has won a series of design awards and is increasingly asserting its position in the creative community as the whole and in branding in Vietnam market in particular.


Trasform Asia Awards, Best Brand Evolution (Gold)
Trasform Asia Awards, Best Visual Identity FMCG Sector (Silver)
Trasform Asia Awards, Typography (Bronze)
Communication Arts Annual, Typography 13 (Winner)

Pentawards, Packaging (Silver)
Dieline Awards, Packaging (First Place)
Art Directors Club, Packaging (Bronze Cube)
3 x Type Director Club 68th (Winner)
2 x World Brand Design Awards 2021/22 (Silver)
Communication Arts Annual, Typography 13 (Winner)

Dieline Awards, Branding (First Place)
Graphis Annual, Branding (Gold)
Communication Arts Annual, Typography 11 (Winner)

A’ Design Awards, Graphic (Silver)
The One Show, Branding (Merit)
Art Directors Club, Typography (Bronze Cube)
Graphis Annual, Branding (Silver)
Graphis Annual, Typography (Silver)
Indigo Design Awards, Logo (Silver)
Indigo Design Awards, Branding (Silver)
International Design Awards, Rebranding (Silver)

International Design Awards, Collateral (Gold)
International Design Awards, Branding (Silver)
The One Show, Logo (Shortlist)

German Design Awards, Branding (Excellent)
German Design Awards, Packaging (Excellent)
Graphis, Branding (Gold)
2 x Graphis, Branding (Silver)

If you want to keep track on what’s happening here from time to time.

Xin hãy giữ liên lạc để nhận những thông tin mới nhất từ Bát Tràng Museum.