Tuan Le
Copywriter, Creative Director, Entrepreneur, Podcast Host
The Lab & TLC



I lead a team of creatives in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We do graphic, spatial, communication, and experiential design for corporations, institutions, and entrepreneurs.

Below are selected projects, colored by personal and professional stories that informed the work. Unless otherwise noted, I served as Creative Director and Copywriter on all the projects; the design team varies.

For collab: tuan@thelabsaigon.com
Last updated June 13th, 2021.




A carefully curated photo!


Jan 2020


We’re all just a kid from somewhere. My somewhere is Da Nang, Vietnam and Los Angeles, California.

1994







Vietcetera Podcast

I mentored designers Tran Nguyen and Jay Vu at The Lab to conceptualize this identity system for Vietcetera’s new podcast series. In collaboration with ex-Lab creative technologist Nhan Phan, they designed a software that takes audio data and generates a spectrogram artwork.

Credits

2020






M.A.D. Podcast

I co-produce and host a podcast called Marketing, Art, Design on Vietcetera. It’s #1 in Marketing and top #50 in All Categories on Spotify Vietnam. Our guests have included awesome creatives like Phuong Vu (Antianti Art), Huynh Vinh Son, Ha Do (Dep), Mark Bain (Rice), and more. You can find it on all major podcast platforms. I’m still learning.

2021 —





Bakes Flagship

Pastries were meant to be shared over the kitchen table, not “savoured” over high tea. 

Our team did 2 months of research on go-to-market strategy, competitive research, and plotting delivery data (we started as an online patisserie brand in 2015) to find the ideal location.

The result is a simple, honest design system inside out, from packaging to interior architecture, to reflect the brand promise: good local ingredients, no nasty stuff, no snooty bullshit.

Credits

Sep 2020














Bakes Xmas 2020

We reimagined festive holiday patterns as packaging and a kinetic window installation.

One of the best examples of our multi-disciplinary team coming together for a project.

Credits

Dec 2020






Lab Papers


I get lost in the day-to-day. So when I get a chance, I collect my thoughts in short writings. It’s for me, but it’s also for you. I hope you find them useful.

Briefing Your Agency/Freelancer

5 Steps to Craft a Company Culture

Before You Build

A Practical Worksheet to Starting F&B Projects in Vietnam

Creative Talent Career Guide

2021 —











Lab Office

During the global pandemic, we signed a 10-year lease on a new office. Why? Company culture is so important to our experimental design and creative output that working remotely just didn't feel right. (It's worth noting though, that we did expand our remote designer roster.)

Our design approach in the new office is to promote casualness, collaboration, positivity and productivity with custom furniture fixtures by Lab and partners. (And over 40 species of plants!)

Credits

2020









Mooncakes 2020

For Bakes™, founded by my girlfriend in 2015 as an online pastry shop. In 2020, she launched the flagship store in the historic Turle Lake neighborhood.

I suggested my team to reference the lake in the design. Our creatives Tran and Sam proposed the moon in the lake idea.

Then I called up our senior designer-at-large Reo to illustrate the stories of each flavor.

Within days, five-star hotels like M Gallery and luxury brands like Gucci came calling. Update: Sold out.

Credits

2020










At 35 (today), I started learning Motion Graphics. It’s been on my list for a while, but I put it off for 2 years to focus on learning how to cook. Progress on @bluefintuan.

Oct 2020





Lab Reborn

Our studio’s open rebrand project, in which we invited almost everyone in the team and some outside collaborators to re-interpret our unofficial mascot: the (lab) rat.

Simple, considered stationaries contrast the eclectic rat iconography.

The strategy is to lean into our reputation for collaborations and experimentations, with a professional brand foundation from which to grow.

Credits

Mar 2020






Madame Kew

A cocktail lounge designed after a brand story the client crafted about a lady spy.

This project was an excercise in details beyond everything we’ve ever done. It was good practice to step out of our comfort zone.

I provided the occasional guidance and decided on different design recommendations.

Credits

Nov 2020





Before you build


Made this guide for my designer Jay when she wanted to open her own design studio. Maybe it'll help you too. (Very basic so experienced entrepreneurs can skip this.)





On creativity


I studied business. Then I went to art school for an Masters of Fine Arts, in Copywriting... then I dropped out.

I approach creativity with casualness, beauty, business and cultural impact, stories, humanity. 






Kasho Club

I don’t go clubbing, but I watch a lot of movies. This project was inspired by The Matrix and Tron. Thu, our designer, and I came up with the idea of a glitch in the machine. We reduced all spatial designs to a grid, then broke it.

Fun fact: the speaker system costs $150,000 and menu items go up to $10,000. That’s why I don’t go to clubs, but also why I invested in one after this project.

Full credits coming soon.

2020












In 2018, against the backdrop centuries-old sexual norms and decades-old HIV prevention propaganda, we created a communication campaign to erase stigma against people living with HIV and educate the public about effective treatment that prevents infections even through condomless sex.





I co-directed these two films with Anh Phi Cako: an unflinching look at the reality and romance of serodiscordant couples, in which one is HIV+ and the other isn’t.

World Press Award Winner, Maika Elan, captured the shots.

HIV + LOVE


A year later, we followed with another national campaign across print, billboards, photography, films, collaborations, events, social media (with big help from Facebook Creative Shop Singapore), web, handbooks, collaterals, public relations, government relations. 

Within a day of the launch, our strategist Ly showed me a stream of inbox messages from those who reached out to book testing appointments or just to talk to someone on the other side.

These new films were directed by Khanh Nguyen.

Credits

2019




I presented our HIV + LOVE campaign at Kansai University, Kyoto. My first time back to Japan in over a decade, when I studied abroad there.

Dec 2019





Suboi

Our friend Kiwi, Suboi’s manager, asked us to design the rapper’s logo. This dynamic logo was designed primarily by Nhat, an interior designer on our team. I guided the team’s efforts, particularly the 3d animation from Phong, referencing a game I was playing at the time—Monument Valley.

Early in The Lab’s career, I thought this represented what we do best: different people from different backgrounds come together to create work.

2015





My girlfriend and I quit our strategy and advertising jobs in Dubai to open WORK Saigon, a coworking cafe in Vietnam with $45,000, half of which came from family. You can download our hopelessly optimistic business plan here. The coworking space was a moderate success and led to bigger things, but we ceased operation in 2017.

2013







What if buying insurance was as pleasant as getting coffee?


Nest

My big break. One day, the CEO and CFO of a billion-dollar company (AIA Life Insurance) came to our coworking cafe, liked what they saw, and asked us to create a new urban community space to host events, workshops, private conversations (about finances.)

My girlfriend and I led the design. We created two in Saigon and one in Hanoi. We also own and operate the cafes inside.

Nest’s successes led to the creation of The Lab Saigon. Shortly after, then-CEO Steve Clark signed an exclusive design contract with us that was renewed for the next 5 years. When he became CEO of Prudential, a rival life insurance company, he tried to convince me to break the same contract he had previously made me sign.

Credits

2014 —










Rage Against the Paved Road

A rap video for a life insurance company. My favorite contributions: using the flailing inflatable arm man from Family Guy cartoons as a stand-in for back-up dancers, shooting on top of the tallest building in Southeast Asia, and recreating real troll comments from the band’s YouTube page in the set design. Also, I asked the stunt drivers to take off their shirts because thug life.

Directed by my frequent collaborator Khanh Nguyen, of Red Team.

2019








From Fair Wear to Love Affair

A experimental campaign to measure worker happiness at the factory of Dawn Denim with a series of installations.

#1 A candy voting machine, a mix between a panchiko and vending machine. Heavily inspired by Sagmeister’s Happy Show.

#2 A thread installation to vote on company values. My partner Sumanth and I worked on a different thread art installation with artist Pamela Campagna in 2011 that influenced this execution.

#3 An interactive social graph of worker connections. How many people got the chance to know each other, to collaborate? How many eat alone at work?

June 2018









My girls.





Label Concept Store

In 2017, I  became tired of snooty brands, pretentious artisanal products, and mass-produced knockoffs. I thought we can have fun with real designed goods and give my team a creative outlet. But the reality of running a concept store caught up to us and we lost about $50,000.

Credits

2017 - 2018






Saigon Has No Label Film

The creative energy of Saigon. Of all its influences. All that comes before. All that comes back. All that comes next.

This film is a collaborative effort from creatives who are pulling Saigon’s cultural fabric in different directions.

Directors: Robin & Anh Phi

Credits

2018





Decoded version. Every frame broken down with notes.

I wanted to show all the work that’s hidden behind each scene. Animated by the late Phong Chac.









My partner Sumanth (miss you buddy!) and I spent 3 nights in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, welding and hammering a structure made out of wrecked car parts into an “FYI” sculpture as part of a safe driving campaign.

2011






Homegrown-hiphop.zip

As part of a new venue design project, our team conducted strategic research into how hip hop in Vietnam has evolved and where it might go next. Here's our 94-page footnote in a never-ending story. (Click on thumbnail to expand and flip through a few pages.)

The narrative: Vietnam is dancing to its own beat, unencumbered by the historical burden of hip hop. What does that mean for our spatial designers? Don’t put graffiti on the wall, don’t mention the five elements of hip hop, don’t bling up the joint. None of that gangster rap stuff either.

Credits (and e-book link.)

2020















I spent 2 years in Dubai at TBWA RAAD. I met my future wife here. (That’s not my wife on the right; that’s Jakob Ström, director of award-winning “Dear Daddy” commercial.)

2011


Phuong Anh, Account Director, was the only person I convinced to stay when she thought about leaving. I believed that we can do great things together. She became my 2nd partner and has been building the company with me ever since. We earn the same salary.

2016 —






Windows

A social film I wrote and produced with friends and strangers in isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic. I sent out a message to some friends, who sent it out to others, to document their lives around windows, the gateway between their house and the bigger family out there, the Vietnamese family.

Credits

Apr 2020





Our team’s research trip to Yangon, Myanmar. This must be what Vietnam felt like in the late 90s: raw and rumbling with pent up energy and hope.

Nov 2019





On media


I’m way more excited when my (our) work is mentioned on cultural platforms than industry publications, because it means we’re reaching real people.

Monocle (twice)
Vice
New York Times Magazine
88 Rising
Esquire
Berlin Sustainable Fashion Week
Voice of Vietnam Radio

2014 —





AIA Head Office

3000m2 flex-plan office for one of the biggest life insurance companies in the world. We’ve been working with AIA since 2014, and helped to transform everything from their offices to their uniforms, to change how people perceive the life insurance industry.

Credits

2018





The importance of video games, films, books, and travel in design and creativity.


Very.

I invested a good chunk of my college years in the library borrowing and watching movies. I once had a movie date with a girl inside the library, an earphone each. (Hey Joey!)







Bunker Bed & Breakfast

Inspired by the real, irreverent neighborhood haunts in LA, where I grew up.

Our team designed the branding and interior. I owned the breakfast bar, my friend Mike Pham ran the beds.

A customer once tattooed our tagline on his arm. There was real love for this place. But we lost our head chefs and never recovered. This setback, along with the closure of Label Concept Store, drove me into mild depression and debt. I retreated to overworking. I lost friends and staff during this period but recovered financially and mentally.

2016 — 2019ish

Photos by Mike Pham, Thuy Truc, and Phong Chac





R.I.P. PHONG


I met Phong in 2014. He was one of my students and earliest staff. He went away for a while to nurse his mental health. In 2020, when he reached out for help, I brought him back into the Lab family, hoping that by being around positive people, he’ll remember how normal life could be. After 2 promising weeks, he showed up to work one day, turned on his computer, turned it off, went home, locked his room, and took his own life.

2020

What a shitty year.





UnAvailable Factory Office

Our 9000m2 factory office design for a global streetwear manufacturer of Palace, Saturdays, Stüssy, to namedrop a few.

The best thing about this project was the free merch! My whole team, including the accountants, is head-to-toe in hype gear.

My role was to consult the client on the initial concept, guide the team over the finish line, troubleshoot, and make final design recommendations. A lot of people, over many nights, worked on this and you can find their names in the link below.

Credits

2020





“Do your fucking homework!”


My first boss Daryl taught me almost everything (see my second boss below). Daryl inherited an intense and irreverent attitude towards creativity from his time at TBWAChiatDay that he passed on to a few of us who now owe him our careers. 

Oh, and he designs motorcycles. They’re displayed in galleries around the world.

2010





“Stay, I give you half my salary.”


My second boss Kumkum told me when I decided to leave Vietnam for Dubai.

2011

“You design like a student. You got no taste!”


I take it as a compliment. Truth is, nobody has taste next to Kumkum. See his art.

2019







ănăn

A new Vietnamese restaurant in one of Saigon's oldest wet markets. My creative direction is to re-imagine influences of the market, not reproduce it. To respect where we're from, but surprise you with where we're going. To position ănăn as the spiritual successor to the famous wet market that will inevitably be demolished to make way for high rises.

We parlayed some of our creative fee into a 7.5% share (but out of goodwill star chef-owner Peter Cuong Franklin offered us 12.5%). A year later, we exited for nearly double the investment.

Film directed by Robin & Anh Phi. (I’m especially fond of the line I wrote at the end.)

Credits

2017








On Vietnam vs The World


Vietnam is more than enough. You can have a great career here, do world-class work, and live a beautiful life. Take it from a guy who studied in San Francisco and Tokyo, and worked in Dubai. It’s very competitive, expensive, and most of the work is the same as everywhere else. Don’t be a starving student in New York, a struggling artist in Los Angeles, or a freelancer in London. It’s only sexy on social media.





I love cooking, especially gumbo, something I picked up on a boys’ trip to New Orleans. I make mine with shrimp (heads).

2018






Nambento

Our design scheme paired colorful flourishes to a simple canvas, like a toppings on a bowl of white rice, which is, of course, Nambento’s bread and butter, so to speak.

Shoutout to senior designers Reo (graphic) and Tomas (interior).

2018







One day, I called up my friend Felix Ng, Founder/Creative Director at award-winning Anonymous (Singapore) with a crazy idea to come to Vietnam and be our Guest Creative Director for 2 months.

It was one of the most thoughtful periods of my career. He inspired me to look at the creative business in ways I never imagined before, to think bigger than Instagram likes and Behance flags. That forces changing our industry landscape cannot be solved by studio routines. And which work is relevant and which is masturbation.

(He also produced some kick ass branding work during that time.)

2019







Our team stranded at Taipei Airport after a company trip, waiting out a snowstorm from nearby Japan.

2018





On staff


“You can have a great career without me. I’ll be fine without you. Relax, and focus on the work. We’re here to collaborate.”







Blank Lounge

On the 75th floor of Landmark 81, the tallest tower in Vietnam, you’re greeted by a massive lamp that started from my little sketch. This is part of the design for one of the highest lounges in Southeast Asia. My girlfriend and I are owners of the lounge, which is a hybrid financial service concept that we developed with AIA Life Insurance in 2014.

The design is inspired by a grain of rice. I thought it was a nice contrast between Vietnam’s humble beginnings and its sky high ambitions.

Credits

2019











Fruit Punch Exhibition

My team repurposed a failed branding project into an exhibition party. We took deformed, discarded fruits and made it beautiful. In keeping with the imperfect motif, each poster featured an intentional typo. The idea? To celebrate beauty in imperfections. And have pun in the process.

Credits

2019










Vietcetera


In 2016, my friends Guy and Minh Do approached me to launch an online content platform with magazine quality photography and writing. A few weeks later, I named it Vietcetera and led the branding.

In 2017, when it was clear we couldn’t take it forward, Hao Tran stepped in as CEO and grew it until today, while Minh and I left the team. I get involved time to time to design big initiatives for Vietcetera, including their first office in 2018 and a rebranding in 2019.

Credits

2016 —









“5 feet 7 // 9 millimeter away from robbing 7-11 // I give you a lift on the stairway to heaven.”


I designed a jacket with some colleagues. To promote it, I created a fake gangster rapper named DeoNicest to model it. I hired a real rapper to dub a tease track. Why didn’t I just use the real rapper to promote it? That would’ve been easier, wouldn’t it?

Photo by Nhan.

2019










I love organizing parties and pop-ups. Here are two memorable ones. Cloud Room, an electronic music event for Japan Foundation to promote cross-cultural understanding. My team used the artists’ music to inform the digital posters.

Credits

The other is Đom Đóm, a korean pojangmacha pop-up. We packed the house in 30 minutes.

2018






My 3rd partner, Nhung. As our Production Director, she hustles night and day (this is not an overstatement) to bring our designs to life. She also works with our contractors to craft interesting products and revenue streams.

If that wasn’t enough, she runs her own architectural firm and is starting a product design practice.

2020 —




On clients


I attach some sense of self-worth to my work. That’s why we don’t pitch, except that one time for Uniqlo (btw, totally fine if you do), why we walk away from projects when we have genuine creative differences with a client (see next project), when they’re abusive, or when we fail to deliver (we return their money). But also why we do our best to make our clients successful. I think our hit rate is about 85%.


















The Secretariat, Myanmar

Here, in 1947, Aung San Suu Kyi's father was assassinated. The decades-long military rule followed shortly after until recent democratic elections.

The Lab was beyond excited to contribute to the historic revival of a storied building with a mixed concept space for AIA Myanmar. If this weren't enough, we get to collab with talented creatives like 56th Studio.

The project started out great and we proposed a design that was approved: modules inspired by Myanmar’s iconic rattan balls, and the idea of weaving history, culture, and the future into the space.

However, we disagreed on furniture and fabric direction and the client moved further with construction without our involvement.

Full credits coming soon.

2020

(Last two images from AIA’s FB.)