Starting a conversation, Thuy Minh, one of the most experienced and prominent hosts in Vietnam, couldn’t help hiding her excitement, admitting that she felt “starstruck” when meeting this man. But, who is Chris Do?
There are a lot of things to say about or identify Chris Do. For those interested in design, he’s a household name who is all over the place: an Emmy-winning art director, founder of Blind, founder, and host of Futur, and a Personal Branding/Branding Coach (as stated on his Instagram account).
His YouTube channel, The Futur, has bagged 2.35 million subscribers (as of January 2024) and still counting. This is an online education platform loaded with content, courses, and tools, where he gets to help anyone build better design skills and better creative businesses for free.
On a more personal side, he’s a son who went against his dad’s will for him to settle down on a more stable future, a dad who believes in being not possessive of one’s own children and allowing them to follow whatever they want, and a Vietnamese-American person who used to have an identity crisis and now find his identity again.
The impression Chris Do leaves on me is that he is a very grounded, modest, and hard-working man. He’s not flashy or trying to talk big about himself; his gestures are not big, either. He is just trying to share wholeheartedly his stories. The way he talks sounds incredibly calm and soothing and yet still impactful as it’s filled with his unwavering passion for education.
What is the most daring thing you have ever tried?
The most daring thing was the beginning of my career when I went against what my dad wanted, which was something more serious than a career in design.
When I chose to pursue arts, my dad was not really happy as he was worried that I would end up being poor. He was a conservative man, and I understand that. However, I was fortunate that although my dad tried to talk me out of it, he never forced me to do what he wanted. Later on, I figured out that it was my mom who had stopped him from opposing me. She said to my dad, “You’re not allowed to say that to your son. You just let him do what he’s going to do.”
I didn’t try to do it on purpose, but whenever my dad tried to understand what I was doing, I quit and changed to other things. My dad was like, “What don’t you stay with that?” I think it took my parents 10 years to actually have an idea of what I am doing for a living. There’s a saying that children are brought into the world to torture their parents, and I think this is my case (smile).
Does your slower reading pace connect to your strong visual processing skills?
Yes, I know that I learn much better visually. When I listen to an audiobook, I can’t retain information much. I need to see the words. I have a hard time spelling words until I see them.
So, I figured out that when I’m reading, I’m processing information a bit differently than everybody else. When I read, I try to read at a speed that I can remember what I read so that I can teach it to other people.
Have you always known you are meant for this journey?
Not at all, but I’ve always known visuals are the way to go for me. I’ve known that since I was as old as I can remember. That’s what excited me. When I was 4 or 5, I remember sitting on my great uncle’s lap as he was showing me how to draw, and at the age of 7, one uncle gave me a pad of paper and some markers for my birthday. I can’t remember the other gifts but this one, I remember. I hold that memory.
So, when I talk to young people, especially those who change their career midlife, I always tell them that if they look back to when they were 5 or 7 years old and remember what gave them the most joy and made their heartbeat very fast, got them shaking in bed thinking that they could do it the next day, that’s what they are designed to do. Many of us forget about that; we bury it, and we ignore and suffer a lot because of that.
A lot of suffering comes from us not understanding what unique things we have and then trying to fit ourselves into someone’s definition of us.
Teaching things that no one has taught before must be very challenging.
Yes, the thing is, I’m teaching something that no one has taught me. After graduating, I entered a new field that didn’t exist yet, so I was experiencing and learning myself.
This is the story of how I learned how to do direct commercials and motion graphics. I was in a conference room, waiting for Kyle Cooper, who hired me to do the job. During an hour of waiting for him, I saw, along the wall, stacks of storyboards of different projects they were working on. By seeing enough of them, back to back to back, I figured out the game and what you were supposed to do in that one hour.
Now, I have to work with students for 14 weeks, 5 hours per week, and I’m thinking to myself: “Why can’t you guys figure it out? Why can’t you see what I see?” So the challenge is to break down what you saw, things that no one taught you, to explain that to another person. It’s a really big challenge.
I had done that for 10 years before I first made my first YouTube video. That’s the journey of putting in practice and starting to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Does it feel lonely sometimes when you were the only one who figured it out at the time?
I’ve never looked at it as being lonely. It can be frustrating, but the reward is pretty cool. There’s a great sense of accomplishment that I figured it out, and you feel that you can do anything.
What surprised you on this journey of doing YouTube?
A lot of things surprised me. One is that I can have a conversation with someone else in front of the camera without throwing up because I am a shy, socially awkward person who doesn’t like to go out at all.
My idea of a good time is to stay home, watch a TV show, read a book, and do some drawings. That’s why I shocked myself that I could do this and actually enjoy it.
So, when you pursue something in a spirit of adventure, you’ll never know where it’s going to lead or end. But the interesting thing is that there are more roads open up.
In 2014, we recorded our first YouTube video. It’s been 9 years, and now I’ve been asked to speak internationally, get here and talk to you, and have a lot of fans all over the world. It’s like a beautiful, strange novelty.
What do you see the future of The Futur?
The future of The Futur is that we’re going to change the game of education.
If you look at the education system, it hasn’t changed at all throughout its invention. It’s clear that our society, our community, and our understanding of the world have changed a lot, but not education.
I want to change all that, but I have to prove the model, where you have access to a high-quality education with the best teachers that exist and is equitable for the teachers and students.
For most teachers, when they stop teaching, they stop making money until they hit retirement. With our model, teaching means developing your intellectual property (IP). We pay teachers royalty every time somebody buys their IP forever.
There’s a saying: “Those who can’t do, teach.” What are your thoughts on it?
I find it insulting. When you ask, ‘Who did you learn from?’ all of us learn from teachers. So if you say that all the teachers you’ve had since you were old enough to go to school until now couldn’t make it in the real world, I think it’s an insult.
How does the Vietnamese part impact you?
When I was young, I once asked my mom whether she dreamt in Vietnamese or English. She said Vietnamese while I dreamt in English. So I wondered, what am I?
I have lived in a country where no one looks or sounds like us, and there is a lot of cultural divide, racism, prejudice, and stereotypes. So, for a long time, I’ve had to battle this. I didn’t have many friends either. Thinking back, I believe I did experience an identity crisis because I just wanted to be left alone.
When asked which superpower you wanted to have, others would say flying or being super strong. But I said my power would be to turn invisible. So, I had a lot of inner conflict with who I identified as.
The moment that came to clarity for me was during graduation in the Art Center. It’s an international student body: people from Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, etc., but not many Vietnamese people. When they graduated, I saw them wearing traditional clothing with pride, whereas I was thinking to myself, “I couldn’t picture myself wearing an áo dài. How could I do that without feeling embarrassed? This is something I’ve been trying to hide.” That moment struck me as I realized I was scared of not being accepted for who I am.
That’s been a difficult journey. It took a long way for me to come back and say I’m a Vietnamese person who happens to be in America. Then, I learned to embrace my culture and heritage and to reclaim my own power.
Watch the full episode here