“I think I might be the voice of my generation,” says Hannah Horvath in the pilot episode of Girls. “Or at least the voice of a generation.” Whether you’ve loved or loathed the show’s five-series run, it’s impossible to deny the prescience of Lena Dunham’s line. Girls has become one of television’s stand-out productions of the past half-decade, its cast of characters offering the first accurate representation of generation Y on screen.
Unlike many of its contemporaries, Girls always starts with a bang, forgoing the drawn-out, cinematic title sequences favored by True Blood, True Detective, and plenty of other shows that don’t have the word “True” in the title. It uses the title card as a sting to articulate a punchline—usually the crescendo to a discussion riddled with angst and ennui. Its strength lies in its immediacy, and seamless integration into the flow of the episode, all of which is the responsibility of Howard Nourmand, of Los Angeles studio Grand Jeté.
“I didn’t know for certain how big the show was going to be, but I will say that in my gut I felt that it was a very special project,” says Nourmand. “After watching most of the first season in the editing suite, I remember telling my wife and friends how unprecedented and honest it was.”
That first impression led Nourmand to invest a whole lot of time in Girls, pitching for the opportunity to give the show its graphic identity. “We made an enormous presentation for the pitch,” he says. “This included a slew of color combinations, patterns, and textures. From a business standpoint we were reckless, because at the time Girls was a tiny show. They didn’t have a big budget, but my philosophy was that if we’re going pitch, we’re either going to make a statement or not even bother.
“I always genuinely want to create value for my clients and do good work that excites me, but sometimes the emotional context also has an effect on the outcome. When we were pitching on Girls I was up against a really exceptional title designer. We had mutual friends and I knew that my peers would know if I lost. Admittedly, some of the drive stemmed from my own insecurity and the feeling of missing a truly unique opportunity.”
Nourmand needn’t have worried—he got the gig. He got a whole bunch of others, too, and has since worked with Dunham and Girls producer Jenni Konner on the identities for I am Jenni Konner Productions, Lenny Letter, A Casual Romance, Suited, and It’s Me Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise. He’s also busy working on designs for a new collaborative imprint between Lenny Letter and Random House publishing. But Girls is still the star of the show, and as the sixth and final series prepared to launch, Nourmand and his team were brought in to produce something special.
“The main title design for Girls was inspired by the typography on the signs and buildings of architect Richard Neutra,” says Nourmand. “We used Neutraface as a base and then redrew and developed it further. Dialing in the details, we massaged the letterforms, shape, symmetry, weight, scale, proportions, color, spacing, and the patterns until it felt perfect in its context.
“For the series finale we needed to find a design solution that would showcase the entirety of the previous title designs in seven seconds. We also had to find a way to create a crescendo for the finale that would add some extra ‘oomph.’
“We did some tests and quickly realized that if we just plowed through all the cards we could run the risk of inducing seizures in the audience—seriously. The solution was that we needed to build a grid of all the designs and find a dynamic way to reveal the final lockup. In addition, we built out the existing cards and used a mix of different animation devices as a vehicle to transition between those various titles.”
If all this sounds like a lot of hard work for a sequence that only lasts seven seconds, it is. But Nourmand insists his creative process is “rarely elegant.” In addition he knows how much he owes to the stratospheric rise of the series. “Girls kept things very consistent and used our type design for the print, digital, and marketing campaigns. Because of that choice, the graphic got unprecedented exposure; it was on buildings, billboards, buses, T-shirts, coffee cups, nail files, coasters, and screens around the world. I do think the design is very strong and crisp, but the reality is that, because it is associated to a show that struck a chord, connected to a generation, and had a culture surrounding it, it became something else.”
That means Nourmand is going to miss seeing Dunham & co. onscreen—not to mention plastered on billboards and hoardings every morning as he drives to work.
“There is really nothing better than being a part of a project that you align with,” he says. “And if it blows up like Girls did, that’s a bonus.”