An interview with Girlfriend, NYC

Jun 27, 2011DesignDevelopment

For a long time I was very confused about who or what Girlfriend NYC were. All I had to go from was a very entertaining Tumblr blog and even more entertaining Twitter account, but I was unaware of what the agency were actually doing. It only became clear when I visited them in their New York office (at the time minimally furnished with a few desks, a bookshelf, and a Best Made Co. axe) that Eli and Naz have been supremely busy over the past two years, helping start-ups and other clients, creating beautiful and functional websites. — Daniel Howells

Tell us about Girlfriend: how did you two meet, and what made you decide to join forces and start a company?

Girlfriend is a design and technology studio based in New York City. We are two guys. Eli and Naz. Designer and developer. We met three years ago and we’ve been working together ever since. We’ve worked at other agencies. We’ve done freelance gigs. After about two years, we felt we’d seen enough success and failure at other companies. We needed to create a place of our own. We have very similar approaches to process, quality, and work ethic. We kill our “babies”. We push each other to learn and grow.

What is the story behind the name?

We started the company with an empty portfolio and few connections. As an agency without a portfolio, we knew we needed a solid name. So, we spent about a month looking. Names like “Jump Start Media” are easy for people to forget. We wanted something memorable, unexpected, and simple. Sexy? Sure. Armed with GoDaddy, a dictionary, and a sketchbook we drilled through hundreds of ideas until we landed on the un-parked domain. Girlfriend made sense for an agency. We’re dudes so we set the logo in Helvetica to offset the girly-ness. Helvetica feels very New York. It’s design-y. Clients always get a kick out of it. The name also acts as filter. Some people get it, some don’t. The name “has legs”. We should bake cookies.

Helvetica feels very New York. It’s design-y. Clients always get a kick out of it.

You’re clearly proud to be based in New York: how important is the city to you, and how does it influence your work?

We’re New Yorkers, born and raised. The city runs through our blood. New York is a fast and competitive place, so the speed and nature of the city keeps us in check. Survival of the fittest. As New York forces us to crank out quality work, it also inspires us. New York is a forefront of culture, and now it’s quickly becoming a forefront of technology. The tech scene is on fire.

Mumbai Boss:

Mumbai Boss: "Mumbai is Earth’s 2nd largest city. New York is 15th. When ex-NY Mag writer and current Mumbai Boss Editor-in-Chief Nayantara Kilachand proposed a re-imagining of Mumbai Boss, we knew it would have to reflect the food, art, culture, and news of a city with a greater population than some countries to readers everywhere. No matter how how big their city."

You are working with a lot of startups right now - how do they differ from regular projects with more established clients?

Instead of providing a really awesome frame for content, we’re now building experiences — new products and new services. We’re not used to that, but it feels right. It’s super different. It’s easier because we don’t have to make pitches, schedules, or presentations anymore. We don’t spend our time educating our clients. We’re working with companies that understand exactly what we do. They trust us. The work is very flexible, emotional, and fast. In turn, we are learning about new things, like VC funding. We’re learning about the implications, restrictions, they way it helps, the way it doesn’t. In the end, all we care about is the product. Either it’s great, or it sucks. And if it sucks, we love to go all out to make it awesome.

Red Square Agency:

Red Square Agency: "Red Square is one of the south's fastest growing ad agencies. When they asked us to rebrand their new online and offline presence, they had one request: “Make it awesome.” That was easy. With a brilliant staff, a powerful voice and the most Mardi Gras-ready office in the world, Red Square is for many things. This time those things were a fresh identity, a modern HTML5 web presence and lots of personality-driven merchandise."

You recently launched your own, stunning new website. Can you tell us a little about how you approached the design and development, and how you both reached an consensus on its look and feel?

It felt like we flipped a mirror on ourselves. The process forced us to ask a lot of questions. We had to define ourselves through the site. And we wanted it to be good. We wanted it to feel simple, professional, classic. We reduced our branding down to black, white, and Helvetica because we wanted the portfolio work to breathe. We went through several one-page versions until we settled on a two page design. It’s really simple, but it took a while to get right. We added a great little “light switch” on the top to flip between the two pages. One page talks. One page shows. We care a lot about our work. So yeah, it took about a year to get right.

The evolution of Girlfriend's new website

The evolution of Girlfriend's new website

What is your morning ritual?

We walk or take the bus, usually arriving at the office around 8 or 9. We grab iced coffee from Stumptown, or if it’s too busy, our local bodega. New York Times, Twitter, Reeder feeds, emails. The morning is a show and tell session of news bits from the last night and the crack of dawn. We joke around a lot.

The internet brings our individual skills together and allows us make cool stuff. It causes friction between our disciplines…

If the internet didn’t exist, what would you both be doing right now?

Naz: Auto repair shop. Eli: Architecture.

We’re lucky to be able to work together everyday — to combine two very different fields into one. The internet brings our individual skills together and allows us make cool stuff. It causes friction between our disciplines, and then it forces us answer the questions we come up with. 1+1=3.

You must know and work with a whole host of interesting creatives and tech agencies in New York and beyond - whose work do you love and look towards for inspiration?

That’s a difficult question! We’ve helped so many people through design and development. In the future, we’d like to make our own products, whether they be digital or physical. Our sources of inspiration are very different than what they were last year. That said, we dig 80/20, Code & Theory, Hugo & Marie, Svpply, Apple.

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