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Toronto-based boutique agency specializing in web design and development, identity and print design.
Apr 14

Designing for Virality

This past Monday, April 6th, I had the great pleasure of attending meshU at the MaRS Collaboration Centre in downtown Toronto. For those who don’t know what meshU is, it is a one-day event of focused workshops on design, development and team management given by industry professionals. This was my first foray into web conferences and I will honestly say I had a great time there and I learned a lot, everything from building great branded experiences, to developing web applications for the iPhone! The one experience I want to discuss though, was the workshop on Designing for Virality given by Joshua Porter (

Creating a viral campaign or web application is the goal of many companies nowadays. It gains exposure to your product/service, it gets people talking, and it allows consumers an easy way to spread the word about your product. Essentially, if done correctly, after your initial launch of the campaign, the consumers will market your product for you! How great would that be? No more laborious marketing campaigns and no more thousands of dollars spent on advertising! It sounds easy, but there is a lot more to it.

In the workshop, Joshua talked about the 6 keys to designing a viral web application:

1. Simplicity

You’re viral campaign/web application must be very simple to understand and easy for the consumer to see the value in the service right away. Take YouTube as a perfect example. It is a web application where you (the consumer) can upload your own personal videos easily, or view other peoples videos easily. As soon as you reach the youtube website, you know instantly what it is about and what you can do with it. It is a simple concept that is viral and encourages users to explore further. Once explored further, users will eventually find something they like, and share it with their friends, thus creating a successful viral web application.

2. Unexpectedness

When YouTube came out, there was no public service like it. The thought of posting your own personal home videos online for all of the world to see was foreign to most of us, and downright ludicrous to others. Because of this, people became intrigued with the possibilities and began to use the service. What emerged from this curiosity was the most successful and most viewed video sharing sites on the internet.

3. Concreteness

If you’re campaign can have a lasting impression on your audience, it is definitely more likely to become successful. People will talk about it and continue to for years to come it has something your users can constantly benefit from. With YouTube, people can always go back and see new videos as thousands of videos are being added everyday.

4. Credibility

To create a successful viral campaign, we must make our campaign have a certain credibility, to avoid the skepticism people have regarding new things. YouTube gained credibility when the team of Saturday Night Live first posted their “Chronicles of Narnia” rap video for all of the viewers to see. At the time of this video being posted, YouTube was relatively small, but since this video was posted in 2005, YouTube has experienced tremendous growth. Since SNL was using it, YouTube had gained credibility, which in turn made users feel safe using their services.

5. Emotional

One of the most important keys to creating a viral campaign is to invoke an emotional response from the audience. If your campaign can make the audience laugh, cry, frightened it is more likely that they will share it with their friends, thus making it viral. Think of all of those viral videos around the internet that were somewhat sappy or boring until the very end when a loud scream would fill your speakers and a giant zombie face would fill your screen. They scared the crap out of everyone, and then they would send it to their friends so it would in turn scare them! It’s a perfect example of how getting an emotional response from the audience is such a crucial part of a viral campaign.

6. Stories

Lastly, you’re viral campaign must allow your audience to tell stories of their experiences with your campaign. This goes hand in hand with #5. If you’ve successfully created your viral campaign, following the above steps, your audience will tell their friends stories of their experience, causing their friends to be curious and look into what it is they are talking about, and so on and so forth.

Not every idea will go viral, in fact, very few will, but this list is a great one to follow in taking the right steps towards creating that next great viral campaign which will skyrocket your business and have everyone talking about it.