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Viral Marketing Disguised As Irrelevant Content

September 6, 2005 - Press Releases

Communication Arts/Design Interact Insights Column. Interview of Don Citarella

Don Citarella, a graphic and Web designer at ERA404 Creative Group, Inc. is among a handful of people in this industry who entered the field determinedly. A passion for identity design and branding was nurtured in college, by a couple of professors from Herman Miller’s design team who never settled for “good enough.”

What’s currently your favorite site/project?
Donnie Darko, The Movie.

What’s the subject/topic of it?
Online Promotion for the film Donnie Darko.

What’s so great about it?
From a marketing standpoint, it was a ground-breaking approach for stirring the hype of the first cult hit of the new millennium. Those who hadn’t seen the movie, or didn’t appreciate it, still visited the site. Those who loved the movie found a digital home parallel to its celluloid foundation. And Web designers, movie promoters, pop culture enthusiasts and Internet junkies alike found a tangent universe in the Web that hadn’t previously existed. This was the dawn of the “exploratory site,” a viral marketing campaign disguised as seemingly random sounds, images and animations.

What makes it technically compelling?
In nearly all sites, intuitive navigation is key to user satisfaction. A rare opposite, was concepted to be the Information Age’s equivalent to Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books of previous decades. Recent generations are stimulated by media that unfolds as they journey deeper. Video games incorporate hidden levels. Movies have twist endings. Role-playing and fantasy card games offer limitless scenarios. is fueled by this idea as the site itself, is a journey.

The Flash programming behind the site includes multiple levels of navigation and areas only available to users with passwords found in previous sections. There are illusions of multiple browser windows coupled with a seamless fusion of video, sound clips and still images and the developers created entirely separate sites to further convey the realism of the site.

I believe it spawned the likes of The Manchurian Candidate movie site. It’s certainly our inspiration for our, the exploratory site for Jonathan Safran Foer’sEverything is Illuminated.

How would you improve it? Or would you? is a rare instance where the designers thought of everything. I wouldn’t dream of touching it.

What’s your job and where do you work?
I’m a graphic and Web designer at ERA404 Creative Group, Inc.

If you have a degree in what field is it?
Bachelor of Science in Visual Communication.

How did you get involved in this industry?
I’d always been interested in identity design and branding (I grew up reading cereal boxes and spent hours in front of shelves at Blockbuster) and my folks really encouraged me to explore the field during college visits. From the first day of class, I fell in love with it.

What’s your biggest Web (design) turn-off?
Plagiarism. Paul Gauguin said, “Art is either a revolutionist or a plagiarist.” The same is true for design, and more specifically Web design. Unfortunately, a lot of designers take the easy way out.

Who, in this industry (or not), has been your biggest inspiration?
Hi-Res (the creative team behind has consistently raised the bar. Also, I was fortunate enough to have two professors from Herman Miller’s design team during school that never settled for good enough. Other than that, the usual: Paul Rand, David Carson and Paula Scher.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve bought online?
Plastic bags for recycling. It’s sad that every place in New York charges an arm-and-a-leg for you to do the right thing. I should also say that I met my girlfriend online, though she probably wouldn’t like to be considered a “purchase.” Just another example about how something as cold an impersonal as the Internet can bring us all together.

What do you do in your spare time?
Drink entirely too much coffee in the East Village while sketching. Get lost in the museums in the city. Travel. And take the occasional, regretted turn behind a karaoke machine in Brooklyn.

What music are you listening to right now?
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Bright Eyes, The Arcade Fire and I Am Kloot are getting a daily spins on my iTunes. I’ve also become a big fan of Jason Butler. His work makes a real driving playlist for design all-nighters and road trips.

What product/gadget can you not live without?
I wanted to be unique and name a something that few people use, but sadly it’s my cell phone. Although my George Foreman grill is a close second.

What’s your dream computer set-up?
I’m looking into getting one of those translucent screens that Tom Cruise used in Minority Report. If anyone notices them on the market in the next century, please drop me a line.

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