A social media genius online and a deadly serious creative behind closed doors, we find out what it means to be viral for a living
Arguably one of the best accounts on Instagram and someone always looking to create the unexpected, Pablo Rochat is changing how we consume content by showing how simple it can be to sprinkle fun and entertainment into our digital lives. A prankster with a knack for social media originality, Pablo started his own studio to have real authorship over his work and express himself creatively. From his early days working at Tinder to unlocking the possibilities of the 'Tap and Hold' feature, we find out how award-winning Pablo became one of San Francisco's most sought-after creatives.
A master of subverting the pillars of social media, Pablo breaks the rules of social media and uses relatable material to surprise and entertain the person at the other end of the device. "People will like you more if you make them laugh," he explains. This is something he believes in and exports through his work. This recipe is also what makes his work viral. From venting out at Apple accessories, the frustration we get from spam emails, or simply turning an emoji into a game–the brightest human minds are always looking to evolve what's in front of them. Plus giving the occasional motivation push to get through a laborious Friday afternoon makes him more lovable.
Maybe you are already a fan or have unconsciously come across his work, but curious to know how he got to where he is today. Born in 1988, Pablo grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. He spent his childhood painting and wanted to follow in the footsteps of his mom, painter Rana Rochat. As a teenager, he was mostly into art and sports. "I was also really into making prank videos and funny home movies with my friends," he tells us about his teenage self. But he knew he wanted to go to art school so focused his academics on art class.
He ended up studying Graphic Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. Reflecting on this decision he told us, "I knew I needed a practical skill to help me build a career as an adult. I knew I wanted to grab people’s attention with my creative output, but I wasn't sure exactly how that would play out. I had to trust that my creativity would find the right outlet."
Pablo graduated, interned at Vogue magazine, became a designer at Microsoft, Director of Creative Lab at Tinder, and eventually opened up his own studio in 2017. We spoke about his early years in the industry, he told us, "At Microsoft, I spent a year doing traditional user experience and brand design. After that, I joined advertising agency Goodby Silverstein and Partners in San Francisco where I spent three years as a designer and art director creating advertising campaigns for big brands. I left Goodby to try something new, joining a start-up that was soon acquired by Tinder."
Whilst at Tinder he worked in the marketing team that came up with creative ideas to advertise and brand their products. "Most importantly, while I worked at these different jobs I was constantly creating side projects like silly YouTube videos and prank websites for fun," Pablo tells us.
Side projects just weren't enough so Pablo went out alone to explore with a new lease of creative freedom. We asked him if he walked into a room with a bunch of 90-year-old grandmothers, how would he explain your job to them? "I would say something like, I create funny videos and images on the Internet," he explains. But that doesn't do it justice. Pablo has won two Webby Awards, 7 FWA Awards, a Cannes Young Lion winner, and the Gold SXSW Interactive Award to name a few. The simplistic nature of his works pulls you in like a vortex, which is why he can select clients such as Netflix, Wieden + Kennedy, and Apple.
Creating your own studio allows you to work differently. The corporate world often requires you to water down your vision or the absurdity of what you want to create for a larger mainstream audience. We ask Pablo if starting his own studio was the next step for him to explore his style more creatively, he replied:
"Yes, exactly. I started my own studio so I could develop and use my own voice as a creative in both my personal projects and client work. Authorship is important to me and it's hard to maintain a strong sense of that while working internally at other companies. As my Instagram following started to grow, I got more exposure to different brand teams and media companies that wanted to work directly with me. This gave me an opportunity to start providing my own independent creative service."
Although he needed to find his voice independently, Pablo says he has no idea how to describe the studio's aesthetic. But if he had to find words for it, he'd say "it's lo-fi and high-fun." He goes on to say his style is always evolving but thinks "that humor and playfulness tend to be a consistent theme" in his work.
While evolving and experimenting, Pablo does resent not being more consistent and having a recognizable aesthetic. But he acknowledges it has its perks at the same time–not being tied down to something allows him to surprise himself time to time with what he creates.
One of the earliest creatives to turn Instagram into an arcade of games when the 'Tap and Hold' feature was added, Pablo told us he actually created some interactive games on Vine, but they never gained much traction. Pablo isn't a gamer, although he recalls routinely playing Tetris on his Gameboy growing up. Instead, he saw an opportunity to jab the gaming format into the social media world–which has paid off.
Some call him the prankster of social media, a nickname he takes a shine to as he loves pranks. But going viral comes at a price. Publications, gigantic platforms, and individuals have all used his work without credit or diluted it to suit their needs. For a creative centered around authorship and authenticity, we ask him how he feels when his work has been ransacked?
"There are a lot of benefits to posting original work on social media–exposure, building an audience, and getting the attention of potential clients, to name a few. With those benefits comes the risk that someone reposts your work without proper credit, or even takes your idea and uses it for their own benefit and/or profit. This happens to me a lot, and it still hurts every time. But so much good has come from the original work that I post to Instagram, including the opportunity to quit my job and start my own content studio. So I think the upside outweighs the negative. It often feels like a setback when my work is stolen and used without permission, but I try to think of it as a short-term loss. Thinking long-term, I believe greater things will happen to me and my career if I continue to put my ideas and content out in the world. I have faith that people who steal content will not go very far, but original content creators will be rewarded for doing the work."
Social media feels so embedded in modern society that certain generations can't recall a world without it, but social media is still essentially in its baby years. Guidelines and legislation barely exist, which has helped fuel an environment for platforms and individuals to profit off other's work. Plagiarism in the digital world is a raging topic that is only now being discussed. You might recall The American Meme on Netflix addressing some notorious culprits head on, and the #FuckFuckJerry movement that led to founder Elliot Tebele apologizing for stealing other people's content without credit. Luckily for Pablo, he has an aesthetic and large enough following for people to recognize his work–but new creatives emerging may not be afforded the same luxury in an ocean of content and ownership.
Pablo tries to avoid dwelling on what follows after his work is out in the open. But he enjoys looking back at his creations, they act as a train of thought for what ideas he wants to develop next. An old piece of work that sparks a new idea in his mind. "I do think of my work as a train of thought, and I often get a new idea from an unfinished thought I had a while back. I keep a notebook where I jot down insights and inspiration that could spark a new idea, so I am always adding new thoughts and reviewing old ones that haven’t turned into actionable ideas yet," he goes on to say.
He also gets inspiration for new ideas from outside influences, such as art, design, popular culture, technology, just everyday life. Pablo says he's constantly searching for new creative sparks, but it's hard to know exactly or why an idea pops into his head.
Those that work in social media will understand the irony of a client or boss asking for something to go on the feed, but social media isn’t as simple or quick as one might think. First, you need to start with an idea, form it, then develop it. Here’s a look into how Pablo’s head works. In February, he cleverly mimicked Instagram's loading wheel to make it appear to crash before the wheel fell off like a snail. In the past Pablo said most users of social products create content that's expected, which is why he takes pleasure in creating the unexpected. We ask him what's the story behind the Instagram loading wheel?
"I'm constantly looking at new ways to surprise the Instagram audience, and so one day when my Instagram content was slow to load, I was staring at the loading circle and realized that I could design a video that looks like the Instagram loading circle. Right away I knew it could be funny to surprise the audience by having the loading animation do something else besides load. Since then, I've done a few different variations of the loading prank. I think people like the loading prank because we see the loading animation every day but we don't expect it to do something else besides load another piece of content."
Instagram is a paradise for the Pablo Rochat vision, but looking into the future, we ask him if he thinks social media or Instagram will still exist in 2029. He says "it's impossible to know what the internet will look like in 10 years," but expects new media and social platforms to come along.
In the two years since launching his studio, Pablo has designed t-shirts, established a list of the clients that include some of the world's biggest conglomerates, and redefined the possibilities of social media. With so many accomplishments already, what's next for him and the studio? "It's hard to say. I mostly take it day by day, and project by project," he replies. He's currently working on some new and diverse projects, including creating editorial illustrations and music videos, which is something he is enjoying and wants to pursue. But he says for certain that he'll "continue to make playful Instagram content, at least for the time being."