ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Sonja Johnson (FILM ’12, Broadcast Cinema ’14, Advertising ’14)

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Sonja Johnson October 19, 2016

I have always loved the saying, “Before you send someone to save the world, you should make sure they like it the way it is first.” When I think of why I went into Advertising and Film, I suppose it was because I wanted to save the world the only way I knew how, by telling the kind of stories that change the way people think.

Nearing my final time at ArtCenter I had the extraordinary opportunity to aid on a project for Designmatters called CITES Chili, that sought to raise awareness and change the way both governments and locals looked at the trafficking of endangered species. Over the course of seven remarkable weeks, our nine person team developed a campaign with three independent directions that sought to not only generate conversation but to get an entire city to work with us in convincing 20 government officials to change laws that could save thousands of lives.

The campaign was implemented the following year. Walking away from that experience, I remember feeling that if I never created anything else in advertising that would be okay if this made a difference and in effect saved a tiny part of the world.

When I left ArtCenter, I knew that no matter where I ended up, I needed to continue telling the kind of stories that gave a voice to the issues that changed the world.

Sonja Johnson_2A year and change later, I’m a California transplant living in New York city working for the amazing advertising agency Droga5, lending my voice and love of story telling to campaigns looking to change the world.

Recently I had the opportunity to launch a campaign with Shea Moisture, looking at the way segregation in the “beauty aisle” informed the identity of black and minority women with textured hair. As I watched the campaign materialize I remember feeling this deep pride that not only had I found a place where my thoughts and ideas had been accepted, but also I’d found a place where they were empowered to make a difference. I’d helped to start a conversation that was challenging the way people thought. From media articles to twitter comments, I saw first hand that creating work for social change is a powerful and beautiful thing that once unleashed upon the world, could never be stopped, because design that matters, doesn’t end when the requirements are met.

Designmatters is not just a course of study you take that ends when you graduate, it’s a way of thinking that informs the way you create. When I embarked on that seven-week project, I didn’t know it at the time, but what I learned about how to see the world continues to inform the projects that I have, the issues that I fight for and the stories that I tell.

When I started at ArtCenter I wanted to create films that would change the ways other people viewed the world. I wanted to add my voice to those that came before me and leave a mark that left the world forever changed.


Sonja Johnson is a Jr. Art Director at Droga5 in NYC. As the first double major and triple graduate of ArtCenter College of Design, Sonja merged her degrees in advertising and film, in order to become a stronger graphic and visual designer. She strives to create ads that embody her sense of style and also function as individual works of art.