Design a Better World

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Minerva Strategies collaborates with a group of passionate partners who bring an array of expertise to our clients including graphic design, video production, and website development. One of those partners is Sophia Brown, a designer based in Paris. Sophia is a graduate student in visual anthropology and owns her own design firm, Chronicler Studio. She works with nonprofits like Dignity Period and Evergreen Treatment Services to help make messaging and content more visually compelling. Sophia recently visited Seattle and the Minerva team had the opportunity – after three years of collaborating remotely – to meet her in person. We sat down to ask her about her work, life in Paris, and what she does to unwind.  


Q: Why did you decide to pursue graphic design?

A: When I was younger I thought I would go into art, fine art. I never thought about graphic design, but it’s something that just fell into place when I went to college. I also knew that I wanted to work for myself. So, I started my own company when I graduated.


Q: What are the benefits of running your own company?

A: Being a freelancer allows me to choose my clients. This enables me to work with small businesses and nonprofits. I like the smaller clients because they are more flexible and not as structured and rigid as many bigger businesses are. I’ve been able to create a system that works for me and my clients. The benefit is that I get to create my own world of work and that is not something everyone gets to do.


Q: What has been your favorite project?

A: I worked with Minerva Strategies on a report about Israeli-occupied Palestine. We collaborated to make heaps of data consumable to the public. The project was quick, structured, and brought about this visceral emotion that will hopefully make the challenges of being a Palestinian living in Israeli-occupied territories more real to the broader public instead of just policymakers and academics.

So much of my work is meaningful because many of my clients are nonprofits. Most nonprofits are on the forefront of social, political, or economic issues. I help them make a bigger impact by constructing their messaging and content to be aesthetically pleasing and emotionally stirring.


Q: What do you find challenging about working with nonprofits?

A: Nonprofits struggle because they’re often on tight budgets. Design becomes the last line item added and often the first one to be cut. This is a problem because the public-facing part of nonprofit work can be the most important. If a website is hideous, hard to navigate, and it’s difficult to find the donate button, donor relations become tedious, as does sharing mission or goals. In the same way, basic print materials – brochures, business cards, and invites –  should be on-point. I want to give nonprofits the best chance at making a difference.


Q: What’s the worst project you’ve worked on?

A: Oh, I don’t know, every project has its challenges. OH, YES! I worked on a project that looked like it was designed by a cult. It was the most hideous logo I’d ever seen.  The logo was a pixelated mess with no vector version—in fact, it was made using a collage of low-resolution photographs, and the worst part was that the client adored it and refused to reconsider it. He wanted the presentation to look “as amazing as the logo,” so I had some really tough times getting through that project.


Q: Graphic design can be subjective. How do you feel when people don’t like your work?

A: Honestly, I have to be content with it. I chose this life. Sometimes it can be frustrating when I know it’s a bad decision, so I have to rationalize the corrections a client asks for. Sometimes the client wins, sometimes they don’t. I know which battles to choose. Part of how I make decisions, and how clients approve my decisions, is whether a design looks good or not. But a huge part of making something look good—and this is the basis of design—is whether all the elements you use make sense together.


Q: You’re from Denver, but you’re now living in Paris. Why did you move?

A: I went to Paris on an artist’s residency grant in 2015 as a recent alumnus from Washington University in St. Louis. I arrived at the peak of the refugee crisis, when countless stories were being told in the media about millions of faceless refugees. I wanted to meet face-to-face with people leaving war zones to find out what kind of stories they wanted tell—if any stories at all!— rather than use them for some front-page news and never contact them again. This led me down a winding, extremely emotional path that resulted in many friendships in the Syrian community here in Paris. I did meet one important person – my now boyfriend – who is from Syria.

I moved to Paris the following year, both to be with him and to get my master’s degree (remotely) in visual anthropology from Wilhelms Westfälische University based in Münster, Germany. I am doing that now, while also running my business.


Q: You’re based in both the U.S. and Europe. What do you like about that?

A: I like working with people across borders because it’s challenging yet informative. But it is tough to do a full day of work and then retire to more work. One of the perks for clients in the U.S. is that I’m able to send edits at the end of my work day, and the client gets it by the start of theirs.

I love translating languages and doing design work in different alphabets. I speak English, French, Spanish, and German so this comes naturally to me. There is so much beauty in language and to craft that into a visually pleasing piece of work is truly satisfying.


Q: What does a designer, full-time graduate student, and expat do to unwind?

A: Ha, I should probably do more of that! My favorite thing to do is go for walks along the Seine, the river that wonderfully winds through the heart of Paris.  I recently joined a gym where I just want to forget about work. For creative work, it’s important to clear your mind to start with a fresh mental canvas. I’m also looking into taking salsa lessons.


If you are looking for expert design support, or have recommendations for salsa lessons in Paris, please reach out to

About The Author

Minerva Strategies

Minerva Strategies

The Minerva team has decades of experience working with nonprofits, foundations, and values-driven companies. Minerva also partners with experts—trusted designers, web developers, global communications professionals, and others—who share our excitement for creating positive social change. Through these partnerships, we can build a team that is tailored to your needs. Learn more about who we are or what we do.