Manjia Zhao’s app propels Academy to high ranking
Recent graduate Manjia Zhao's prototype app "Airnergy," part of her 2013 MFA thesis, has received "Best of the Best" recognition in Red Dot's Design Concept competition.

Recent graduate Manjia Zhao’s prototype app “Airnergy,” part of her 2013 MFA thesis, has received “Best of the Best” recognition in Red Dot’s Design Concept competition.

2013 Graphic Design alum Manjia Zhao has won the “Best of the Best” Red Dot Award: Design Concept for her prototype game app Airnergy. The mobile app, an element in Zhao’s MFA thesis project, encourages players to take stock of their energy use and make minor, real-life changes—each of which enhances the game’s colorful, whimsical “virtual garden.”

Zhao’s accomplishment helped the Academy of Art University place fourth on the Red Dot Design Ranking for universities in the Americas and Europe. The Academy’s status as  second highest-ranking design school in the United States was determined by five consecutive years of consistent achievements in the Red Dot Award: Design Concept category.

In other news, the university also earned a spot on’s list of “Top Universities for Designers.”

Zhao explains she had a high purpose is creating the Airnergy app. “I am from China and my home city was polluted, so I started the thesis…to help increase awareness about our environment. Players like a virtual world they can take control of, and the game motivates them to do little things in their daily lives. If you forget about turning off the lights, it relates to your score and your game garden,” she says.manjia zhao 2 gd

Graphic Design MFA Director Phil Hamlett praises Zhao’s imagery and skillful design.

“Manjia has identified a problem facing the world and applied her formidable design skills to rectifying it,” Hamlett says. “Her mobile-first design solution tackles air pollution by bringing it to the forefront of people’s lives—that is to say, in their pockets—in the form of a lively and responsive app that uses ‘gamification’ to make an urgent societal and ecological need accessible and actionable.”

Manjia Zhao, 2013 MFA graduate from the School of Graphic Design

Manjia Zhao, 2013 MFA graduate from the School of Graphic Design

Red Dot received more than 16,500 submissions for the award from nearly 70 countries in 2014.

Red Dot President Ken Koo called Academy of Art University “one of the top universities in America and Europe for continuously, and progressively, producing cutting-edge and forward-thinking product concepts.”

The Academy was also named a Best School for Designers by the professional networking website LinkedIn. The ranking was calculated by the success rate of Academy graduates in finding desirable jobs, i.e., jobs in their chosen fields. The Best Schools for Designers list was determined through LinkedIn’s analysis of employment patterns among more than 300 million LinkedIn members around the world.

• Red Dot Design School Ranking 2014
• Red Dot Design Concept Award: Manjia Zhao
• LinkedIn Top 15 Universities for Designers
• Manjia Zhao’s portfolio

Posted: Thursday, November 6th, 2014
Filed under: Alumni Awards, Alumni News, Student Awards, Student Work