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News . Feature Stories . Miao ’23 earns prestigious IDSA Student Merit Award


August 29, 2023

Miao ’23 earns prestigious IDSA Student Merit Award

Emberlynn Miao during CIA's 2023 Commencement ceremony. Photo by Leah Trznadel '19.

By Michael C. Butz

What do a thoughtfully designed, clutter-hiding entryway shelf; a vending machine navigation system that assists visually impaired people; and user-centric, ethnographic RV interior space planning all have in common?

All were designs that earned Emberlynn Miao ’23 a 2023 Student Merit Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America. The awards were announced in July, and Miao was recognized along with other winners during the International Design Conference on August 24 in New York City.

Winning the award was special for many reasons, but most notably, Miao—who’s from China—says it will provide her more stability in pursuing a career in the U.S.

“As an international student, I have to compete to work for a company that sponsors a work visa, if they can be convinced that you are better than any U.S. citizen. Even then, the work visa sponsorship is a lottery system,” she says. “However, winning a nationally acclaimed award allows me to be placed in a separate category of work visas, one that guarantees a sponsorship from the government as long as I find a job.”

Miao is the sixth Cleveland Institute of Art student to receive this prestigious distinction from IDSA. Preceding her were Geemay Chia ’15, Dan Rowe ’09, Matthew Swinton ’07, Mandy Stehouwer ’06 and Michael Alvarez ’05.

CIA Industrial Design chair Dan Cuffaro ’91 applauded Miao’s work.

“Emberlynn is a smart and talented designer, and we are so excited that she is representing CIA as an IDSA Student Merit Award winner,” Cuffaro says. “She excels at design research and translating insights into ideas, and we can’t wait to see what comes next for her!”

Miao credits CIA’s Industrial Design faculty with helping her “discover the analytical side of my brain.”

“I grew up a self-taught traditional artist, where it was all about using art to express myself or my personal views on subjects. Design is all about others, problem solving and creating value for the world, all of which provides a much more fulfilling force for my creativity,” she says. “(Adjunct Professor) Angela Clark helped me really understand how empathy, deep listening and vulnerability are so powerful when connecting with others.”

Miao’s award-winning designers were:

  • AnDi Entryway Cabinet: Miao designed this cabinet with an emphasis on aesthetic as a function. Its unique swinging motion, accompanied by the soothing sound of a fan, creates a calming atmosphere, allowing users to unwind and relax. The incorporation of earth tones, rounded corners and flowing patterns reflect a harmonious connection with nature, enhancing the overall ambiance of the space.
  • Vending Machine Navigation: This design solution features customizable audio buttons and an enlarged keyboard attachment to assist visually impaired people. Miao served as project manager and lead designer of an interdisciplinary team. It was engineered and installed at the Cleveland Sight Center by team members from Case Western Reserve University. CWRU student Jim Hortiz served as engineering lead.
  • RV Interior Space Planning: Miao’s interior architecture design is user-centric in that it prioritizes compartmentalization and organization. It's also ethnographic in that it includes a tatami mat—a type of mat used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms—and a raisable tea table.

The Student Merit Award competition is one of IDSA’s longest running programs and highlights the very best creativity, problem solving and design brilliance in each of IDSA’s five North American Districts. Miao earned the Student Merit Award for the Central District.

Student finalists are selected by each participating school to represent their program at the district level. A jury panel of design leaders and educators representing a cross-section of professional practice and design academia is assembled to review and select district winners.

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