Alumni profile—Courtney Naismith
Studies at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington made it possible for Master of Design Innovation alumna Courtney Naismith to reach her dream of starting a design business with her partner alumni Matt O’Hagan. Her designs have been awarded Gold and Silver at the Best Awards 2021, and she was the winner of the ECC Lighting Award a year before. Before her postgraduate degree, Courtney studied Bachelor of Design Innovation in Industrial Design.
1. What drew you to study Master of Design Innovation at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington?
I love being creative and crafting new things. I found industrial design was very hands-on where you’d be making vastly different projects in every class and incorporating aspects from all kinds of subjects (math, science, art, materials, etc.)
2. What did you enjoy about working with your supervisor?
My supervisors were Professor Simon Fraser and senior lecturer Jeongbin Ok. I enjoyed working with them as they had different design backgrounds and always provided a perspective that challenged me to produce great work.
3. What was your main area of research?
My research portfolio ‘Air-crafted Artefacts’ focused on how inflight plastics could be re-used to enhance product value through 3D printed upcycling systems within the New Zealand Aviation Tourism Industry. I worked with troublesome materials such as Air New Zealand’s soft plastic bags and harakeke (flax) from the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. I was really interested in how to make discarded plastic beautiful and create treasured objects.
4. What excited you about this research?
I was excited by this research because I had the freedom to create and the challenge to develop skills that aren’t my strong suit. Because of the sustainable focus, I felt passionate about the work I was producing. Creating my own recycled filament, coming up with CAD models, and 3D printing the designs was super rewarding. I also got to work with recognised industry partners which gave my project even more importance.
5. Did the programme live up to your expectations?
I didn’t really know what I was getting in for when I started studying industrial design. I felt like the first year was very different from my latter years of study, but it was all worth it. To be completely honest, I wanted to leave from the first two years of my degree, but I stuck to it and in my third year I really excelled beyond my expectations. My first years helped build my skill set and confidence to tackle the bigger projects that were fulfilling.
6. What do you think of Wellington as a place to study and live?
Coming from Auckland, Wellington City was exciting and different. I think Wellington has been a great place to study because everything is so central and accessible (there’s just a lot of walking involved). The wind isn’t ideal, but you get used to it!
7. What have you done since completing university?
I have started a business with my partner Matthew O’Hagan, called “Utilize” which produces high-end products made from recycled materials. Since University, I have also received a few awards for my thesis work including a Gold and Silver Pin at the Best Design Awards, Winner of the ECC Lighting Design Award at the NZ Student Craft Design Awards, and Finalist in the Purmundus Challenge.
8. How has your experience at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington helped you with your career?
My studies at the University have helped me create my dream of owning a business. Without my master’s work, I wouldn’t have the knowledge to produce the work I love. Straight out of university, I was expecting I’d get a decent job in my industry, but the timing of COVID provided some challenges and competition. Despite the initial hardship, I think my career has worked out for the better, I am grateful to be where I am now, and I am happy to dive into my own business.
9. Can you tell us a bit about your current role?
As a co-founder of Utilize, there are many things I do for our business. I am the lead designer and CAD modeller, developing most of the designs we are set out to sell. On a day-to-day basis, if I am not designing, I manage my team’s workflow to ensure everything runs smoothly. Currently, I have been focused on producing a website to sell our upcoming products which is set to go live at the end of March 2022. My role here is forever growing and changing, but I love it!
10. What advice would you give to other students considering the same programme of study?
I would say to give it a chance if you truly enjoy designing and making. If you do study industrial design, use your passions and interest to your advantage, because to do well, you must enjoy what you are doing. Utilise your strengths and find your style.