Product Design

Learner Internships and Projects

Our Product Design learners are eager to put their design skills and creativity to work on real world projects with commercial businesses and not-for-profit organisations.

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Perhaps you’re a product design and/or manufacturing company, looking for a burst of additional initiative. Perhaps you’re a charity or public organisation wanting some innovation to make a step change in what you do.

Contact details

If you'd like to discuss any of the options below, the contact lecturer for Product Design internships and projects is Machiko Niimi,


One option is to offer internship to a learner. This needs to be for a minimum of two to four weeks, or one day a week for an extended period. Interns should be working under professional supervision within a product design or manufacturing company, ideally working on a specific project or issue.

Example of past internship

Fisher & Paykel and Escea
Internships have enabled Rohina Brinsdon to put her collaborative abilities to the test.
"I felt that if I wanted a more meaningful career and more career options then a tertiary education was crucial. I did a Certificate in Creative Studies at Otago Polytechnic and that led to me studying a Bachelor of Design (Product Design)."

Rohina Brinsdon loves exercising her imagination. It is precisely why she chose to study a Bachelor of Design (Product Design) at Otago Polytechnic. Rohina, who graduated in December 2018, enjoys fusing a wide range of disciplines — including art, graphic design, research, computer-aided design — while engaging with others’ ideas.

“You have to be a people person. You have to care about people.”

Rohina has been putting her collaborative abilities to the test as a design intern at award-winning Dunedin company Fisher & Paykel Ltd. She was invited to take part in a project encompassing inclusive design and design for the aging population.

“Fisher & Paykel is a global brand, and well respected in the industry, so the opportunity to work and learn there over this summer is fantastic.

“I have been asked to research inclusive design, which is design that is accessible to people of many different capabilities, such as people with disabilities, the elderly and people who are visually impaired.

“I have looked at inclusive design on the Internet, and I attended a VICTA (Visually Impaired Charitable Trust Aotearoa) meeting where I talked with the members about issues they face due to their low vision. It’s good to be prepared, but not too prepared, because it’s hard to let go of preconceived ideas."

Earlier this year, Rohina was invited to take up an internship at Dunedin fireplace company Escea Ltd, where she undertook research, sourced materials, and help form a project brief as well as make models.

“I have learnt a lot in my short time at Escea. It is outstanding to work for a successful local company. Escea are very customer-focused and endeavour to be the best, not only in the market but in their designs and manufacturing processes. Their ambition is inspiring.”

The mother-of-three has a background in hospitality, having spent 15 years working in a variety of roles, including server, barista, bartender, breakfast cook and catering chef.

“It’s a fun industry to work in but working nights and weekends were becoming stressful for me, taking time away from my family.

“I felt that if I wanted a more meaningful career and more career options then a tertiary education was crucial. I did a Certificate in Creative Studies at Otago Polytechnic and that led to me studying a Bachelor of Design (Product Design).”

Rohina’s experiences at Otago Polytechnic have taught her to ask for help, as well as take risks and push herself to improve, learn and grow.

Partnership projects

You might like to partner with us, giving multiple learners, possibly over successive years, the opportunity to identify and develop opportunities to add value to what you do. These projects are embedded into the learners’ course, so as a partner “client” you would need to meet with the learners to brief them and then three for four times to give feedback.

Examples of past partnership projects

Todd Engineering
A custom dogbox was Jack Todd's final year Product Design project.

"For my major project, I decided to take on the challenge of designing a dogbox. I worked with engineering experts from Todd Engineering Ltd to enhance my design. 

"The aim of this project was to design and manufacture a dogbox to fit on a mainstream ute, learning about sheet metal manufacturing processes along the way. The design had to be user friendly, and contain a storage compartment.

"I wanted to design a basic, strong dogbox and learn from this for the future. I found this project valuable because I was making it alongside specialists, and they were able to provide constructive criticism on my design in order for it to gain structural integrity, as well as teaching me material limitations and construction processes. I plan to look into flat-pack dogboxes and refining my design so it is easier to assemble."

May 2023

Artistic anatomist Louisa Baillie
Product Design student Jake Finnigan talks about designing a Suture Learning Aid:

"For my major project I worked alongside artistic anatomist Louisa Baillie to design a set of three learning resources to help medical students learn to suture.

"Suturing is the act of sewing up flesh or a wound. After consulting with Dr Celia Devenish, the Obstetrics and Gynaecology specialist at the University of Otago, we were able to highlight several issues with the way suture is currently taught. The three products I designed were an affordable physical suture kit, a companion app and video lesson concepts.

"The focus of the physical suture kit was to give the students variation in the form of the skin, whereas the app and video focused primarily on a good user interface, while also resolving issues such as learning for left-handed users.

"I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of working on my first client project and medical learning device."

July 2023

Dunedin Designed Inc
A pop-up exhibition of products at Dunedin design store Guild is the culmination of a learner project.

A group of talented Otago Polytechnic learners contributed their own creations for a pop-up exhibition at Dunedin design store Guild. The semester-long Bachelor of Design (Product) project aimed at providing learners with a range of real-world challenges.

The learners have been required to consult with their client, Guild, which is run by not-for-profit group Dunedin Designed Inc. Staffed entirely by designers, Guild showcases everything from handcrafted jewellery and innovative fashion to homewares, furniture, art prints and more. The learners' products exhibited are:

  • Will Davenport: Cast iron cookware aimed at (but not exclusive to) outdoor cooking. Fits Coleman-style two-burner camping stoves.
  • Tommy Wilson: High-end, rugged outdoor blanket made of wool and canvas.
  • Quinn Curtis: Banana hanger, made from reclaimed kauri, which keeps fruit separate and fresher longer.
  • Sam Guerin: Bowls made in carbon fibre and bronze.
  • Hamish Lockie: Folded sheet-metal side tables, combining high-tech cutting techniques with detail normally associated with craft.
  • Tom Bernard: Hi-fi table for turntable, amp and records, or just a nice coffee table. Made of sustainable Southland beech.
  • Bodie Duncan: Hoodies, t-shirts with own branding and graphics (in collaboration with an Otago Polytechnic Communication Design student).
  • Jenny Duncan: Sheet-metal shelves, colourful, cheerful and strong graphic elements for the wall.
  • Lukin Tayles: Apparel with own branding.
  • Finn McKelvie: Surf/skate-inspired acrylic wall art.

Otago Polytechnic Design Lecturer Tim Armstrong explains:

"Our learners have had to interpret the store’s requirements, values and aspirations, and seek new product opportunities that fit these. They have researched contemporary New Zealand design, developing and articulating their own design values through their work. In doing so, the students learn about what it takes to develop, manufacture and market products in New Zealand, and the opportunities and considerations this presents. They also need to clearly communicate ideas back to manufacturers to ensure accurate production of their designs. In addition, they have had to create branding, packaging, point-of-sale and marketing material to suit different audiences."


December 2022

Dunedin Hospital
New style booths may be making a comeback for the open plan office.

Open plan offices have some advantages but can make it difficult to find somewhere suitable for a confidential conversation. For the new Dunedin hospital, those confidential conversations will sometimes include patients' personal health information. Meeting rooms are part of the solution but there will be times when they are fully booked.

Our Product Design learners worked with the hospital rebuild project team to help resolve this issue. Groups of learners researched the issue and designed possible solutions. The learners interviewed doctors and administrative staff, to understand their needs and inform a human-centred design approach. There was also a focus on sustainability, with non-toxic organic materials being used for sound insulation, and considering end-of-life disposal of the pods. 

The freestanding pods reduce noise so that discussions between medical students and senior medical staff can be private and won't interfere with others working in the office. The Product Design learners constructed prototypes from cardboard to visually present their designs to the hospital project team. Hospital rebuild project director Bridget Dickson described the learners' designs as inspiring and imaginative.

September 2022

Good design contributes functionality and safety, not just appearance.

The company Bodystance produces the Backpod to help deal with upper back and neck pain, so they want to make sure their staff have an ergonomically sound workplace. Product Design learner Toni Linington was asked to help by designing a workstation for their factory. Toni was able to draw on a background in health for this project as well as using design skills.

Toni visited the company's factory in Christchurch to understand the issues, finding that two people of different heights were using the same non-adjustable desk. Toni investigated how they used the desk to ensure that a new design would meet their requirements. With the company's approval, Toni's brief evolved to identify opportunities to streamline work processes, to make their work easier and more efficient. Toni used design tools and strategies to find a solution that best addresses the current and future needs of a growing business.

"How a design looks, feels, works and all the different ways it might be used are important considerations for me."

The final concept was for a modular ergonomic work system which was designed around the needs of the user in terms of minimizing hazards and ease of use. The two basic workstations can be connected to each other, are height adjustable at the push of a button from 550mm to 1200mm, with the ability to pre-programme favourite settings for each user and for specific tasks. A lease system to make this system more accessible for small growing businesses to enable them to meet the recommendations of Work Safe NZ. Some of the systemic changes which Toni recommended have been implemented already. It makes sense to Toni to design out health hazards so that employees can work more safely.

September 2021

University of Otago
One of our Product Design learners has helped the University of Otago to test a health treatment innovation.

In mid 2017 we were contacted by the University of Otago working on developing new technologies to improve disease treatment. To test their innovation, they sought our help to develop a small backpack that would be easily attached to and detached from a harness worn by sheep. Local firm Kamahi Electronics was also involved in the project, with respect to the equipment. This system needed to:

  1. reduce the time necessary to fix the equipment onto the sheep, therefore reducing the possible stress induced by prolonged manipulation and
  2. allow the University to use a mock backpack to habituate the sheep to the weight of the equipment on the day preceding behavioural testing. 

This research project was picked up by one of our Product Design students, Casey Munro. To create a durable, waterproof patch, he used an industrial sewing machine from our fashion school, a glue-welded PVC material filled with 3mm foam and a reinforced aluminium plate that runs down the spine of the animal. Casey modified a commercial ram harness to carry the backpack, which needed to stay rigid but not impair the animals' movement. He refined the design at least 10 times and at one stage was visiting the farm every one to two weeks to test his prototypes.

Casey found it satisfying to work with real clients on a project. If successful, this novel drug delivery system could pave the way for treatments for neurological conditions in people. The harness could also be modified for other animals and other uses, including the GPS tracking of stock on large properties.

February 2019

Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust
Weighing penguins might help save their lives, but how to do it unobtrusively?

The Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust is continuing to fight for the survival of this species, which is one of the rarest penguins in the world. The yellow-eyed penguin, or hoiho, are very shy, and prefer to nest often well away and out of sight of their neighbours. That makes it difficult to visit nests often to monitor the health of adult and chicks during the nesting season. During the nesting season penguins often lose weight because only one adult in each breeding pair can feed at any one time.

So the Trust asked if we could develop a product that would help them to weigh the penguins. Postgraduate Product Design learners Ian McDowall and Francis Bingham worked on phase one of this project, supervised by Machiko Niimi and Tim Armstrong. The learners worked with the team in our EPICentre facility to produce a weigh station that would be positioned just outside a nest. Adult birds entering and exiting the nest would step on the weigh station, and be weighed automatically in the absence of any human presence. Phase two is under way currently, with Information Technology students connecting the weigh station to an Internet of Things so that the data about the penguin weights is sent back promptly to the Trust.

This project will enable the Trust to monitor the health of the penguins being weighed, so they know whether and when to visit a nest and intervene if necessary to save their lives. The project will also help in the longer term by providing more detailed penguin population health data.

October 2018

Orokonui Ecosanctuary
Design learner Harvey Penfold is helping gather data about birds in North East Valley, Dunedin.

The Valley Project, North East Valley's community organisation, is spearheading a long-term project to make North East Valley an unfenced ecosanctuary, encouraging more native birds to visit and live there. North East Valley residents will be involved in gathering baseline information about which native birds come there and what they eat. This will raise the residents' interest in and appreciation of the birds, provide baseline data about the number and types of birds against which subsequent efforts can be measured, and inform decisions about what food should be offered in future to attract which birds. This research is being undertaken with University of Otago scientists, sponsorship from Mitre 10, and support from the Orokonui Ecosanctuary to run the experiments.

Harvey Penfold, studying Product Design at Otago Polytechnic, got involved because the Orokonui Ecosanctuary needed help designing a bird feeder. They needed a bird feeder that could:

  • Be installed in different properties on a sturdy steel waratah;
  • Could cope with the weight of a heavy bird such as kaka as well as small bellbirds;
  • Could offer food for both nectar-loving birds and seed-eating birds.

With help from our EPICentre technicians, Harvey used his design skills and our 3D printer to develop a platform for birds to use. A seed feeder will hang off the platform, and a nectar feeder hang above it, also attached to the waratah. A motion sensor will trigger a camera nearby on another waratah to record bird visits to the feeder.  Harvey also gave advice to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary about mounting the camera. Fifteen of the platforms have been provided to Orokonui Ecosanctuary, to be installed on about 75 properties in North East Valley, Opoho and Pine Hill. 

Harvey's project has won him first prize in the 2017 Audacious Business Challenge awards for students of Otago Polytechnic and the University of Otago. Lecturer Andrew Wallace is pleased to see Harvey is already putting his design skills to work on a real world project which will have environmental impact. Harvey is conscious that his work is a small part of a very big project - "I just designed stuff" - but he's pleased to have been involved:

"It's been pretty good, good to see something you've made being used."


September 2017

Cactus Outdoor
Jeremy Metherell is one of several product design learners to work with Cactus Outdoor.

Cactus Outdoor supplies hard-wearing outdoor and work clothing and equipment. They approached Otago Polytechnic for help designing new products for their range that would fill a gap in the current outdoor equipment market.

Jeremy Metherell took up this challenge and designed the Cactus Hammock which can be set up in your backyard, taken on a picnic or to a favourite camping spot. The structure of the form and pattern allows for a flatter lie and prevents the fabric folding up around the user. The Hammock went through many iterations and refinements to keep it simple, catering for the need and lifestyle of the Cactus customer.

Daryl Warnock, CEO of Cactus Outdoor, says: 

"Jeremy has successfully embraced the Cactus design ethic of simplicity, durability and function. These are the things our customers appreciate and for these reasons we see the hammock as a perfect extension to our product range.

The hammock was released for sale before Christmas 2016. The first two batches of hammocks quickly sold out, and Cactus Outdoor is now onto its third production run. Daryl Warnock, Cactus Outdoor General Manager, says the hammocks are still in production, and will have another push next summer. “We’re getting great feedback from our customers” he says. Jeremy’s stoked that people are enjoying his hammocks. “I really couldn’t have asked for a better result, I’m so glad I took on the project.”

The hammock was designed in the final year of study for Jeremy's Bachelor of Design and was further refined for production.

May 2017

Individual projects

Specific projects may be suitable for just one or two learners to work on, using an iterative prototyping process to design and develop a working product to meet a particular need. 

Examples of past individual projects

Outdoor grill
A new design for a portable grill accommodates different dietary preferences.

At a barbeque it can be hard to cater for everyone's dietary preferences. Vegetarians may be uncomfortable eating vegetables that have been cooked on the same grill as meat, so may have to resort to salads alone. How can a barbeque grill work more efficiently for a big group with different food needs?

Product Design learner Ruth Venediger set out to meet this need by designing a portable charcoal barbeque grill for a small group to use. It also needed to deliver a high quality cooking and eating experience. Ruth started researching where and how a barbeque grill might be used, then used rapid prototyping, producing mockups with cardboard then sheet metal.

Ruth's Ignite grill can be placed on a table, a park bench, or on the ground. It has two vents on the side and two on the lid to help with airflow, and the lid helps the grill heat up and cool down safely. It comes with a chopping board, charcoal tray, two cast iron grills, slash guards and a lid for efficient cooking. Ruth's final stainless steel prototype has been successfully user tested by a family.

May 2021

Storage cabinet
Product Design student Kim Bates describes her design, which Otago Furniture brought to reality.

Le Cabinet was conceived through the need for beautiful storage space that could be utilised within the interiors of homes, cherished as a piece of art and used to enhance our lives. 

The protagonist is the door carving which reminds us just how much a weave can enrich an environment, conversing with different materials such as wood and brass. The doors open like a book whilst the pattern is machine carved on a Pacific Island hardwood creating an enticing, stimulating texture. While the design is still, the texture flows, creating an experience of movement.

The sensual quality lies within the carved surfaces that engage our instinctive impulse to feel something and reflect our hunger for more tactile surroundings in our everyday lives.

May 2020

A design learner's award-winning bench incorporates Māori design principles.

For Tania Turei (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Te Ati Haunui-a-Pāpārangi), it makes sense to go beyond common perceptions of Maori design in her own work. In the third year of Product Design study in 2017, Tania was inspired by features of Maori carving and architecture which she interpreted and embedded in her furniture design - the curvature of the legs, the linear pattern, the negative detail and the way the furniture "hugs the earth''. She says:

"The New Zealand product design aesthetic is sometimes missing a natural Maori viewpoint that makes us unique in the world."

Working in our EPICentre workshop studio with technicians Ken Wyber and William Early as well as her lecturers, Tania designed and built a bench and two stools. She called her seating pae, a Māori word meaning horizon or anything horizontal.

This product won a gold award in the Student Ngā Aho section in the 2018 Best Design Awards. The judges loving the simplicity and modularity of the laminated wooden bench, which they described as having “some subtle cultural references to manaia and a haka stance”.

December 2018

Animal injector
Ian McDowall wants to see animal injections delivered safely and accurately.

Since 1999 the number of dairy cows in New Zealand has increased by 16.28%. The increase in herd sizes has raised the risk of injury and physical stress on a farm worker who manually injects large numbers of livestock. Dosage control may also be compromised. There is a need to reduce the physical demands on farm workers, and at the same time to take the opportunity to digitally capture information about each cow when it is injected. 

Ian McDowall has a background on a dairy and sheep farm in Southland, and has observed that the technology involved in the injection process has not changed to meet changes in the industry. Ian responded by designing a product called the Quantum Injector. The injector uses automated delivery, for a much more controlled and reliable injection, minimising human error. It has a double trigger mechanism to prevent accidental injection, and it uses radio frequency identification technology to record each cow's National Animal Identification and Tracing tag. The injector has been designed for us in the shed or the paddock, for different medicines, and different dosages. It considers the safety and accessibility of functions for the user. The data can be transmitted to an external source to add to digital farm records.

The project has been developed as part of Ian's coursework for a Bachelor of Design (Honours) under Machiko Niimi's supervision. Ian's design was a finalist for a Student Product Award in the BEST Design Awards 2017. 

October 2017

Idea generation  

A group of learners can also add value by identifying future opportunities for you. Together they can brainstorm novel potential solutions to issues which you find it hard to make time to consider amongst your business as usual activity. This is an opportunity for quickfire idea generation, to help cast a design vision for what might be.

Wicked problems

This engagement can be a larger and longer term project across multiple years. The design brief is not formed but a specific value has been identified for an organisation, such as ”we want to be more sustainable”. This inquiry process will utilise the learners’ skills to research and develop the core design question against which to generate a design solution.

For example a design question our learners have been working on is: “How do you educate adults about health issues they can’t see”. The design outcome? Bypass print and video and make the solution tactile.

Contact us

If you’re not sure what to study and would like some guidance, we’re here to help. Feel free to chat to us directly about any questions you may have.