School of Design

How to apply for a Design programme

Learn what’s needed as part of your application to study design.

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How to apply for a design programme

Early applications are welcomed. Late applications will be considered if places are available.

With your application, you'll need to submit a portfolio of your work. Your portfolio will include examples of your artwork so we can see how you develop your ideas and if you have the foundational skills that are required for our art programmes.

While it may seem daunting to compile a portfolio, it is an important and essential part of the application process. We’ve included some guidance on building your portfolio, see “what to include in your portfolio”.

To find out how to apply for the Bachelor of Architectural Studies, please visit this webpage.

What’s required in your Application

  • Application form
  • Portfolio (examples of finished work and sketches/workbook pages)
  • Cover letter (an essay or a letter) and research proposal (postgraduate programmes only)

Note: you might not be required to provide a portfolio if you meet the criteria for automatic entry or get portfolio ‘pre-approval’.

Automatic portfolio approval – no portfolio needed

  • If you have achieved University Entrance endorsed with excellence overall including merit or excellence in an approved art, design or technology subject at NCEA Level 3, you have automatic entry, and will not need to submit a portfolio.
  • This also applies to applicants who have achieved Cambridge International AS grade A or B in an approved art, design or technology subject.

Note: When you apply online and are asked to upload a portfolio, you can either upload a copy of your NCEA results, or upload a note that says “I qualify for automatic entry”. We’ll then verify that with NZQA.

Portfolio pre-approval – show ‘work in progress’

  • You can show a ‘work in progress’ portfolio to a staff member from the School of Design by making contact with the school, or at open days and careers events throughout the year.
  • If you have achieved University Entrance and your portfolio already meets the criteria, you’ll receive a portfolio pre-approval letter. You can then upload that letter with your online application and you won’t have to submit a final portfolio.
  • If you want to talk to us about portfolio pre-approval, please email our school administrator, or phone 0800 762 786.

What to include in your portfolio

Bachelor of Design (Communication)
  • At least 10-12 photocopies or images of your creative works (A4 or A3 size)
  • Can include drawing or sketches and whatever you feel is visually informative about you and your abilities as a designer - e.g. animations, videos, games, photography, media creations, illustrations, graphic design, painting, art design, websites development etc.
  • Process work for 2 or 3 pieces. These could be drawings, sources of inspiration or comments etc, that show you can develop and research an idea to produce a finished design
Bachelor of Design (Fashion)

At least 10 x A4 or A3 sheets showing:

  • fashion ideas
  • sewing, patterns, textiles, garments
  • developmental/design process work, i.e. copies of workbook pages, journal or visual diary
  • fashion drawings, sketches, illustrations, photos
  • prototypes, mock-ups, 3D models
  • 2D and 3D ideas and possibilities
  • photos of real 3D objects (these can be ideas for fashion objects, both finished pieces and works — in progress)
  • images of your ideas for anything relating to the body: clothes, accessories, textiles, events, photography, ideas for communicating fashion - can be compiled into a Moodboard format
  • critiques of contemporary and/or historical fashion ideas
  • screen captures in the case of digital work
  • links to original work, ie. blogs, Instagram, YouTube, Sound Cloud, Pinterest, Vimeo, Facebook.
Bachelor of Design (Product)

At least 10 x A4 or A3 sheets showing:

  • photographs of samples
  • small original works and/or sketches, and whatever you feel is visually informative about you and your abilities as a designe
  • process work for 2 or 3 pieces. These could be drawings, sources of inspiration or comments etc, that show you can develop and research an idea to produce a finished design.
Graduate Diploma in Design (specialty)

Your portfolio should demonstrate a working knowledge of design/art/creative disciplines and support your application for your specialty area, with evidence of a strong design process.

It may contain:

  • photographs
  • painting
  • graphic work
  • images of garments
  • 3-dimensional design
  • sketches
  • storyboards
  • video
  • website
  • any other work which is visually informative about you and your abilities as a designer.
Postgraduate programmes

For all postgraduate programmes, you need to provide a portfolio that consists of current and recent examples of your work that demonstrate your creative process and ability and depth of engagement in your proposed field of research. Please annotate each item with a brief summary/description of the context or provide a written overview of your portfolio content.

Digital format is preferred i.e. by using a portfolio hosting site, a USB stick, uploaded with your application (2MB size limit) or via email to

Cover letter requirements

Tell us why you want to do this programme, what interests you about it and what you have done to give yourself the best chance of being accepted.

We want to know your career goals and anything else you think is relevant to your application. Will also need to include your curriculum vitae (resume/CV).

Master of Design and Master of Design Enterprise applications should also include the names and contact details for two referees.

Research proposal (postgraduate programmes only)

Bachelor of Design (Honours) / PG Certificate or Diploma in Design

This proposal should be 1000 words maximum and outline your project focus and address the following;

  • Outline any work you have already completed in the field of your project and how this will inform the next stage of your research/project
  • Define what you want to achieve/describe your aims for your project
  • As a Design project outline the methods you plan to use to achieve your aims
    • You should have already read a few articles or books on the topic; summarise the important ideas that you will use to inform your research/project and identify any areas that you need to include (remember to reference the sources of the information)
    • Identify the context that you are working towards, e.g. a competition entry, a market-ready product, a communication or a new way to do things.
Master of Design / Master of Design Enterprise

This proposal should be 1500 words maximum and address the following questions:

  • What is your project? This needs to be a clear description of a product, service or other design outcome that your project is based on
  • Why is your project relevant - i.e. what change will it bring about, what problem will it solve, and what issue will it address?
  • Who are your customers/audience?
  • What is your field of research and how is your project situated within this field? Please cite academic references here (this section should be around 300 words)
  • What research methods do you intend to use?
  • How will you achieve the proposed outcome - i.e. what is your process?

Completing your application

Apply online

Fill in the application form and upload your cover letter, proposal (for postgraduate applicants only) and a PDF of your portfolio.

  • If you qualify for automatic entry, either upload a copy of your NCEA results or upload a note that says “I qualify for automatic entry”
  • If you qualify for portfolio ‘pre-approval’, upload the portfolio pre-approval letter that you’ve received from us.

Portfolio format

Digital portfolio

There is a 2MB file limit when you upload your portfolio while applying online. If the file is too big to upload, send us a link to your website or online platform or email it to us at Alternatively, you can also send your digital portfolio on a USB drive.

Physical format

We prefer digital portfolios but you can send a physical portfolio to us if you need to. A physical portfolio should be submitted in an A4 clear file folder. Please don’t include original works, send photographs or colour photocopies instead - and make sure it’s all clearly labelled with your name. Please courier or hand-deliver your portfolio to our address.

Sending your portfolio to us

Remember to enclose a self-addressed, postage-paid courier package so that we can return your portfolio to you.

Attn: Student Administrator for Design,
Customer Services, Otago Polytechnic,
F Block, Forth Street, Dunedin 9016

Got any questions?

Email if you have any questions about your application or portfolio.

Contact us

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