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Source: Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

18 Feb, 2021

Sam Gray, a graduate of the Bachelor of Design, shares with us how his passion for entrepreneurship and design led him to become the CEO and founder for two companies – Trik’n Treat and Sam Gray Design Ltd.

Can you tell us about what you studied at AUT and why you chose to specialise in product design?

“My decision to study product design was the culmination of an interest in entrepreneurship and the influence of a friend who suggested I do an interest paper in industrial design during my time at the University of Otago. At that time, I was doing my Bachelor of Physical Education so it was a bit outside the scope of my course but it sounded interesting so I signed up.

“I took a few years out from study to work, but my passion for entrepreneurship and design continued to grow, and I decided to go back to study in 2014. In considering where to study, I found that AUT had the best reputation for industrial/product design at the time. During my time at AUT I studied product design with a minor in digital fabrication. I chose digital fabrication because of the growing role of 3D printing and CNC systems in manufacturing and because of the affordances they offer start-ups in prototype development.”

During your time at AUT were there any specific moments or lecturers that stood out to you?

“I had a range of good lecturers at AUT who each contributed to different areas of my learning. The beauty of product design is that it is a very broad subject; for example one product designer might focus on systems design, way finding or non-physical/digital products, and another may lean towards engineering, automotive design or biomedical design (just to name a few).

“Having lecturers from a wide variety of backgrounds helped shape my grasp of product design as a field. One lecturer who went above and beyond for me was David White from the engineering department. In my final year, he offered to supervise my project, despite a large workload in his own department, and met with me weekly for the duration of the paper. Connecting to people in other disciplines was an enriching and deeply beneficial addition to my study.”

Did you participate in any of the AUT start-up workshops – what did you take away from them and did they help you with the set-up of your own business?

“I did the CO.STARTERS course during my time at AUT and would highly recommend it. Getting to grips with the basics of a business start-up, is something I would recommend to anyone as it inevitably pushes you outside of your comfort zone. As I see it, if you’re too comfortable, you’re not challenging yourself which I think is a negative in the long run. CO.STARTERS also gives you a fantastic toolkit for starting out in business and connects you to a network of like-minded individuals.”

Can you tell us about your current role and what a typical day is like for you?

“Being responsible for two companies means there isn’t really such a thing as a typical day. Core activities can include brand development, graphic design, marketing, product design (drawing prototyping, CAD and modelling), ergonomics, UX/UI, engineering, legal and IP, fundraising, sales, website development, and of course answering lots of emails. It’s a full plate that is rarely boring but also at times a bit of a rollercoaster.

“Currently we are launching a product called the Trik’n Treat Fetch Trainer, which incentivises a dog to drop a thrown ball at your feet. Designing, building and launching a kickstarter campaign has been my most recent role as a designer.”

Any advice for current students studying a Bachelor of Design, and those wanting to be self-employed?

“Play to your skillset and your passion; industry tends to look for people who are specialised so if you have a passion for a particular area of design focus on that. To complement your passion, get as much industry experience as you can as early as possible. If you don’t have a passion for one area in design use the degree to explore what inspires you. Be flexible in your thinking, be disciplined in your approach to learning, and find joy in the pursuit of creativity.

“Additionally, very few companies in New Zealand seem to understand the role of a product designer. They will usually think you are an engineer or graphic designer so be prepared to explain what you do.”

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