Hometown by Design, with Casie Smith of Design Garage

9 months ago by

This series profiles the design talent in our regions and invites them to show us around their towns. This week we meet Casie Smith to learn more about her creative journey, the design studio she founded Design Garage, and living in Taranaki.

Where did you grow up & where did you study? 

I was born and raised in New Plymouth, Taranaki. After finishing highschool I moved to Wellington to study at Massey University and follow my passion in design. I studied a Bachelor of Visual Communications majoring in Graphic Design.

Where is your current hometown in NZ?

New Plymouth is my hometown and I moved back here after many years living abroad in Sydney, Australia. I love it here and always knew that New Plymouth was were I wanted to raise a family and grow old! After gaining extensive industry experience in Sydney I was ready to come back to New Zealand. The time I spent aboard was valuable to extend my knowledge and skill set as a Web and Graphic Designer.

How many years have you been in industry and can you tell us a little about the highlights of your career history so far?

  • I have been working in the industry since I graduated in 2007. I started out as a Graphic Designer and was fortunate to work in some incredible Design Agencies in Australia which developed my skills in Web Design and Development.
  • The biggest highlight of my career was when I decided to go out on my own and launched my own business ‘Design Garage’. I started out of my garage four years ago and I am proud to show how far I have come. I now have an amazing team of four working out of our thriving design boutique located in the heart of New Plymouth city.
  • The most recent highlight of my career is learning to juggle my business while growing my family. Life is very busy, so it is important to me that I surround myself with a team who are supportive, and care about the business as much as I do. My current team are experts at what they do and I have 100% trust in their abilities and opinions.

Do you have a project that is memorable because it challenged you but that you ended up loving and being really proud of? If so what lessons did you learn from that project.

When I first started my business, one of the first jobs I took on was a very customised website. I gave a really cheap quote to ensure I won the client and this meant I significantly under quoted on my hours to complete the job. As this was my first client I wanted to make a good first impression on my portfolio and spent numerous unpaid hours perfecting the final outcome. What I gained from this project was the experience, time management and the value of my hours. The website ended up amazing, was a great portfolio piece and I am still really proud of it today.

What are you working on right now?

  • We genuinely work with the most amazing clients and have many website and branding projects on at the moment. One of my favourite clients are start-up companies, they are just so passionate about their new business and as they are in the beginning stages they are looking for that creative direction. I love the challenge of discovering their point of difference in the market and working with them to create an unforgettable brand that propels their message to the market.
  • We also have ongoing work with some really well known New Zealand companies, district councils and one of New Zealand’s largest banks. We love being involved with large scale projects as this keeps things interesting, gives us the exposure to collaborate and learn from new teams, and also requires us to take a more corporate structured approach to our design.
  • My team’s intimate knowledge of the New Plymouth market is a valuable asset to our local clients but it has been incredible to see that clients outside of New Plymouth are also confident in the work we are creating and getting in touch. We have clients from all over New Zealand now and amazingly we are even getting recognised internationally.


What is the creative scene like locally?

  • New Plymouth is such a vibrant city, the creative scene here is thriving and it feels like a new event is popping up every week. New Plymouth hosts some amazing internationally recognised events like WOMAD and the NZ Tattoo and Art Festival.
  • At Design Garage we work with have some really creative clients who are bringing fresh ideas into the mix and recreating vibes from larger cities. For example last year we came together with a passionate committee to bring the first every TEDx speaker series to New Plymouth with an inspirational 10 local speakers.
  • New Plymouth is rapidly becoming an attractive place to live and I am constantly meeting new and interesting people who have moved here with fresh ideas.


How does the environment there shape your ideas?

  • New Plymouth is located right on the west coast and you can’t beat the mountain to sea views from the heart of the city. Our office looks right out to sea and that morning view really gets your creative ideas flowing.
  • I belong to many communities and networks which are thriving with like minded businesses and creatives. New Plymouth has a really collaborative approach, people really like to work with locals they know and trust so it has been very important over the years to build up strong relationships.


What do you love most about where you live?

I love the culture of the city, everyone is so passionate to call this place home and rarely do you find mountain to sea views from the same city! The people here are just amazing and we have some incredible clients who keep us passionate about what we are doing. Also the fact it takes me 5 minutes to drive to work in peak hour traffic, a nice change from the hustle bustle of the big cities I have lived in.

What are the challenges (if any) about where you live and work?

I haven’t come across any challenges that have been limited by my location, we have great suppliers and New Plymouth is a rapidly growing city so there is always plenty of work. However, I have found that New Plymouth is no longer the secret hidden gem it once was and a new challenge is keeping up with the new demand and ensuring we stay competitive in the growing market.

Can you show us around your town… what should we know about living and working in New Plymouth?

Everything is so accessible with the coastal walkway, beaches, Mount Taranaki and national parks all on your doorstep, there is so much to do here if you love the outdoors and keeping active! If you prefer the indoors then we have plenty of inspiring museums and art galleries, the newly built Len Lye Centre is an incredible creative hub in the city. New Plymouth also has a thriving cafe culture, we are known for our love of coffee and brunch, so we know how to do it well!
As I mentioned I belong to many committees, like The Network Inc and Venture Taranaki, which provide a great platform for businesses and creatives to collaborate. Venture Taranaki was especially helpful when starting my business, providing me with support from a business coach who connected me to some great local businesses and resources. If you are thinking of moving to New Plymouth then my advice would be to join all the networking organisations to get your name out there, build strong local relationships and benefit from the local support.

What is the must-do experience you’d recommend to anyone visiting?

An evening stroll along the coastal walkway is a must do and is a weekly activity for my family, ensure you catch the sunset over the ocean! The best thing about the coastal walkway is that you are spoilt with miles of scenic variety and the iconic Wind Wand is hard to miss!

Where can we find the best coffee, cocktail or sweet treat in your town?

You can’t beat the coffee and freshly baked brioche and scones from The dept. cafe.
In the evening my go to for cocktails and a delicious meal has to be Arborio.
If you are here on the first Sunday of the month, then check out The Seaside Markets and grab yourself some mouthwatering Five Fudge.


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