Tauranga designer Mat Macmillan has won a bronze award in the lighting category of this year's Designers Institute of NZ Best Design Awards for his iO Lighting Drum Pendant designs.

Mr Macmillan makes his designs himself, using sliced plywood to create dramatically shaped lights, in a studio the former carpenter fitted out himself on the family lifestyle block in Welcome Bay. Each set is unique.

"This award is a huge achievement, being that this is the first product I have launched and indeed my first foray into the design field," said Mr Macmillan.

He noted that his company, Maker, was up against some well-established names.

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Mr Macmillan conceived the design in early 2014 and developed the prototypes and jigs over six months, refining the product and eventually launching it through The Clever Design Store in August 2014. Maker now has its products in a dozen retail and design showrooms across New Zealand.

He said the design was selling well at retail and had also made some initial sales in Australia. Commercial orders were also growing.

"I knew nothing about how to price the product or how the retail world worked, or how to market when I started," he said.

Mr Macmillan recently gained through the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce a business mentor, which he said had been a massive help.

The Clever Design Store director Paul Kayser, who attended the awards, said Mr Macmillan had come to him at an early stage with several iterations of his designs.

"I was immediately drawn to the simplicity of his original idea - thin strips of ply in a tube-like form," he said.

Mr Kayser said the sustainability aspects of using ply off-cuts also appealed to him, and after a short period the lights began to sell, striking a chord with The Clever Design Store followers.

"It's the story behind the work that fascinates and separates considered design that's well crafted, from the mass-produced and poorly made products that surround us," he said.