Meet student Natalie Williamson, and her bright ideas

Natalie is a student at the University of Huddersfield. She’s also an entrepreneur, about to take her business stateside, a parent, starting up another business, and helping with an innovation scheme...

Natalie will jet to New York as part of her business plan to stimulate interest in her 1950s-flavoured design portfolio.

It will be a second trip to the Big Apple for Natalie, who worked in the fashion industry before enrolling to study at her hometown university. In 2014, she and a group of fellow graphic design students went stateside where she attended Surtex, which is widely regarded as the premiere event for artists who seek to sell and licence their designs.

The experience made Natalie realise that this was a route that she could follow by setting up her own design business called Natalie Williamson Designs, and this is what she has done for the Enterprise Placement Year that is built into her BA degree course.

Although she soon returns to the University for a final year of study, she will keep her business up and running. Her website shows examples of her surface pattern designs for stationery and homeware – including greetings cards and invitations – plus tea towels.

And she will make a return visit to Surtex – which takes place in New York on 17-19 May – taking with her a portfolio of her work that she hopes will catch the eye of manufacturers, as well as saleable items.

Her business is run from the University of Huddersfield’s 3M Buckley Innovation Centre, where she can receive help and advice from the University’s Enterprise Team. A proof-of-concept grant enabled her to produce a stock of material, and during the enterprise placement year she attended events that included trade shows, craft fairs and has also done business online.

Bespoke designs

Now aged 31, her goal is to be a self-employed designer. But she has experience of teamwork inside big organisations. One of her jobs after leaving Huddersfield Grammar School and Greenhead College was at the Leeds head office of fashion chain Republic. She found herself working alongside designers in her role as Online PR and Social Media Executive and began to contribute designs of her own.

During maternity leave after giving birth to daughter Ava – now aged three – Natalie began to design and produce bespoke invitation cards, selling them online. She also began to seek out university courses that would develop her skills. She was accepted for the graphic design course at Huddersfield and began to develop her distinctive style.

She completes her designs on computer, but they originate as traditional hand drawings, and the aesthetics and typography of the 1950s and 1980’s have been a major influence.

“I design happy surface patterns, for happy people.” said Natalie.

Ideas for success

But Natalie is no stranger to success or coming up with bright ideas. Last year, she was on the winning team in the University’s 24-Hour Challenge, which is part of a larger scheme called The Innovative Creative Exchange or ICE for short.

The 24-Hour Challenge, run literally over 24 hours, brought together small teams of students from various design and engineering disciplines with the task of coming up with a solution to a ‘world problem’.

Natalie led the team with an idea to reduce food waste by creating a software app that when linked to the product’s barcode would confirm when food was reaching its ‘use by’ date and even suggest recipes for its consumption.

Never short of a good idea Natalie is now a member of another University innovation scheme called Honeypot, which encourages students to come forward with ideas, share these with other students and then, with a bit of mentoring and guidance, bring their ‘creations’ to fruition.

Natalie has teamed up with fellow Graphic Design student, Rebecca Fisk, but for the time being their plans are going to stay firmly under wraps until the launch in September.