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Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian            

Director & Designer of Experiences; Filmmaker

Called the "Willy Wonka of design and science," Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian is renowned for her innovative and immersive approach to experiential design in which she blends elements of art, science, and theater to create unforgettable experiences.

She holds a Ph.D. in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art in London, where her research focused on experience design and the role of the senses in shaping human perception. Driven by a passion for exploring the unknown and pushing the boundaries of interdisciplinary collaboration, Ben Hayoun-Stépanian has worked with leading institutions, organizations, and individuals around the globe. She is the founder of Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios, a multidisciplinary design practice, where she leads a team in crafting immersive installations, interactive experiences, and experimental projects.

Throughout her career, Ben Hayoun-Stépanian has been at the forefront of creating mind-bending experiences that challenge conventional thinking and ignite curiosity. Her projects often tackle pressing issues such as climate change, space exploration, and the future of humanity, using design as a tool for sparking dialogue and driving positive change.

As Designer of Experiences at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute), she founded the world's first International Space Orchestra, a group made up of NASA space scientists and astronauts. She is a Senior Fellow of the Hannah Arendt Centre for Politics and Humanities, Vice-Chair of the International Astronautical Federation Technical Committee on the Cultural Utilization of Space, and a member of the International Academy of Astronautics Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence permanent committee, among others. She founded and runs the Space Culture and Decolonial Space session at the International Astronautical Congress.

As a filmmaker, she premiered "Doppelgängers3," which challenges conventional narratives of space colonization, at SXSW in 2024. She previously directed, wrote and produced four other feature-length films which have screened at prestigious festivals around the world.

Ben Hayoun-Stépanian is also founder of the University of the Underground, a tuition-free postgraduate university providing Master in Design of Experiences based in the underground of the urban spaces in London and Amsterdam.

An educator, speaker, and provocateur, Ben Hayoun-Stépanian inspires audiences around the world with her infectious enthusiasm and boundless creativity. She has lectured at leading universities and institutions and has been featured in numerous publications, showcasing her visionary approach to design and her dedication to making the world a more engaging and thought-provoking place.

Icon Magazine nominated Ben Hayoun-Stépanian as one of the 50 international designers “shaping the future.” She was awarded a WIRED Innovation fellowship in 2014. She became a Karman Fellow in 2022 and was honored with The Hall of Fame lifetime achievement award by Design Week in 2023.


The 'Willy Wonka' of design says we need to rethink our workplaces
The open plan office and hot desking zeitgeist are losing their gloss as companies reassess what it means to keep their workers happy...
How the 'Willy Wonka Of Design' Reimagines Corporate Leadership
“Total bombardment” is how experience design pioneer Nelly Ben Hayoun describes her presentation style. Speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore earlier this month, that descriptor was just about the only moment where minimalism took hold...
"Design has to be about modifying power structures" says Nelly Ben Hayoun
Designers need to change the model of leadership to create a more diverse and critical industry, says designer Nelly Ben Hayoun, who has directed the documentary I Am (Not) A Monster...

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