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Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian          

Filmmaker, Director & Experiential Designer; Advisory Council of METI Member & Designer of Experiences at the SETI Institute

Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian is a London-based designer, artist, and filmmaker. Her design work has been exhibited at the National Museum of China, MOMA, V&A, and the MET, among others. She is the founder of the University of the Underground, a tuition-free postgraduate institution providing a Master in Design of Experiences degree. Her explorations in film have resulted in feature film releases such as "Disaster Playground" in 2015, which investigates emergency procedures for disasters, and "I am (not) a Monster" in 2019, a reflection on the origins of knowledge. In 2020, she was recognized as a grantee of the Sundance Institute for her documentary "Red Moon." Hayoun-Stépanian also contributes to the academic world as a visiting professor at the Architectural Association School of Architecture and the Royal College of Art while also holding a PhD in Human Geography and Political Philosophy from Royal Holloway, University of London.

Hayoun-Stépanian works across disciplines. In addition to her creative side, Hayoun-Stépanian holds a crucial role on the Advisory Council of METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and serves as the designer of experiences at the SETI Institute. Her work has crossed disciplines and borders as she has collaborated with renowned musicians and assembled the International Space Orchestra (ISO), a unique group composed of space scientists from prestigious institutions such as NASA Ames Research Center, Singularity University, International Space University, and the SETI Institute.

As an Associate Fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, Hayoun-Stépanian, she works to support plurality and the freedom of thinking across borders. Additional positions include serving as the Vice Chair of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), Technical Committee on the Cultural Utilization of Space (ITACCUS), a member of the IAF Space Education and Outreach Committee (SEOC), and a member of the IAA (International Academy of Astronautics) Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) permanent committee amongst others since 2013, and a founding member of the IAF Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Administrative (IDEA) committee in 2023. In 2022, she was granted a Karman Fellowship and took part in a one-year program designed to support 15 carefully selected global leaders to strengthen personal relations, meet with thought leaders in technology, science, business, politics, and the arts, and take personal commitments to further advance space-related agendas for the betterment of humanity.

Ben Hayoun-Stépanian also has an eye for business. For 10 years, she served as the Chief of Experiences at the file transfer service WeTransfer, where she worked with WeTransfer's president, Damian Bradfield, to build a sustainable B Corp Business. She also assisted in business development and strategy in the USA. During her tenure at WeTransfer, the company grew its client base from 10,000 users to 90 million active users a month.

Hayoun-Stépanian has been recognized for her innovative approach, being nominated by Icon Magazine as one of the 50 international designers "shaping the future." In 2023, Design Week awarded her with their Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement award, which acknowledges "the achievements of designers and industry figures who have made a significant impact and contribution to the industry and have provided inspiration with incisive thinking."

Speech Topics

Technology and Cultural Studies

Decolonial Practices and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Policies

Extreme Creativity and Creative Direction

Radical Education and Radical Imagination

Space Culture and Space Science

Invention and Innovation


"My mum only recently started to understand what I do" says Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian
Experience designer Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian enjoys the fact that people find it hard to pin down exactly what she does and believes others should embrace her "non-linear" approach, she tells Dezeen in this interview. "I love people not fucking understanding what I do," Ben Hayoun-Stépanian told Dezeen. "Bottom line is, they don't understand what I do. But I do a lot."
New Doc Explores the Pitfalls of Colonizing Space
In Doppelgängers³, three look-alikes, including director Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian, go to a cave in Spain to figure out ways Earthlings could avoid repeating history’s mistakes on other planets.
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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