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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 renowned London-based designer, artist, and filmmaker. Her creative works have been showcased at prestigious venues such as the National Museum of China, MOMA, V&A, and the MET. As the founder of the University of the Underground, she has pioneered a tuition-free postgraduate institution offering a Master in Design of Experiences degree. Her ventures in filmmaking have produced notable feature films like "Disaster Playground" in 2015, which delves into disaster emergency procedures, and "I am (not) a Monster" in 2019, a contemplative piece on the origins of knowledge. Her documentary "Red Moon" earned her a Sundance Institute grant in 2020. Additionally, she contributes to academia as a visiting professor at the Architectural Association School of Architecture and the Royal College of Art, holding a PhD in Human Geography and Political Philosophy from Royal Holloway, University of London.

Hayoun-Stépanian’s work spans multiple disciplines. She holds significant roles on the Advisory Council of METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and as a designer of experiences at the SETI Institute. Her interdisciplinary collaborations include working with prominent musicians and founding the International Space Orchestra (ISO), a unique ensemble of space scientists from institutions such as NASA Ames Research Center, Singularity University, International Space University, and the SETI Institute. This breadth of engagement underscores her commitment to bridging art, science, and space exploration.

As an Associate Fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, Hayoun-Stépanian champions plurality and the freedom of thought. She holds several influential positions, including Vice Chair of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Technical Committee on the Cultural Utilization of Space (ITACCUS), member of the IAF Space Education and Outreach Committee (SEOC), and member of the IAA (International Academy of Astronautics) Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) permanent committee. In 2023, she helped establish the IAF Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Administrative (IDEA) Committee. Her leadership was further recognized in 2022 when she was awarded a Karman Fellowship, joining a select group of global leaders dedicated to advancing space-related agendas for humanity’s betterment.

In the business realm, Ben Hayoun-Stépanian served as the Chief of Experiences at WeTransfer for a decade, collaborating with President Damian Bradfield to cultivate a sustainable B Corp business. Her efforts in business development and strategy significantly contributed to WeTransfer's growth from 10,000 users to 90 million active users monthly. Her innovative approach has garnered widespread acclaim, with Icon Magazine naming her one of the 50 international designers shaping the future. In 2023, she was inducted into Design Week's Hall of Fame, receiving their Lifetime Achievement award for her substantial impact on the design industry and her inspirational, 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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