Nelly Ben Hayoun
Nelly Ben Hayoun graduated from Design Interactions in 2009. A self-described ‘director and designer of experiences’, she works with leading scientists and engineers to devise subversive events and experiences. Previous collaborators include George Lucas, Beck, Bobby Womack, Damon Albarn, Maywa Denki and Bruce Sterling.
In 2013, Icon Magazine nominated Ben Hayoun as one of the 50 international designers ‘shaping the future’, and in 2014, she was awarded a WIRED Innovation fellowship while the Nelly Ben Hayoun Studio won the ICON Design Studio Award of the Year.
She is the Designer of Experiences at the SETI Institute in CA, USA, Head of Experiences at We Transfer and a member of the Space Outreach and Education committee at the International Astronautical Federation. She has worked with leading museums and design centres across the world, is a Visiting Professor at the Architectural Association School of Architecture and a researcher in Human Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.
What were you doing prior to applying to the Royal College of Art?
I studied textile design and after my BA, I decided to pursue a burgeoning fascination with kimonos by saving up for a trip to Japan. I come from the south of France where you can pick tons of fruit and vegetables; I worked really hard, and then went to Japan to find a kimono craftsman who would take me on as an apprentice. Eventually, I found work with three brothers who were working for Issey Miyake; I earned their trust and respect and, in time, they offered me a share of the company. At that point, I realised I was still really interested in textile design but it lacked the story, the content side of things, and I really wanted to develop that more.
So then you applied to Design Interactions at the RCA.
The Design Interactions course at the RCA popped up and it exactly answered that need. The course is not just concerned with the product, but also with the stories that go alongside that; we are not users or consumers but we’re actually complex human beings. I found that really intriguing and I knew I wanted to go to this place.
What was your experience of studying at the RCA like?
I had the best time ever at the RCA and learnt so much. The course was really stimulating and super hard. I’d never even used a laptop before, so I had a lot to learn. It was like a bombardment of stimulation! I was so obsessed by the place, by the people, the technicians, all the different nationalities – it was just so different from anything I’d ever experienced. And also, I didn’t speak a word of English at that time! At the beginning I really thought I’d never make it, but the course administrator was incredible, really reassuring. I had fantastic support there.
Do you have any advice for current or future students?
After graduating, I applied for every award or piece of funding I could find. My writing wasn’t perfect but I learnt by doing it, it’s the only way. I tried and tried and I failed – so much. I think it’s very important to build a network around yourself when you’re studying, and that’s the beauty of the RCA – the alumni, the network. Those contacts have helped me and my projects to grow. That kind of help and support doesn’t happen if you don’t put yourself and your ideas out there. You have to fail, fail, fail, fail… and never give up. None of these things I’ve done should ever have happened. None of these things seem possible. The more you put yourself at risk, the more chances you have to fail, but also, the more chances you have to actually come up with something which is just… out of this world.’
"The course was really stimulating and super hard. It was like a bombardment of stimulation! I was so obsessed by the place, by the people, the technicians, all the different nationalities – it was just so different from anything I’d ever experienced."