The Design Labs: innovation, research and professionalization

The development of research activities at L’École de design Nantes Atlantique is grounded in a rationale of interdisciplinarity and pooling of resources with Universities and "Grandes Écoles”. The signature of an agreement with the University of Nantes and its involvement within the regional RFI initiative (Research, Training and Innovation) in Pays de la Loire dedicated to creative industries shows its commitment to developing a concerted scientific policy promoting joint research activities. The shared ambition is to set up an internationally recognized center of excellence, based on a collaboration among academic research partners, leaders in innovation and socio-economic players.

L’École de design’s international dimension is the result of a 20 year-long strategy including its participation in the conferences organized by Cumulus (International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media), over which its director, Christian Guellerin, presided for two mandates between 2007 and 2012. The school is also a member of DRS (Design Research Society), Icograda (International Council of Graphic Design Associations) and EAD (European Academy of Design). The ambition to develop design research is thus also informed by our knowledge of the most important international trends in this field. In addition, the school is actively involved in the field of French language research through conferences organized by the Ateliers de la Recherche en design (ARD for Design Research Workshops) and through its support for and participation in the Science du design journal.

Design Reasearch Workshops’ 9th edition (ARD 9) took place on 10-12 December 2014 in Liège, Belgium on the topic "Designer: creator and/or facilitator?" with Grégoire Cliquet, Digital culture Design Lab Director.

Design Labs

The widespread use of the term “Lab” in the past few years reveals the necessity to create interdisciplinary laboratories promoting open innovation and experimentation in a context of diverse partnerships (manufacturers, local authorities and university laboratories). Interdisciplinarity is the very essence of the Design Labs which are based on several design cultures (product, interactivity, spatial and graphic design) and are just as likely to use disciplines from the social sciences and Humanities as from engineering. New methods and tools are experimented with to fuel pedagogical innovation, challenge technological and societal developments, give meaning to new products/services and promote design-led learning.

Since 2010, L’École de design Nantes Atlantique has opened four Design Labs dedicated to design-led research on topics related to contemporary social, technological and economic changes. The READi Design Lab (Applied Experimental Research in interactive design) explores developments in new ways of interacting with technology, both in the field of connected objects and in the area of services based on digital data or devices using virtual reality, augmented and mixed reality. The cultural, social, economic and environmental issues involved in the development of our food systems are the research area for the New Eating Habits Design Lab. The challenges we face with respect to 21st century urban development on a human scale, respectful of sustainable development and putting the user at the heart of the innovation process, are the topics which structure the research of the Sustainable Cities Design Lab. Finally, the Care Design Lab focuses on the themes of health and environmental and social quality of life. It also experiments with co-design and user-oriented design and involves public and private players.


The Design Labs encompass Master’s programs related to their specific research theme. They help enrich the teaching programs, providing additional sources of knowledge, methodologies and research experience. Students have the opportunity to participate in different types of experimental research with companies, local authorities or other higher education institutions; they also take part in technology watch activities and participate in conferences and fairs in France and abroad. The Design Lab team pays particular attention to the subjects of final degree projects and students can get help approaching incubation centers in order to develop their project. They may also be encouraged to pursue their studies at doctoral level. The workforce preparation internship is replaced by an internship in a research laboratory within the framework of a university partnership.


The research carried out in the Design Labs is firmly grounded in project work, encouraging experimentation and a user-centered approach.
It is based on industrial and/or institutional partnerships which give access to different methodological protocols and types of workshop. Research subjects are determined by 3-year contracts with companies and, in the case of doctoral research, with academic partners. The Design Labs have established links with many professional networks, competitiveness clusters and associations whose fields of expertise, development and promotion contribute to increasing knowledge on their research topics.

The first research chair on Connected Environments, supported by Banque Populaire Atlantique and the French company LIPPI, was launched in June 2014 and defines the research program of the READi and Sustainable Cities Design Labs for a 3-year period. The chair has two main concerns: firstly, to design tools and methods of creativity and decision-making in the field of connected objects; the second involves user participation and is inspired by the processes and methods explored in so-called Living Labs and Urban Living Labs. The first was the subject of a presentation by Grégoire Cliquet (director of the READi Design Lab) at JAIST (Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) in March 2016 under the heading “Designing the internet of Things for People” and the second was addressed in a publication edited by Florent Orsoni (director of the Sustainable Cities Design Lab), Hilda Zara and Zélia Darnault entitled “The Urban Living Lab Approach: Design and opportunities for an experimental methodology of urban innovation” (June 2016). This book was the result of a partnership with SAMOA (the French company responsible for the redevelopment of Ile de Nantes), based on an experimental approach to “creating the city and its uses” and a Think Tank approach involving teams of researchers, higher education institutions, companies and startups.

A second chair is currently being launched under the direction of Gaël Guilloux, director of the Care Design Lab, entitled “Chair in public policy design: societal innovation” (user & public-private collaboration for public service transition), with the support of local authorities (Nantes Métropole, Département de Loire-Atlantique, Région Pays de la Loire), various associations and businesses. The first thesis devoted to an interdisciplinary co-design approach on how to develop housing for the elderly has been selected as part of the first call for research projects in the RFI OIC program. One of the aims of this program is to promote research initiatives involving partners from higher education and research, and art and design schools. The PhD student, Marketa Fingerova, is an associate anthropologist in the Care Design Lab. She is being supervised by Daniel Siret, director of the AAU laboratory (Ambiances, Architecture, Urbanités – École Nationale d’Architecture de Nantes), in co-direction with Gaël Guilloux.

Décryptage Info on the topic "Data, design and economics: which new business models?" on 4 February 2016 at Banque Populaire Atlantique with Simon Chignard, author of DATANOMICS.

Involvement with the interdisciplinary research center on Cultural and Creative Industries

Projects have been initiated with various academic laboratories as a result of this involvement:

  • AAU – Joint research unit 1563 – CNRS, MCC, ECN/ENSA Grenoble – ENSA Nantes
  • GRANEM - Joint research unit MA 49 – Université d’Angers
  • LS2N - Joint research unit (UMR 6004), fusion of UMR IRCCyN & LINA, Université de Nantes

Selected projects:

  • CO-DESIGN: AAU laboratory and Care Design Lab
  • Ph-IDEA, (Immersive Data Exploration and Analysis): LS2N and READi Design Lab

Projects under development:

  • ADLUX, light stimuli effects on consumers behaviors, integrating pwer saving, GRANEM Université d’Angers and Sustainable Cities Design Lab
  • VISAMURB (visualization of 3D urban data for urban redevelopment): AAU/team CRENAU, IRCCyN/IVC (Images et Vidéo Communications) and Sustainable Cities Design Lab
  • DysTAL (dyslexia and automatic language processing): LINA/TALN (Automatics language processing) and READi Design Lab


The school’s participation in French and international networks of design research show our strong commitment to the process of design-led knowledge production. It supports the journal Sciences du Design, the first peer-reviewed French language international journal in the field of design research, founded in 2015 by Alain Findeli and Stéphane Vial, directed by Stéphane Vial and edited by PUF. The 3rd issue (June 2016) was produced under the direction of Jocelyne Le Bœuf (Design Labs Research & Promotion Director and member of the editorial board of Sciences du Design), Grégoire Cliquet (director of the READi Design Lab) and Jean-Louis Kérouanton (Vice-President of the Université de Nantes responsible for property assets). The theme of the issue, Urbanités numériques (Digital culture and urban development), is perfectly in line with the research carried out by the Connected Environments Chair, which is closely linked to the Sustainable Cities and READi Design Labs.
The Design Labs also publish resources intended to increase public awareness of the research element of design. The first book was published by Documentation française. Co-designed with the Département de Loire-Atlantique, it looks back over the 3-year partnership between the department and L’École de design (Design de service public en collectivité locale, le passage à l’acte, 2014 - Public service design in local government: from theory to practice). A study on the methods and research being carried out in the Banque Populaire Atlantique/LIPPI Connected Environments Chair was published in June 2016: The Urban Living Lab Approach: Design and opportunities for an experimental methodology of urban innovation (collective work under the direction of Florent Orsoni, Hilda Zara and Zélia Darnault)

Jocelyne Le Bœuf
Scientific Director
L’École de design Nantes Atlantique

J. Le Bœuf was one of the founding members of L’École de design Nantes Atlantique in 1988 and was Director of Studies until 2013. A graduate in history of art and art criticism, she taught art and design history in various institutions of higher education. In 2006, her historical research on the “Esthétique industrielle” movement in France resulted in the publication of a book about one of its main protagonists, Jacques Viénot (Presses Universitaires de Rennes). Her current activities focus on developing research in the Design Labs. She is a member of the editorial comittee of the Science du design journal, managed by Stéphane Vial, PUF. She is also co-managing the RFI OIC with Patrick Le Callet, professor, IRCCyN, Polytech, Université de Nantes, France.


LE BOEUF J., (2016), Notes vagabondes, Métaphores et mémoire dans les affiches de Nelu Wolfensohn (2016), exhibition catalogue (November-December 2016), Centre de design, Université du Québec à Montreal (UQAM), Canada, with texts from Diane Charbonneau, Adriana Dredge, Ronald J.R Filion Mallette, éd. Pour le Bien Public.

Research articles:

LE BOEUF J. ”Jacques Viénot and the Esthétique industrielle in France (1920-1960)”, Design Issues, Winter 2006, 22.1, Cambridge / The MIT Press, 2006, p. 46-64.
Le BOEUF, J. ORSONI, F. (2019). "Enjeux de la recherche par le design pour l’enseignement de futurs professionnels designers engagés dans les problématiques de la ville durable", Développement durable, Sciences du Design 09, Paris : PUF, 24-37.