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The Design Labs: innovation, research and professionalization

The development of the design research activity at L’École de design Nantes Atlantique is consistent with a vocational design school, in line with its values and pedagogical practices.

Committed to Research, Education and Innovation since 2008

The importance of design research in L’École de design Nantes Atlantique is obvious in the context of a vocational training establishment dedicated to maximizing the points of contact between design practice, the business world and society.

Our approach consists of three concurrent dimensions:

  • Project-based applied research for specific projects, in order to capitalize on the methodologies and thought processes of the various design practices (product design, Interaction Design and UX design, graphic design, interior design and scenography) but also on cross-disciplinary syllabuses;
  • Education through the organization of specialized MDes Master’s programs, subject to the high standards of a Master’s degree in design in all its strategic, experimental, complex and international dimensions;
  • Innovation to develop vertical expertise on complex societal issues and to play a role in transforming social practices and organizations, companies or institutions.

These three efforts are rooted in the Design Labs, which are places of experimentation, education and discussion, with expert teams and exploratory programs.

What is a Design Lab?

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). In the Design Labs, the meeting of different design cultures and dialogue with the humanities and social sciences and engineering science disciplines enables us to test new methods and tools which fuel curricular innovation, challenge technological and societal changes, give meaning to new products/services and promote design-led knowledge.

Since 2010, L’École de design Nantes Atlantique has opened four Design Labs dedicated to design-led exploration of topics related to contemporary social, technological and economic changes.

The Care Design Lab focuses more specifically on the themes of health and environmental and social quality of life, as well as the issue of healthcare and caring for others. In this framework, it experiments with user-oriented design and involves public and private players.

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 City Design Lab.

The cultural, social, economic and environmental issues involved in the development of our food systems form the research area for the Food Design Lab.

The Digital Design Lab explores the possibilities offered by technological innovation and its impact on our physical environment and living space. It accompanies digital technological progress: technologies for speech recognition (and synthesis), images, Big Data mining and exploitation, Artificial Intelligence, robotics, Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities…
[photo d’ambiance City

Working session at the City Design Lab with Prof Carlos Moreno and the CNAM’s Michel Serres Center

A Master’s training program supported by research

The Design Lab teams oversee Master’s programs (Master of Design, MDes) related to their specific research theme: the teaching programs are thus enriched by 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.

Particular attention is paid to the subjects of end of studies 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.

Project-based design research

The research carried out in the Design Labs is firmly grounded in project work, encouraging experimentation and the implementation of user-centered methods.

It is organized on the principle of action research by doing, based on experimentation and the creation of assessment protocols, and analytical and prospective work drawing on the international state of the art in design research.

This research can be part of collaborative projects, research contracts, support for doctoral training or alternatively in the context of research chairs backed by sponsoring organizations on subjects of public interest.

It is formalized through various contributions, research articles and publications, and through involvement in research communities (the French-speaking network Les Ateliers de la Recherche en Design, Design Research Society, European Academy of Design, Cumulus) and outreach activities (conferences, round tables, events, demonstrations and exhibitions). For instance, the school has been involved with the French-language journal Sciences du Design since its creation.

L’École de design Nantes Atlantique co-founded the French-language journal Sciences du design
The Design & Innovative Public Action chair explores design input in public policy by means of field trials

Support for design-led innovation

The theme-based structure of the Design Labs makes it possible to explore major societal issues which represent potential economic opportunities, with the ambition of transferring this expertise to our society. This transfer can take different forms: research contracts, consulting assignments, collaborative workshops or taking on doctoral student designers (CIFRE contract). The services provided are eligible for Research Tax Credit.

Design-led research and innovation chairs

Research and innovation activities are primarily based on design-led research and innovation chairs.

A first chair on Connected Environments, backed by the Banque Populaire Grand Ouest and French company LIPPI was co-run between 2014 and 2018 by the City Design Lab and the Digital Design Lab. Two main priorities were addressed by this chair: the design of tools, methods of creativity and decision-making in the field of connected objects; user participation inspired by the processes explored in the so-called Living Lab and Urban Living Lab methods. Several publications were produced to reflect the experimentation and analyses on the subject: “The Urban Living Lab Approach: Design and opportunities for an experimental methodology of urban innovation” in June 2016, “Research topics” in February 2018 as well as a series of conferences and study days.

A second chair was launched in March 2017 in the Care Design Lab, known as “Design and innovative public action”. This chair is backed by Harmonie Mutuelle, several public institutions (Département de Loire-Atlantique, Nantes Métropole and the regional prefect) and the 27th region.


Ouest Industries Créatives – a regional Research, Education And Innovation program on experience design

The signature of a partnership agreement with l’Université de Nantes and the School’s involvement in the regional Ouest Industries Créatives Research, Education & Innovation Pays de la Loire program as joint pilots of this program with the university, confirms the school’s desire to develop a concerted scientific policy promoting jointly backed research topics. Our 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.

Two theses and research projects have been selected in the context of calls for research projects from the Ouest Industries Créatives RFI program, which aims to promote research projects combining partners from higher education and research with art and design schools.

Publications and contributions

The school’s participation in French and international networks of design research shows our commitment to contributing actively to the process of design-led knowledge production.

Sciences du design

L’École de design 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 (research director of the Design Labs 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 l’Université de Nantes responsible for property assets) on the theme of Digital Urbanities.

Design Lab publications

The Design Labs also publish resources intended to increase public awareness of the research element of design. A first publication appeared in Documentation Française. Co-written with the Département de Loire-Atlantique, it looks back over the 3-year partnership between the department and L’Ecole de design (Public service design in local government: from theory to practice, 2014).

Consult the list of L’Ecole de design’s publications and participations in scientific conferences

Director of Research: Frédéric Degouzon, Director of Strategy, Research and Development