Designers play a vital role in innovation

The EPFL-Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, and ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne, have launched a unique programme called Design Research for Digital Innovation. Inspired by the PhD studies, it combines advanced education with a research project, yet with a focus on innovation, pragmatic impact and professional prospects. The programme rethinks the very notion of design research.

What is the new model for a design research lab leading to disruptive innovation? This question raises key issues: who are the researchers? What’s their education? What can their impact be in the world of innovation, mostly driven by engineering? Usually design students have a choice between leaving school after working on a personal project within a very limited timeframe and budget as part of their master’s degree. Or, should they be interested in design research, they have to apply for a PhD in one of the few schools offering such a curriculum. However, the PhD culture and format are strongly associated with academic perspectives.

“Innovation needs design research to bring the end user more than just technical performance. We must train designers as researchers for the industry and organizations, able to turn disruptive technologies into convincing user experiences”, says Nicolas Henchoz, the instigator of the programme entitled Design Research for Digital Innovation.

The two-year full-time programme is run by the EPFL+ECAL Lab, a design lab of EPFL based in the ECAL building. It combines a Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) at 30% and a research assistant position at 70%. Advanced academic courses including workshops and case studies give access to extensive knowledge of the digital sector in terms of interaction design, research strategies, innovation and collaborations. But the greatest focus is on creating knowledge and having an actual impact. Each student is assigned to one the research projects going on at the Lab. Based on a transdisciplinary approach, these projects involve the EPFL+ECAL Lab team (senior designers, software and hardware engineers, psychologist) at large. Current research topics include how to bring digital heritage back to life, new inclusive social networks, narrative principles for augmented reality, and big data visualization.

For ECAL, this new programme strengthens its global strategy: “We have been able to establish a global partnership with EPFL giving our Bachelor and Master students access to a new Electronic Makers Lab, emerging technologies, and strong expertise. The new research assistant positions contribute to creating knowledge in emerging disciplines where design will have to play a major role”, ECAL Director Alexis Georgacopoulos explains.

The programme started in the fall of 2014. Only a few candidates are accepted each year, leading to a very international and selective team. They receive a salary for their work as research assistants, allowing them to be financially independent.


Yves Béhar, San Francisco
Thomas David
Jean-Louis Fréchin
Alexis Georgacopoulos
Nicolas Henchoz
Jeremy Myerson, Londres


Marius Aeberli
Julie Janet Chauffier, London
Tommaso Colombo, Milano
Dieter Dietz
Cédric Duchêne
Rama Gheerawo, London
Nicolas Henchoz
Frédéric Kaplan
Julien Pilet
Delphine Ribes
Andreas Sonderegger
Chi-Long Trieu


2 ans/years

CHF 8000. –

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French and English

Master of Advanced Studies in Design Research for Digital Innovation, EPFL & HES-SO

Nicolas Henchoz

Marius Aeberli

Please apply before 15 April, 2019 to