Taking part in the 2017 Design Academy transformed Balazs Kovacs’ approach to his design research. Today his career has been hugely influenced by what he learned.

In the same week that we interviewed him, Balazs Kovacs became the proud owner of the title Design Analyst at Pepsico’s Design and Innovation team. His internship at the company had come to an end, but a new chapter was starting as he became their latest permanent employee.

“The fact that I had taken part in Design Council’s Design Academy while I was at university at Ravensbourne was a significant part of the reason that I got this job,” says Balazs. “At both the interview for my internship and the interview for this job, it was very heavily emphasised that they were looking for someone with a holistic approach to design. Exactly the kind of approach the programme taught us.”

Design Council’s Design Academy programme is taken by students, at participating institutions, alongside their degree. By exposing participants to a structured, proven methodology based on Design Council’s Framework for Innovation, the programme prepares students for employment. Skills crucial to the new design economy such as collaboration, interdisciplinary working and human-centred research methods are learned as the students tackle a big societal design problem – in Balazs’ case, it was improving people’s experience of ageing.

“The approach we learned on the programme was immediately different to the way I had worked before,” says Balazs. “It was a structured method of discovery, a very hands-on way of finding out what the problem is.”

What it teaches you is a whole system; the more you practice it, the more you do it naturally. It becomes part of your behaviour as a designer

Balazs Kovacs, Design Analyst, Pepsico and 2017 Design Academy Alumni

As part of their research, Balazs’ team spoke with carers, charities and visited care homes to talk with the residents and the staff working with them. They participated in activities while they were there as well as interviewing people, immersing themselves in their user's world for a short time. “What we figured out, was that the lack of connection between the generations was a huge problem,” says Balazs. “We realised that the generations learn from each other, but in a society where families tend not to live communally anymore, this interaction is missing.”

Balazs and his group came up with a service design concept that brought the generations together. However, their solution was, in many ways, not the point. “The focus of the Design Academy is the structure you are taught,” says Balazs, “and I have used that structure again and again since graduating. Because what it teaches you is a whole system, the more you practice it, the more you do it naturally. It becomes part of your behaviour as a designer.”

Balazs’ day-to-day practice at Pepsico is steeped in the design thinking principles he experienced on the Design Academy, giving him lots of opportunities to use the techniques he learned. “It’s a very broad role, encompassing service, material and product design,” he says. “My work blends material science, user-focus and manufacturing in an industry that is changing so much in terms of transparency, of packaging and the product itself. There are just so many opportunities for innovation. As a designer that is just amazing, it’s exactly what I want to be doing.”

You can apply the way of thinking to any type of design, and it makes the work so much more rewarding

Balazs Kovacs, Design Analyst, Pepsico and 2017 Design Academy Alumni

Balazs is applying his learnings outside of his work at Pepsico as well. Picking up on the theme of facilitating learning that he explored with the Design Academy brief, he and another graduate from Ravensbourne have created LUDIO an educational toy that helps children with autism develop social skills. “Because our end-user is such a niche customer, it’s an incredibly research-heavy project,” he says, “and a great example of how we used that way of working”. They received a year of incubation funding for the project at Ravensbourne after winning the Incubation Lite Award in 2017. Now, the project has been accepted onto the EDUCATE programme at UCL Institute of Education, where they will further refine their solution.

LUDIO – an educational toy

“I’m so glad I took part in Design Academy”, says Balazs. “You can apply the way of thinking to any type of design and it makes it so much more rewarding and impactful. My motivation for being a designer is the impact I can have, both large and small. If I can spend my career bringing products to the market that make a positive difference, like reducing plastic waste, or improving the lives of children with autism, then I will have fulfilled my ambitions and responsibility as a designer.”

How do I get involved?
If you're a student and are interested in Design Academy, please speak to your university course leader and let them know you are interested.

If you're a university and would like to get involved with Design Academy, or if you have any questions,  please get in touch with the Design Academy team at innovation@designcouncil.org.uk. You can also download our brochure for more information about Design Academy 2018-19.

Sign up to our newsletter

Receive news and event updates from Design Council.

Sign up

News & opinion

The Design Council Spark awardee breaking new ground with his digging device Nick Skaliotis invented the Kikka Digga – an easy-to-use gardening tool that makes light work of digging. Here he talks about his lightbulb moment, memorable marketing opportunities and why Spark was just the boost he needed. Nick Skaliotis invented the Kikka Digga – an easy-to-use gardening tool that makes light work of digging.

Feature — 27/03/2019

TickleFLEX: The Design Council Spark awardee whose device for diabetics has revolutionised... As someone with Type 1 diabetes, Peter Bailey is only too aware of the daily, often uncomfortable, challenges of self-injecting insulin. So he came up with the TickleFLEX, a product that controls the needle depth and blocks the pain pathways, and which saw him become a finalist of Design Council... 2016 finalist Peter Bailey talks about being diabetic, the power of positive feedback and why Spark was a springboard to his success.

Feature — 28/02/2019