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ID graduate Denis Weil named Master of Design by Fast Company

Denis Weil (MDes 2001) was recently named a master of design by Fast Company. He is profiled in the article Making Over McDonald's.

In the article, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, calls Weil an "experience engineer" who isn't afraid to tap customers for input. Weil's made and remade his career precisely through this sort of large-scale experimentation. Before he joined McDonald's in 2001 as the entrepreneur-in-residence in charge of nurturing non-burger experiments like McCafé, he'd earned a degree in chemical engineering and tried everything from product development at Procter & Gamble's Pampers division (combating saggy diapers) to being a brand manager for Hugo Boss to running an Internet-dating company. He came to IIT Institute of Design on a quest to figure out how to merge design and business and his work uses many of the tools and techniques taught at the school.

Systems design

Weil considers all elements of the business in his work. For example, the network of McDonald's "owner-operators" is a constituency divided by not only national borders and time zones but also by cultural expectations. Considering this, Weil has created what he calls a "living network" where ideas bubble up from McDonald's global partners—owner-operators, suppliers, outside design firms—and are relentlessly filtered and tested by Weil and his team. Design has to function within what the company calls the "system"; no changes can interfere with its operational prowess. Rather than accept other people's ideas wholesale, Weil tests each concept in-house to figure out whether to challenge or refine it.

Prototyping

Weil will routinely pull his team out of a conference-room brainstorming session onto the lab floor, shuffling equipment and cutting foam core to make his points more quickly. "Once you can see it," Weil says, "you can show it to an operations person and they can see the differences and they usually get it." Weil's scientific design method has led to some subtle but important changes in redesigned stores.

Frameworks

"Denis is big on frameworks," says Sigi Moeslinger, whose New York—based Antenna Design created the interfaces for the ordering kiosks Weil is experimenting with. "He's big into producing things that are transferable and sharable throughout the whole company."

Communication design

Once ideas pass Weil's muster in the Innovation Center, he has to infuse them throughout the company, trying to sell thousands of owner-operators on overhauling.

Don Thompson, CEO of McDonalds says of master of design Weil: "He's become our centerpoint. We never really had that."

See more of the 2010 Masters of Design coverage

 


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