Seven Questions for Rick Wise, CEO of Lippincott

Lippincott worked to unify the brands of merged airlines Avianca and TACA. The three-year project culminated in the recent unveiling of a bold new visual identity.

With a client list that includes 3M, Delta Air Lines, Hyatt, Samsung, Starbucks, and Walmart, Lippincott has spent the last seven decades combining strategy and creativity. (The recent brand face-lifts of Stanley and eBay? All Lippincott.) At the helm of the firm, which is part of Marsh & McLennan-owned Oliver Wyman, is Rick Wise, who oversees innovation in Lippincott’s design and strategy practices while also advising clients on their branding issues. The Wharton alum made time to chat with us about some recent Lippincott projects as well as his branding pet peeve, what’s on his desk, and why the Taj Mahal never gets old.

Lippincott turns 70 this year. How are you celebrating?
It’s a big year for us. We’re celebrating by both looking back on how the industry has evolved, honoring the moments Lippincott has influenced and the iconic brands we built, as well as looking ahead to what the next 70 years will bring. For instance, in May of this year, we designed “Pencil to Pixel” in collaboration with Monotype—an exhibit documenting the past, present and future of typography. As part of this, Lippincott developed an exhibit of its own—curating artifacts and designs throughout our history. As part of that we also moderated a roundtable discussion on the future role of design and brand expression with executives from Coach, Warby Parker, Virgin America, Chipotle, and eBay.

Tell us about a recent Lippincott project that you are particularly proud of and why?
We are very proud of the work we did for Avianca, the Latin American airline formed by the merger of Avianca and TACA airlines. We worked hand in hand with Avianca for three years to create a new unified brand, developing the new logo, aircraft livery, plane interior, visual system and frequent flyer program. It’s a really beautiful system for an airline that aspires to be the regional leader. But what we’re most proud is our work helping build a unified brand from the inside out—making sure the cultures were aligned, the employees were energized, and most importantly the customer experience could live up to the promise of a unified pan-Latin American airline.

As a specialist in brand strategy, what brand (aside from your current or past clients) would you single out as an emerging brand to watch?
I’m a huge music fan, and it’s been really interesting to watch the growth of Beats by Dr. Dre. It’s pretty amazing to see the brand they have created in just a few years, focusing on the overall music experience. They have taken a page out of Apple’s playbook by focusing on innovation delivered in great packaging and design, and took a product many thought might be obsolete and made it relevant again.

Lippincott collaborated with Monotype on “Pencil to Pixel,” a recent exhibition of the past, present, and future of typography.

What is your identity design/branding pet peeve?
It’s frustrating when a client wants us to speed things along or skip right into brand design without defining the strategic intent and design criteria. Logo development isn’t just an aesthetic exercise. Most of the time, when you shortchange the process, it inevitably leads to having to rework everything down the line.

What is the most unusual or meaningful object currently on your desk?
I think there are two. From a business perspective, I love my Coca-Cola bottle because it represents one of Lippincott’s breakout global branding projects. It always reminds me of the history of the firm, our design roots and the impact that we’ve had on so many global icons. The second is a photo that my daughter took of the view from our vacation house in Maine. She captured this amazing light, and it’s an image that immediately takes me back there…and it reminds me how grown up and accomplished she is, as I don’t think I could have taken it myself.

What has been your greatest or most memorable design/branding-related encounter?
This might sound trite, but the Taj Mahal is really spectacular from a design perspective. I visited it just as a monsoon rain ended and the sun came out to illuminate it against a dark sky. Truly one of the few places on earth that lives up to its expectations

What has been your greatest design/branding moment?
It was an honor to work on the rebranding of Wal-Mart as the largest retailer in the world. It was an exciting challenge to revitalize such a well-established and visible brand. We worked hand-in-hand with them over the course of many years to transform their business, contemporize their look and feel, and enable them to appeal to a bigger audience centered on the simple but powerful essence of “save money, live better.” And it’s such a ubiquitous brand that it is fun to see our work all over, wherever I travel.