The First-Person Project

John Alden ’03

Sabattus, ME

Digital Designer, L. L. Bean, Freeport

Major: Graphic Design

I’ve spent all of my life, more or less, in Maine. I grew up in Topsham, and in school I was always doodling and into artistic stuff. In high school I started to get a little more serious, widening my range – from photography to painting, sculpture, etc., and I started to gather a portfolio. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. Remember, this was before computers were really big. I started to get more interested in graphic arts as I extended my knowledge of the world of advertising and design, trying to convey a message using words and images to make it more memorable to people. I thought that was really interesting.

From there I started looking at schools. I really liked Keene, a cool little town in the middle of the valley. I just had a really good feeling about it, so I decided to go there. I met some people at orientation that I’m still friends with, and still keep in touch with colleagues I made over the four years spent there.

When I started at Keene State, I knew I wanted to eventually end up in graphic design, but I also wanted to take everything in. So I took classes across the academic fields; it was great to have that wide range when you’re doing your electives. I love to learn, and definitely like to have fun, but for me it was always about finding a balance. I wasn’t a kid who would skip class because I’d stayed out late the night before. I had a lot of awesome professors in all different genres. I took a film class that really left an impression on me. We watched all the classic movies and learned about the different tricks of the trade. These films are so influential, and helped spark my love for movies of all genres. I remember Statistics being a particularly hard class. I never really enjoyed math, but it was amazing to me how certain formulas can be used to find out such detailed information. It was just so interesting.

Keene State’s design program was really starting to take off then. I took a typography class with Daniel Carr; he had his own letterpress, and he would get so excited talking about typography and space between letters and different fonts. Yuan Pan taught my first real web design class. He had a big impact and seemed really ahead of his time. Art history was big for me, too. I had Art History class with Henry Friedman. We went through all the famous artists and the different periods. Just the passion that this guy had for it, and the little side-note stories that he would tell about the pieces made them memorable to everyone. That class was amazing, and many of the artists I discovered through it still inspire me.

All that art history made me want to go abroad, specifically to Italy, so I went to Florence for a semester as a junior. I wanted to go out and do my own thing and explore, so I went out there alone, and I met people from other schools and from Europe that I really took to. I went to Lorenzo de Medici Institute, a school for kids from all over the world. Classes were taught in English. I made a lot of really cool friends, and just took Florence all-in. There was so much to see, so many of the classical works that I’d learned so much about, from art to architecture. I was able to travel all over Italy and France and some of the Netherlands. Every weekend there was a school trip, so we’d go to amazing places. I took some really cool classes there, and learned a lot – lots of classical mediums like printmaking and sculpture, but also some 3D animation and videography, as well as learning the Italian language.

After graduation, I lived the ski bum life for a while at Sugarloaf in Maine while my girlfriend, Tiffany, was finishing up her senior year at UMaine Farmington. From there I landed my first real job as a graphic artist with Pride Manufacturing, a company near Waterville. It was a very unique place. They have the patent for the golf tee, so any tee that’s sold in the US is made by them. I designed a lot of their print materials, and created graphic files for customized golf accessories. These companies would supply a logo, sometimes printed on something as rudimentary as a napkin, and I’d have to re-create it digitally to make it into a high resolution format that we could create a stamp from to print on golf tees, ball markers, divot fixers, bags, etc. By doing that I got really good at a lot of the design programs, such as Photoshop and Illustrator. I even did package design for companies that didn’t have any branding, so there’s this 22-year-old kid creating branding, logos, and product packaging for these small businesses, and they’d love it. It was a fun job. After a couple of years there, I was ready for the next step, and Tiffany and I wanted to move back to southern Maine.

L. L. Bean is such a well-known brand and a big part of the lifestyle in Maine. When they contacted me through a headhunter and offered me a six-month contract, I signed on. I started out doing web production work. They were overhauling the product pages on their website, so there was a massive amount of work needed to get all of the images ready. Say a shirt comes in 100 colors; instead of photographing the shirt 100 times, we’d come up with ways to colorize it through Photoshop or the web. They extended my contract once, and then asked me if I wanted to come on full time.

Bean is a very iconic company. I think most Maine designers would say it’s probably one of the best places to work in this field if you don’t want to take the ad agency route, where you’re working 50, 60, 70 hours a week and you never know if you’re going to keep your job. The benefits are great here, and the culture of the place is like nothing else. I’ve been in toxic work environments before, and immediately noticed that 99 percent of the people at Bean were happy to be here. It makes work fun to be around such smart and happy people, and to feel like you’re a part of the company’s success. Last year the company was named to Fortune and Forbes magazines’ lists of top places to work in the US.

After doing the production side for a year, I really wanted to contribute to the branding and design end of things, so I started picking up projects. I assisted many of the art directors and designers, and gradually came onto the design team doing art direction full time. My focus is mostly in the web realm. It’s fun to stay on top of emerging technologies and keep L. L. Bean at the cutting edge.

I started mostly doing homepage designs, working with the art directors, photographers and copywriters to convey the messaging and branding and sell products. Gradually I began to focus more on implementing new technologies and functionalities to our pages, whether it’s animation or functionality that’s more subtle. In the past couple years I’ve moved toward the development side of things, focusing on the user experience and the visual design. I enjoy problem solving through design, making it easier for customers to interact and shop on the web, no matter what device they are using. There are many unique opportunities as well. Being the designer for our partnership with the Red Sox is one of them. I do a lot of signage and video that’s shown inside Fenway Park, including the L. L. Bean rain delay tarp. I’m a big sports fan, so it’s great to go down to Fenway and see my work there.

At home, my beautiful wife Tiffany and I like to keep that work-life balance. She teaches seventh- and eighth-grade English. We have two boys: a seven-year-old named Julian and a two-year-old named Griffin. They keep me busy and are a lot of fun. We do lots of outdoor activities together; they’re very into sports and just having fun. We enjoy spending time snowboarding, hiking, kayaking and playing various sports. I’m looking forward to continuing to grow my career here at L. L. Bean; I love the area and the people. There are always new opportunities and ways to continue the education that started with Keene State.