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From the Great Outdoors to the Design Studio: Academy Alum Turns Hobby Into Career

Derek Sullivan took his love for the outdoors and applied to a successful career in product design.  An avid cyclist, surfer, skateboarder and rock climber, Derek draws from his passion for action and designs to “push the human experience in new and exciting directions.” He is currently applying his skills as a product designer at CamelBak, LLC.


Derek graduated in 2006 from Academy of Art University’s School of Industrial Design, specializing in product design. The idea of getting paid to make cool outdoor equipment inspired him to pursue a degree in the field. At the Academy he found great skills training and a mentor in instructor Barry Wingate.

“He taught me to believe in myself,” Derek recalls. “He made me believe that I could be a successful designer.”

Derek began working for CamelBak in March 2008.  CamelBak is the leader in personal hydration systems and is popular among cyclists, runners and other athletes. The company was appealing to Derek due to its culture – outdoor people making outdoor products.


A typical workday involves “lifestyle” research on the Internet, meetings with other designers and engineers, working on prototypes and playing with designs in the shop. The majority of his day is spent sketching concepts for a highly sensitive project he is currently working on. The only detail he could reveal about it was that it is a personal hydration device.

In a few years, he hopes to run his own design firm, but for now, Derek is satisfied with where his career is going.

“For now it seems like I’ll stick to the outdoor equipment scene – less pretension and solving fun problems,” he said.

He believes that current School of Industrial Design students should be as proactive as possible. He recommends doing 50 more sketches a day than you are assigned and to listen to all the advice the Academy instructors have to give. He also advises students to push for an internship. But most importantly, he encourages everybody, not just IDS students, to ride a bike.


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