Serdar Soyal draws beautiful machines that definitely catch your eye. He’s especially good at designing concept cars, which you can tell immediately when you see one of his souped up futuristic-looking roadsters like the Matilda II (below). It’s fully modern yet undeniably classic. I spoke with Serdar about how he came to be so talented at design and how a dedication to sketching has led him to his current role as Industrial Design Team Leader at Hidromek, a well-respected maker of innovative construction machines like backhoe loaders, excavators, and motor graders.
Serdar’s skills extend far beyond cars…. Can he design anything? How about an entire building? He’s about to find out.
Serdar’s skills extend far beyond cars to include vehicles like an award-winning soil compactor that looks like it would be as comfortable on Mars as on a construction site. And his talents have spread out over the years to include all kinds of product design. He even designed a standalone fireplace that looks like a giant Igloo cooler. Can he design anything? How about an entire building? He’s about to find out.
Many of the best artists I meet began drawing at a very early age, and Serdar is no exception. From age five (as early as most of us can remember) he began drawing cars, planes, his father, his mother, and himself. As he noted, “I have a lot of pictures from those days that my mom and father took. And, in about 50% of those pictures, I was drawing.”
In high school, he pursued art, even earning money from friends who would pay him to draw for them. He honed his skills, visiting museums to use sculptures as models for his drawings. After graduating, he had no money for taking courses to get ready for art school, so his parents pushed him hard to find a place at an engineering school, which led him down a path of studying Mechanical Engineering before transitioning into Industrial Design.
Lucky Breaks Seem Happen to Skilled People
Like most successful designers, he caught a lucky break or two. “While I was in my second year at Mimar Sinan University, I had a contract job that came from Germany. The former design boss of Volkswagen brands, Murat Günak, sent me an email on my birthday, which was an amazing gift for me.” Murat had seen his portfolio, and he liked what he saw. “He asked if I would like to join them in Germany for a one-year contract to work on an electric-car design project.”
Most people would have jumped at the chance, but even after all of his schooling Serdar felt like he needed more practice. He asked for more time to prepare a new portfolio. Murat responded with, “You really want to pass on this opportunity?” Serdar told him, “I need to improve my skills. And I think he respected that. So I spent a year learning Alias Design, then put my schooling on hold and moved to Germany for a year to design a luxury sedan.”
From talking to Serdar, one through-line in his story is an on-again/off-again pursuit of school and work. He’d spend months studying and then head to Croatia for three months for a job designing for a company that makes yachts. While it surely must be easier to complete a degree in one uninterrupted sprint, there’s a lot to be said for getting real-world design experience during your most productive time of study. Most students have to wait many years before being given the chance to break out and design something on their own.
The Importance of Alias in Automotive Design
A lot of car designers use SketchBook to rapidly iterate on ideas, but if your designs become more serious or need to be shared with engineers or modeled into more complex renderings, Alias is the software you need. It’s the industry standard for concept modeling, surfacing, and creating visualizations in automotive design. You may not have known it, but SketchBook traces its early origin as an offshoot of Alias. While the two apps have grown in different directions over the years, they still share some surprising similarities.
When you’re using Photoshop, you can find yourself in a situation where you’re preparing good illustrations, but you aren’t really designing anymore. But with SketchBook it’s something really different. It’s like I have paper and pen in my hand.”
Sometimes artists start in SketchBook and then push their workflow to Alias, but believe it or not sometimes they go the other way. Some people like to take a 3D model and add hand-drawn details for the purpose of creating a presentation. Serdar does that because he’s “not a fan of having the sketching workflow in the same window as my modeling. I tend to take work from Alias and make my final proposals in SketchBook.”
What’s his general process? “The first step in any project is to create package models: wheelbase, greenhouse, and other elements that have to be in a vehicle’s layout. I build that in Alias and import it into SketchBook,” Serdar explains. “If I have more time, like for a personal project, I start on paper and then move to SketchBook. I use those SketchBook designs as blueprints for my concept models.” Of course, turning sketches into fully rendered designs can take a lot longer. “The first concept model for a Jaguar project I did recently took roughly 30 hours over the course of five days. Every day — for six hours after my day job!”
When it comes to design, whether for professional or personal projects, which apps you use sometimes simply comes down to personal preference. Hidromek uses Alias for surface modeling, but “some people use 3DS Max for animations and renderings. There’s also a bit of VRay as well.”
The Importance of Sketching in Auto Design
Serdar is the head of a team of 12 industrial designers, surface modelers, visualization artists, and model builders, and he’s looking to expand to about 20 people. He’d like to see 10 of those people sketching regularly as industrial designers, so he’s specifically looking for new hires with an aptitude for drawing. “Our team had licenses for SketchBook as part of the Alias Design Suite, but they were not using it when I joined. I showed SketchBook to the other designers. It’s software that you can learn in a week or even a day. They liked that it was really fast and was not like Photoshop. When you’re using Photoshop, you can find yourself in a situation where you’re preparing good illustrations, but you aren’t really designing anymore. But with SketchBook it’s something really different. It’s like I have paper and pen in my hand. I’m doing my design thinking process, not just drawing some good, pleasing visuals. This is the most important benefit of SketchBook, I think. When you have SketchBook open, it just feels like you have the blank sheet of paper in front of you and you can just draw.”
Designing Something Much Larger than Life
Hidromek is considering building a new office in Ankara next year, which Serdar has had the honor of designing. “I am trying to finish the design now — it’s very exciting!” In typical, ambitious Serdar style, he’s not shy about jumping in and expanding his design portfolio to include architectural design. “Right now, I am designing everything, focusing on the exterior styling. When that is complete, we will hand the proposal off to a team of architects. The current design may be expensive to build, but it definitely won’t be impossible. I really like Phillipe Stark and his design philosophies. And I was inspired by Tony Stark’s house from the Iron Man movie. I want it to have the presence of a piece of jewelry. Yet, it has to be clean and simple. Actually, it is quite simple, but I can’t show you yet! It looks like something not from this world.”
I’ve met a lot of artists and designers working for SketchBook, and I know that not many designers get to accomplish such goals. Serdar clearly has the skill and drive to leave a real mark, and designing an entire building is one way to do it. As he noted in our conversation, “At every job I take, I try to leave an impression. If I were to leave this company someday, I want it to be known that this was done by Serdar. At the end of my design career, I would like to leave my mark on this world like Raymond Loewy and other great designers of the past. I know it’s really difficult, and it won’t be easy. It may sound childish, but we have to dream about these things — designs that seem impossible to other people.”
More from Serdar
If you love the automotive designs of Serdar Soyal as much as we do, consider following him on Instagram or Behance. He’s always posting beautiful drawings of concept cars that will add some inspiration to your days.