When you think about it, the design of playing cards is ridiculously complicated and to create a truly unique deck could take many months. It's one thing to take an existing template and alter it a bit and it's another thing all together to rework each element from scratch.
Tyler Deeb of MISC. GOODS CO. has designed a deck of cards from the ground up and it has a whole lot to say. Every court card, every symbol and boarder has gotten as much attention as any deck I've ever seen. It's clear that this was a labor of love and will act as his calling card for years to come.
To me, this deck is just chock full of story and I wonder if anyone else is seeing what I'm seeing.
There's so much to figure out when laying out a deck of cards and it all starts with the box that contains it. In this case, if you look closely, you'll find some very thoughtful touches.
Firstly, besides the beautiful silver foil printing, there is an embossing of the message "Do nothing out of selfish ambition". It's a bible verse from Philippians 2:3-8 and the thing is, while this deck is one of the most ambitious ones I've ever seen, it certainly isn't selfish. It's a gift to us.
While I'm not going to go into every little detail of what I'm reading into here, I will share a playful contradiction that pops up when you look closely.
This contradiction sets the stage for what's to come. On the side of the box, there's a message that reads, "Here to stay" while the messaging on the front reads, "Here today / Gone today".
That contrary concept mirrors our lives doesn't it? We're born into this world and as children we feel invincible. We are "here to stay". But over time, that changes as we constantly look over our shoulders because death's a comin' and though we might be "here today"- we could very well be – well, you get the concept. While this and the rest of the messaging may seem grim, it's actually a celebration of life.
You don't know what you have until it's gone – unless someone is there to remind you that you have it.
Each set of court cards subtly and beautifully pushes an ongoing message of the harsh reality of life. The Suicide suit, Diamonds, pushes the "Here today, gone today" concept nicely with the queen bearing flowers to her husband's funeral and the jack sporting a black bird that represents death. Very tidy.
Things get a bit more complicated with the other suits.
The Hearts tell a supporting story. "Love is watching someone & watching someone die is hard". Pretty miserable but true and we can all relate to it. The funny thing is that the queen of hearts is sporting what seems to be a voodoo doll and a wicked scowl.
I'd say she's the reason the King of Diamonds committed suicide in the first place.
The clubs family, I think, delivers a message that's more of a preparation for the inevitable. "You're going to die & all that you own will one day vanish. Hard facts. Deal with it."
But let us analyze how the clubs family deals with that message:
The Jack comfortably hangs out by kegs of lager. He's 3 sheets to the wind and drinks his sorrows away while sporting a royal 5 o'clock shadow.
The queen, clearly smoking a pipe full of a mind altering drugs (just look at her eyes), will surely stab anyone who comes near her to take it away or discuss what's on her mind. From the look of her tattoo, she's spent far too much time with sailors and probably has a potty mouth.
The King, unaffected, literally turns a blind eye to his family and the truth.
It seems that this family doesn't deal with their message at all and I find that pretty interesting.
And that leaves us with the lesson from the Spades family. They are literally battling to stay alive and though they are – they are just barely. They've had a good run but there's no happiness in their eyes because the walls have been breached and their defenses have expired.
The ace reads, "Free for now", but for how long?
The Jack has been pierced by an arrow and can no longer hold back what life has brought to him. He weeps and waits with disheveled collar for his last breath.
The queen looks up to heaven as if to ask for more time not noticing what is clearly a vial of poison coming from her right. Her minutes are numbered.
The King, hardened and scarred, bravely awaits his last stand.
They are truly all free but the answer to how long is brutally clear.
It's just a deck of cards right?
Every part of the design beautifully tells part of the story including the number cards. But let's ignore the interesting font selection for the numbers and the fact that the placement of the pips are laid out in a pleasing way. I think there's more here than first meets the eye.
You'll notice that there are notches printed on each numbered card that redundantly represents them. To me, these notches are like ones that a prisoner would make in a cell to counts the days he's survived. Each notch on these cards represents our days scratched onto the wall of life. I just love the coincidence that when you add up the numeric values of a deck of cards you get 365 – one notch for each day in a year.
If that is difficult to imagine, think of it this way:
Consider the Ace as a 1, Jack as 11, Queen as 12, and King as 13. If you add up all fifty-two cards in the deck you'll get 364. Add one for the Joker and you have 365 (decks of cards had only one Joker until the 1940's).
Look, I know that I'm reaching a bit but I still like the idea.
In the end, even if I'm wrong about everything, I don't really care. This is one beautiful deck of cards. For me, design is a personal thing and story, no matter what it is, lives everywhere.
My hat's off to you Tyler Deeb and I look forward to whatever you design next.
For now, take a moment and check out his current catalogue of well designed products at the MISC. GOODS CO.