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Philosophy Playing Cards Design: Looking for Feedback

  1. Aug 1, 2012 #1
    Hello, everyone! I am new to the forums here, so I will start with a brief introduction. My name is Martin Pulido, and I am philosophy graduate who also happens to love card games (as well as board games). Card games not only illustrate philosophical ideas (War=Determinism), but many are also great practice in extrapolating what you don't know through what you do know from both cards played, cards in one's hand, and studying the decisions and faces of one's fellow players. I have recently wanted to get back into drawing and design, and so I created a project for myself: to create a deck of western philosophy themed playing cards that would be (1) aesthetically pleasing, (2) thought provoking, and (3) functional. An ambitious goal, but I think the decks could be lots of fun for philosophy and playing card enthusiasts, and to play with a group of friends.

    Through much deliberation, I determined to organize the suits according to philosophical time periods: spades (ancient and medieval philosophers), diamonds (modern philosophers: 16th-18th c.), clubs (contemporary analytic philosophers: 19th - 21st c.), and hearts (contemporary continental philosophers: 19th - 21st c.). Each card suit also has a unique card face background, highlighting ideas taught by philosophers in the specified time period. These backgrounds are gray or a faint red on white depending on the suit, and I hope help in suit identification. I prefer the white backgrounds/borders as they limit damage from scuffing (or so I believe; maybe I am wrong?).

    Each card contains a personally hand-drawn and then vectorized and digitally finished portrait of an important philosopher. I tried to find a famous depiction (if not the most famous) of the philosopher, regardless of the medium (sculpture, drawing, painting, photo, etc.) and then redraw it to have a more consistent look across the cards. Many design decisions were tough: I looked up in biographies to discover the hair color of many philosophers, but with ancient philosophers, I just had to arbitrarily decide. I also had to make decisions on clothing. Here is an example of the design process from the original famous depiction to the hand-drawn art, to the vectorized art, and the digitally-finished piece:

    http://img854.imageshack.us/img854/3691/cardspreview9b.jpg [Broken]​

    Since each card, versus just the royal court face cards, portrayed a specific philosopher, my initial design does not include pips. However, I have some alternatives that do include them, so your feedback would be appreciated. I recognize that for some not having pips will be a downer. 12-16 philosophers, however, didn't seem to cut it for the deck, so I had to make a call, which ended up being a lot more work for me! Maybe it was a bad decision.

    The next step was to make the cards "thought provoking." I concluded to include a quote from each philosopher that wasn't loaded with jargon, so it could be understood by the layman. I also tried not to pick quotes that were (a) cliche, (b) made funny trite statements but said little philosophically, (c) made little sense out of context (Nietzsche's "God is dead" for instance), (d) ridiculed the philosopher by making his ideas appear impossible to understand (Heidegger's statement "The nothing itself nothings" is often used in this respect), or (e) were too religious (this deck is about philosophy, not theology or religious dogmas). On (e), I have no aversion to religion; I am a practicing Christian myself, so don't get the wrong idea. Anyway, getting the right quotes required lots of reading, careful selection, and revision.

    Anyway, here are some samples of the art: 2 cards from each suit.

    http://img507.imageshack.us/img507/9258/cardspreview6.jpg [Broken]
    http://img528.imageshack.us/img528/1061/cardpreviews8.jpg [Broken]
    http://img580.imageshack.us/img580/7276/cardspreview5.jpg [Broken]
    http://img855.imageshack.us/img855/3599/cardspreview7.jpg [Broken]​

    That should give you some idea of the style of the cards I have gone for and substantiate what I claimed about the design above.

    I have a few alternate designs I have been toying with (original in top right for comparison's sake), but I still prefer the original:

    http://img854.imageshack.us/img854/4422/2sidedvariants3.jpg [Broken]​

    Oh, and ignore the Derrida line over Anaximander; it was just there to test out how long a quote could go in that orientation. For the tuckbox, I chose to recreate a section of Raphael's famous School of Athens piece. I kept Plato and Aristotle at the forefront of the piece, but replaced the figures around them in Raphael's version with philosophers from later eras (Bertrand Russell, Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Friedrich Nietzsche, etc.). I think the piece turned out quite nice, but the artist is usually biased! Here is a crude mockup of the tuckbox:

    http://img838.imageshack.us/img838/3042/tuckboxnew.jpg [Broken]​

    As for the backs, the tuckbox shows how I have created a vertical symmetrical back based on the famous flammarion engraving of a man grasping the universe as it is in its reality instead of in its appearance (or at least this is one interpretation of how the engraving has been used). I think it has turned out nicely too:

    http://img443.imageshack.us/img443/2762/verticalbackvariant2.jpg [Broken]​

    So on to my feedback questions:

    (1) What do you think of the overall design? Do I succeed at making the deck aesthetically pleasing, thought provoking, and functional? While I had to make definite trade offs between those different goals, is it overall satisfactory? What suggestions would you make that align with those goals?

    (2) Would any of you be interested in a deck if I tried to create a kickstarter project? What would be a fair price range for a deck (the low range being what you would be enthusiastic about and the high range being what you would still think is fair)? I don't want to start such a project if there isn't the interest...
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 9, 2012 #2
    Hey all, sorry it took so long to get back to you. Just got back from the boonies for a family reunion.

    First, let me share a new minimalist design (one with name on the side and another in the background):

    http://img24.imageshack.us/img24/7760/newdesignk.jpg [Broken]

    These lack the quotes, but do contain a short list of notable ideas. Perhaps simplicity is better in this case? What do you think?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Aug 9, 2012 #3
    I think the first design looks the best. They look great to be honest and the back part of card looks awesome as well. However, I'm not sure what kind of market you will have since most people who play cards are not the most philosophical.
  5. Aug 10, 2012 #4
    Who are the jokers?
  6. Aug 11, 2012 #5
    @seraphdd: Just giving credit to Schopenhauer's observation that "Because people have no thoughts to deal in, they deal cards, and try to win one another's money. Idiots!" I had to put that quote on the tuckbox. Well, we'll see if there are enough with hybrid interests like myself in these days.

    @wuliheron: Instead of philosophers, I chose to use skeptical thought experiments from philosophy. The first is Descartes' Evil Demon (or evil genie). The second is a modern variation on this, that of the "brain in a vat," where all of our experience of reality is governed by a super computer programmed by a mad scientist. I thought these would be appropriate sense the jokers warp the game, skewing reality. The art on them is still tentative and needs some improvement. Here is a draft of them:


    I tried to create unique backgrounds for them as with the suits. I don't know if I like the big "Joker" text though. I am seriously thinking of switch over to a star symbol or something like that.
  7. Aug 11, 2012 #6
    If you want any success, you should stick with mirror design, to prevent people from having to turn around cards.
    Also consider adding character names, like in #2, so that the names are visible in a 'fanned' pack of cards.
  8. Aug 12, 2012 #7
    I wanted to start a poll. I wanted to get votes on the best overall design for the card fronts since I have been getting feedback. I have nine designs below for you to choose from, some two way and others one way. I have already whittled down the designs based on feedback I have gotten from the playing card and philosophy communities.

    http://img20.imageshack.us/img20/6868/finaldesigns.jpg [Broken]

    I would greatly appreciate it if:

    (1) You listed the number you liked most (ie, 7).
    (2) You stated whether you would buy a deck (this helps me prioritize the results; i definitely take all under consideration--as should be apparent by now--but I should cater more to those actually interested in getting a deck).
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  9. Aug 12, 2012 #8
  10. Aug 12, 2012 #9


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    I like four, also.

    No I would not buy a deck, I almost never play card games, and when I do I don't enjoy them.
  11. Aug 17, 2012 #10
    Well, it is pretty obvious at this time that the one way art design is preferred, since it is by a definite majority (75% of those polled). Looks like I got it right from the outset. Preferences are pretty evenly divided between #7 and #8. If #8 is chosen, many people suggest 2 quotes. I will probably end up with 2 paraphrased statements instead, but I honestly don't mind that. I think I am leaning in that direction.

    Now that the design is fairly decided, I still have some questions on the court cards and aces, and how to make them unique. For the aces I was thinking I could inscribe the art within the suits, in something like this:

    http://img27.imageshack.us/img27/8384/acesa.jpg [Broken]

    I could of course make them slightly more ornate, but my cards might be complicated enough at this point.

    As for the court cards, I think I could add a border, either just on the top and bottom, or all around. The border could try to contain classic card elements, such as having the Jacks border have spears/halberds, king having swords, and queens having flowers. The suit could also be in the border. Any other ideas come to your mind?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  12. Aug 17, 2012 #11
    One way card design is good only to look at. You can't play cards with them.
  13. Aug 17, 2012 #12
    Well, it looks like the majority of people just want cards to look at then. I can't really disagree with that. However, I do doubt your judgment: the history of playing cards past and present shows a wide variety of one way designs that I am sure were also played with and not just looked at.
  14. Aug 17, 2012 #13
    Do you play cards? When you rumble and jumble them while playing, don't you think people will begin to hate it when they have to turn around cards. Or won't they hate it when the have to look at upside down cards if they are 'lazy' to turn around.
    I don't know the history, but I think when 'mirrored' cards were introduced every serious 'players' wanted to switch to them.
    For occasional 'Nerd' plays, I do agree the one way design can work.
    But thats only my opinion and you have full right to do what you think is good.
    Best of Luck.
  15. Aug 18, 2012 #14
    I understand the card player's concern, and I do play cards a lot myself. My point is simply to state what the majority of those interested in a deck want and to mitigate your concern that it negatively affects card playing.

    For the latter, it should be pointed out that people will not have to turn around their cards. The values that most people use to read cards or fan their cards are still in the top left and bottom right corners. Thus, regardless of orientation, people know the value of the card which is the only crucial aspect of card game playing. And since the faces are completely custom, having the faces be 2 way wouldn't help with card identification; pips and traditional court cards would be needed for that. Although I don't think I actually use pips to tell what card I am using when I am playing a game. This is more of an aesthetic judgment as to what we like seeing on our playing cards.

    With one way designs, a person may get the sense that the art of his card is upside down. Not much can be done about that. But it should be noted that in the #8 design with 2 thoughts from the philosopher included on the card, that some of the data is only accessible to the reader/player when the art is upside down. This could mitigate the annoyance to those it matters to somewhat. But maybe not enough? Lol. Thanks for your honest criticism; did my remarks say anything to assuage your concerns?
  16. Aug 18, 2012 #15
    Yes it did. :approve:
    Further, I see one plus point with one way design. When you are waiting for your turn, you could kill time by turning around some of the cards and looking at the art (or the quote).
  17. Aug 21, 2012 #16
    I like seven but there is a whole slew of specified playing cards, including random things like amy brown.

    and if this deck is made let me know. i'd like to buy a pack.
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