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7 Quirky & Creative Playing Card Deck Designs

Soviet Mayans, typographic treats, and what mathematical functions have to do with the sexism of the sixties.

What’s not to love about playing cards? They are the perfect intersection of design, playtime and intellectual calculation. Today, we look at seven particularly creative, quirky and downright outlandish decks that inject extra aesthetic indulgence and fun into any card game.


As we raved on Twitter a few months ago, MAD DECK by Özlem Ölçer may just be the most gorgeous deck of playing cards ever designed.

Stunning custom illustrations grace the backs of the cards, like these gems found on the joker.


Yes, we’re a little (“little”…) obsessed with Marshall McLuhan over here. So these Distant Early Warning (DEW) playing cards by McLuhan hit the sweet spot on so many levels. Despite the distinct sexisms of the Mad Men era, this deck is a treasure chest of cultural commentary, subtle political satire and pop culture inside jokes.

As the story goes, these cards were the inspiration for Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies deck of dilemmas.


One Deck of Playing Cards by designer Tauba Auerbach comes as a dual series — one based on mathematical equations and one on geometric shapes.

In the mathematical set, basic math functions like +, – and ÷ represent suits, face cards are platonic solids, and jokers are ? and ?. Black and white foreground-background dynamics replace the traditional red and black, dividing the deck in half into black and white — a nice play Auerbach’s brilliant 50/50 book project of 2008, offering 100 pages of 100 patterns each composed of equal parts black and white. The opposites of each suit subtract mathematically and appear in the opposite color for the perfect inversion of color and function.

The geometric deck uses four basic shapes as suits, each abstracting the traditional representation of that card. The color scheme of the deck is red and black on white, with platonic solids representing the royal family. Original artwork and three new typefaces portray the king, queen and knave.

In short, absolutely brilliant.


In the 1950’s, El Al Israel Airlines commissioned designer Jean David (sometimes referred to as Jan David) to create a deck of playing cards in which the faces portrayed heroes from Israel’s past. Park folklore, part vintage design goodness, the cards are an absolute treat of design and cultural heritage.



What would a design showcase be without some typographic deliciousness? Thanks to designer Jim Sutherland, we don’t have to contemplate that apocalypse scenario. His typographic playing cards are designed with the basic guidelines of neither repeating nor altering any of the typefaces being used, which he self-admittedly qualified as solving 52 micro design problems.



Easily among the most baffling pieces of cross-cultural pollination is that fact that, apparently, Mayan motifs were popular during Soviet era in Russia. Case in point: This Mayan-inspired deck of playing cards, designed by an unknown Soviet artist in the middle of the 20th century. An intersection of Eastern enigma and Southern sorcery, these designs are as enchanted as they are befuddling.


Finally, the perfect deck for your beachside poker game: These invisible playing cards by Kikkerland Design are cool, quirky, and completely waterproof.

And, at $6, they’re an absolute winning hand.

Published July 7, 2010




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