Thesis Blog

The Design Deck: Thesis Statement

My thesis project has been a gratifying, challenging, eye-opening experience. I began the project with the simple intent of exploring graphic design education in an unconventional, approachable way, and then it took on a life of its own. The end result is The Design Deck: a Playing-Card Guide to Graphic Design. In my Thesis Statement, I will reflect on my project through a number of sections, including: my goals, research process, design process, Kickstarter campaign, and future plans.

My Goals:

The Design Deck got its start in January of 2014. I had been researching graphic design education techniques for the four months previous, but had been planning to use the research to create a middle-school curriculum. I decided that the content would be better suited to a simpler, more accessible medium (and one that would be feasible to create without having my Phd in education theory), and the idea of a deck of cards rose to the top. 

My main goal for the deck was to have it deliver concise, practical information about graphic design in a way that non-designers could enjoy and understand. We are all surrounded by graphic design every day, and I believe that is is a hugely important skill that most people could benefit from knowing more about. But design is strangely underrepresented in most streams of education, and people know nothing about about it, let alone how to do it themselves. I wanted to defy that convention, and make a graphic design learning tool for the masses. 

The other goal was to have the deck be beautiful. No one is going to want to learn about graphic design from a deck that is poorly designed, so it was a top priority. Also, I knew that if this product was to have any commercial success, it would have to look very attractive and professional. Profit was obviously not the point of the thesis, but I thought it could be a fortunate side-effect if I did the cards well enough. 

My final goal was to learn more about graphic design myself. While I have been practicing design for a few years, I still have a lot to learn, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to expand my knowledge base and discover more about the whole field of graphic design.

The Research Process:

I had been researching for four months before I began focusing on the Design Deck, so I already had a lot of material and direction. There is an impressive amount of literature on the practice and theory of graphic design, much of which I either had in my collection, or had read during my previous classes at McMaster. I perused through eight books on graphic design and typography, documenting the choicest bits of information that I thought would work well in the deck. After that, I synthesized the information I had accumulated, and started shaping it into a coherent collection that would cover most of the essentials of graphic design. Throughout, I did supplementary online research to fill any knowledge gaps that appeared. After I had accumulated 52 pieces of what I deemed to useful design information, it was time to start designing.

The Design Process:

Being a type nerd, the first decision I made about the design deck was what typefaces to use. The typeface has a huge impact on the overall aesthetic of any design, so I deliberated about my choice for a while. They two fonts I ended up choosing were:

  • DIN Pro (DIN Light, DIN Medium, DIN Condensed)
  • Adobe Garamond (Adobe Garamond Italic)

These are two elegant, subtle fonts that would lend themselves well to my design. As for colours, I chose red, gold, black, and white. And the shape elements I chose were simple lines, boxes, and circles. These all harken back to traditional card design, but I arranged them in a modern visual style. I thought it would be an interesting juxtaposition to have classic playing card elements used on my clearly unconventional cards. After coming up with the initial designs, I sought the opinions of many of my friends and fellow designers, took their critiques into consideration, and settled on a final design.

The Kickstarter Campaign:

On Professor Hamilton’s excellent recommendation, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the production of the cards, and to garner public interest in the idea. I treated the campaign as an integral part of my thesis—an exercise in advertising and marketing, which is an essential part of graphic design. I filmed a video, wrote and designed the Kickstarter “storyline”, crafted press releases to send out to news and design websites, and tried to make as attractive a campaign as possible. I set my goal at $600, and was delighted to have it met in under 20 hours. Three weeks later, at the time of writing, funding has reached over $7,800, or 1290% of my goal. The project was written about by DesignTaxi—one of the biggest design websites, and by a popular curated goods website called Cool Material. The campaign has gone beyond what I ever expected, and I am thrilled to be able to deliver the Design Deck to over 300 people. 

Future Plans and Conclusion:

The Kickstarter campaign is ending in a week, but I plan to keep the momentum going by opening an e-commerce website so people can still purchase the Design Deck. The funding has gotten up to a sufficient level that I’ll be able to produce 2500 copies of the deck, made by Bicycle®, which should keep the world supplied for a while. 

In conclusion, I think I have achieved my goal of creating an attractive deck of cards that can teach design to the public in an accessible way. It was a tremendously rewarding experience, and my first venture into entrepreneurialism gives me a hankering for more. I think it is an exciting idea that the world can potentially understand and appreciate the art of graphic design, and I hope to help make it a reality with the Design Deck. 



Thesis Blog

The Design Deck: The First Cards

After designing the custom suits, and choosing my typography, it is time to start designing the cards themselves. I think that the back of the cards is the most important feature, as it is repeated 54 times (including jokers) compared to each face, which is only seen once.

I decided to go for a very minimalist aesthetic for the deck, and I want the information to shine through without other distractions. Below is the back of The Design Deck. It has the name, the suits, and two containing lines, and nothing else.

Card Backs-15

I also designed 6 of the card faces, to establish the visual language that will be reflected throughout the deck. You can see below that I used the condensed version of DIN font, with my custom suits. I’ve left lots of white space around the edges, to make the cards simple and to clearly show the information shown on each one.

Card Faces-16



Thesis Blog

The Design Deck: Custom Suits

One of the most important features of any deck of playing cards is the appearance of the suits. I thought about using a set of stock suits from the internet. But after a look around, I wasn’t happy with any of the ones I found. Here are a few of the ones I wasn’t happy with:

I went about designing my own in Adobe Illustrator, using the pen tool to create them from scratch. I then looked at them in different situations, and at different sizes, and tweaked until I got what you see below.


I’m quite happy with them I think they are fairly smooth and well-proportioned. I gave all of the corners just a tiny bit of rounding, so they’ll look good when printed, and are easy on the eyes.



Thesis Blog

The Design Deck: Getting it Printed

Having designed a portion of the cards, the next step is deciding on the best way to get them printed.

After some research, I found a few options. One of them is going through the grand-daddy of playing card manufacturing: Bicycle. They make a very high-quality card, and offer total customizability. The issue with Bicycle is that they require a large volume of decks to be made, or else they won’t do it at all. Since I am going to start out producing The Design Deck on a relatively small scale, I had to cross Bicycle off the list.

There are a few other options that I also decided against, due to inferior quality, or quantity required, including Printer Studio, Card Press, and

Once company was a clear winner in my selection process: They deliver a very high-quality product (according to various reviews), are reasonably priced, have options for different card thickness/quality, and allow me to make a limited run of as few decks as I want. I’m looking forward to seeing what the can produce!



Thesis Blog

The Design Deck: What’s in a Name?

After I came up with the idea to design a deck of graphic design playing cards, I needed to come up with a name.
I think that the name needs to be:

  • Short and memorable
  • Indicative of what the product is
  • Unique: it needs to be easily google-able and different from any other product
  • Fun: a little bit of pizazz or alliteration never hurts

Here is a few of the names that I was playing around with. I found most of them to be just a bit boring.

  • Graphic Design Cards
  • The Graphic Design Teaching Deck
  • Designer’s Deck
  • Graphic Design Education Cards

What I eventually settled on is The Design Deck. I think it short and catchy, and expresses what the product is. The alliteration makes it a bit more fun and memorable, and there is nothing else by that name that exists. What do you think, is it a decent name for a deck of graphic design playing cards?

One issue I’m still wrestling with is a subtitle. It would be good to be able to write “The Design Deck: Something something something”. I’ve been thinking about “Graphic design teaching playing cards”, but that is just darn wordy. Maybe “Design education playing cards?”. But that’s not very fun either. I’ll keep thinking on it.



Thesis Blog

The Design Deck: My Idea

I’ve been wanting to design a physical product for some time now. I’ve designed a number of logos, posters, brochures, and even stamps and washroom signs, but I’ve never created something that I can distribute as an independent product that is usable over the long term.

I came up with the idea of designing a deck of playing cards that teaches the user about graphic design. I’m calling it The Design Deck.

I’m very excited about this idea for a number of reasons. Firstly, I think it is going to be tremendously fun to design. The is a long history of excellent graphic design in playing cards dating back to the 13th century, and the variety of card designs has blossomed in the past couple of decades. There are so many surfaces to work with on a deck of cards, and they have a wonderful dual use of being game devices, and also conducting information.

I did a little research on the market for cards such as the ones I want to make, and it seems there is a great demand. The most similar product out there is a deck of typography playing cards called Graphos, designed by a talented Canadian woman named Michelle Lam. Her cards, as seen below, conduct relevant information about the basics of typography, and are beautifully designed. These aren’t available for purchase right now, because they apparently sold out within a couple of weeks of their release. This seems like a very positive indicator about how much demand for a product like The Design Deck in the design community.
Here is a link to a bit more information about Graphos cards.


There are many other examples of great, modern playing card design that I am finding inspiration in.
Here is a great minimalist deck by Joe Doucet:

And here is a typographic deck by Cristiano Domingos:

Here is a simple and beautiful deck by Best Made Company:

There is lots of inspiration, and a good precedent for established market demand. And my research has also shown that there is no product that is similar to what I am going to make, which is excellent!